Responding to Abuse and Trauma Within Faith: Why Safeguarding Policy and Process Alone Is No Longer Enough.
About the Author
Simon Plant has over 25 years working within safeguarding and has spent 10 years listening to, hearing and validating people’s experiences of abuse and trauma within faith. Simon is a person of faith and is one of the founders of Replenished Life.
Why This Topic and Why now?
As a person of faith I find myself again utterly heartbroken at the experiences of the safeguarding systems of Faith Organisations that I so regularly hear. Experiences of retraumatisation rather than restoration; minimisation of experience rather than accountability and action; defence of organisations rather than focusing on the needs of the individuals harmed; censorship, silencing and use of non disclosure agreements rather than listening, learning and taking action to prevent abuse and trauma occurring in the future. At Replenished Life, we by no means have all the answers and this article is just meant to be a starting point for discussion using research messages and survivor voice. We hope to have many conversations in order to build on these ideas together to start to provide some solution focused frameworks in which faith organisations can better provide support, positive outcomes and justice for those who have experienced abuse and trauma within faith.
Safeguarding as an Integral Part of the Fabric of Faith Organisations
Safeguarding Policy, Process and Practice are vital in ensuring people are kept safe. It has been my life’s work (so far) in ensuring the need of quality safeguarding in all organisations is widely understood. There is now, however, a need for so much more to ensure that experiences of faith and safeguarding are the best they can be.
Whilst it is recognised that there are areas of good practice from many committed safeguarding professionals undertaking a really difficult role, there are too many poor experiences of safeguarding that are regularly communicated to us.
Interweaving the Golden Threads
Quality safeguarding policy, process and practice are key threads but there are other golden threads that now need to be interwoven around these.
The golden threads of Healthy Faith Culture, Trauma Informed Approaches and Restorative Justice need to weave into the fabric of Faith Organisation Life as well as Safeguarding. These compliment and add huge value to safeguarding through preventative work in minimising abuse and trauma, providing the how we work with Adults on safeguarding and ultimately the way we facilitate positive outcomes and justice for those who have experienced abuse and trauma within faith.
To extend the metaphor the interweaving of these golden threads develops a stronger, more resilient and higher quality tapestry than using single threads alone.
Healthy Faith Cultures
Healthy Faith Cultures are vital in preventing and minimising the opportunities for abuse and trauma within faith to occur.
The key characteristics of a Healthy Christian Culture are really useful as a guide of what Healthy Christian Culture should look like. These characteristics should transfer well to other faiths but there may be some adaptations or additions needed.
Dr Lisa Oakley and Justin Humphreys outline the characteristics of Healthy Christian Culture:
- Respects, values and nurtures each person
- Allows questions and calm disagreement
- Guides and empowers through biblical teaching (or other faith teaching)
- Guides behaviour but respects choices
- Nurturing and nurtured leadership
- Values ‘whole life’ service
- Healthy accountability
- Models inclusion
 Dr Lisa Oakley, Justin Humphreys 2019 Escaping the Maze of Spiritual Abuse: Creating Healthy Christian Cultures SPCK Publishing.
Trauma Informed Approach
Five Principles of a trauma-informed society as outlined in Trauma-Informed Wales: A Societal Approach to Understanding, Preventing and Supporting the Impacts of Trauma and Adversity is a useful starting point for thinking about what a trauma informed faith organisation or community looks like.
- A universal approach that does no harm, proactively supports and encompasses community-led approaches, prevention initiatives and specialist therapies to enable transformation within systems. Faith organisations should be part of this universal approach that does no harm and proactively supports and encompasses faith community led approaches and prevention of trauma initiatives. There should be clarity about where those that need specialist therapies can access these safely.
- Person centred: the person is always at the centre of a trauma-informed approach. It takes a co-productive, collaborative cross-sector approach to identifying, understanding and supporting the person’s needs. It promotes psychological and physical safety by promoting choice, collaboration and transparency
- Relationship-focused: safe, supportive, empathic, compassionate and trusting relationships are central to a trauma-informed approach.
- Resilience and strengths-focused: a trauma-informed approach builds on the natural resilience of individuals, families and communities.
- Inclusive: a trauma-informed approach recognises the impact of diversity, discrimination and racism. It understands the impact of cultural, historic and gender inequalities and is inclusive of everyone in society.
 Trauma-Informed Wales: A Societal Approach to Understanding, Preventing and Supporting the Impacts of Trauma and Adversity
Restorative Practice within Safeguarding and Support
Restorative practice is a term used to describe behaviours, interactions and approaches which help to build and maintain positive, healthy relationships, resolve difficulties and repair harm where there has been conflict.
When we work with and alongside people, there is strong evidence to say that outcomes for those who have experienced abuse and trauma within faith are improved.
Restorative practices enable those who work with children and families to focus upon building relationships that create and inspire positive change. Creating change sometimes requires challenge as well as support.
Restorative practices range from formal to informal processes that enable faith organisations, leaders, workers, those who have experienced abuse and trauma within faith and their families to communicate effectively. Restorative practice processes can focus upon:
- removing barriers to access to organisations and processes
- proactively promoting a sense of community and belonging
- understanding social responsibility and shared accountability
- delivery of positive outcomes and justice for those who have experienced abuse and trauma within faith
- a reconciliation between those who have experienced abuse and trauma and faith organisations (if this is in everyone’s best interests)
So… What is Replenished Going To Do?
There is already a lot of food for thought here and the level of change may already feel a bit overwhelming! We feel overwhelmed at times but this level of change is now needed.
We are also aware that some words on a computer screen or mobile are of limited worth and that this is just the start of a conversation of change. This is going to be a long term journey that we will join many others on.
There are areas of really good practice and many others have already done much work in these areas. We need to hear about others practice, others work and to share these so we are all learning from others best practice bringing these threads together. We also need to ensure that this can all be implemented by faith organisations. If anyone wants to discuss anything at all we would be delighted to hear from you. Contact us here Contact Us – Replenished
Over the next year Replenished Life will:
- Continue to collaborate with others to facilitate and encourage conversations between organisations to develop these topics further
- Continue to listen to those who have experienced abuse and trauma within faith and capture key messages around their needs.
- Provide Service Packages for Faith Organisations (Advice and Support, Online Resources, opportunities for discussion and Discounts on training) There is more information on our service packages here Faith Organisations Support Services – Replenished
- Deliver a series of webinars and blog articles to explore these topics further (if you would like to contribute to a webinar or blog do contact us!)
- Offer training on a wide range of topics – more information can be found here Equipping and Awareness Raising – Replenished
As we continue to interweave these threads we are excited to see what this tapestry of faith organisations can become.
In the March blog article we will explore the role of “Understanding Abuse and Trauma within Faith and It’s Impact” of this in creating a more trauma informed Faith organisation and community.
We will also be delivering a free webinar on Understanding Abuse and Trauma within Faith and the impact of this on 3rd March 2023 and you can book your tickets here
Post Script on Intention.
As people of faith we recognise the important role faith plays in society and individuals lives. At Replenished Life we want our faith organisations in the United Kingdom to be the very best they can be for everyone who chooses to have a faith. This vision of change we are working towards is motivated by our faith. Our key aim is that those who have experienced abuse and trauma within faith has an opportunity to flourish within a faith organisation or community in a safe, inclusive and supported way, if they choose to retain their faith. If they choose not to retain a faith then a further aim is for those who have experienced abuse and trauma within faith to have access to quality support in wider society.