10 years in Taking Care

Deborah Webster

8.12.2016 | Taking Care, Social Witness, Mission

Taking Care is the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s (PCI) child protection policy and programme. With over 30,000 leaders and 120,000 children and young people involved in activities annually, Deborah Webster writes about her 10 years in Taking Care and how PCI is committed to keeping its children and young people safe and its leaders well informed and well trained.

After hundreds of training sessions, thousands of miles travelled, 30 editions of the Taking Care Update, 5 office moves and lots and lots of meetings, the Taking Care office has celebrated 10 years of its existence!

The world has changed a lot in those 10 years and so has awareness and attitudes towards child protection. People often look back nostalgically to the days many moons ago, when as youth leaders there were things they used to do that these days you just couldn’t get away with.

Squeezing a large amount of young people in a mini for example! Why not continue with these practices, sure no one got hurt, did they? Should we continue to do those things, now that we know the associated risks and what is in place to protect children? Absolutely not!

Over the last decade we have experienced a progressive shift in attitudes within PCI, especially in terms of training. I well remember that tangible feeling of animosity in the room, when a group of Sunday school teachers and youth leaders were awaiting training on a cold weeknight.

The average session usually entailed some aggressive questioning – ‘what gives you the right to check someone’s criminal history record?’ Or ‘why do our leaders need to do training when they have been a youth leader for years?’ Understandable then, but accepted now.

Today, thankfully, our team of 23 trainers get nods of approval and recognition of why we do things the way we do, smiles of acknowledgement and an earnest desire to get things right. For the most part, training sessions are interactive, enjoyable and I frequently read on the evaluation forms, “I was not looking forward to coming out tonight, but the training session was really interesting and even quite good fun!”

There is an acceptance that what we need to provide is best practice – but there is never any room for complacency. The challenge for us continues - to ensuring our leaders are up to date with legal, policy and practice changes. To do this we need to constantly evaluate and improve training sessions, both in terms of content, style and activities, reconciling the requirements of training and local logistical demands.

Sadly, we can see from the ongoing historical abuse inquiries and recent revelations across the water in football, that child abuse itself is not a modern phenomenon. To minimise and prevent abuse today, all organisations, including PCI, must have robust guidelines and training programmes in place that safeguard children and young people, give those who work with them the confidence to report abuse and the ability to recognise the kind of situations that make children and young people vulnerable so abuse can be prevented.

PCI is looking ahead to new integrated guidelines that include working with adults at risk. At the same time, we need to continue to respond to the dangers of social media, a medium that has increased over the last decade.

While the world around us changes the aim of Taking Care remains the same: To create a safe environment in order to protect everyone, enabling ministry in our congregations to continue and to thrive.

Child protection must never be a tick box exercise; it is my conviction that we should strive for excellence in this area so that we continue to protect our children, young people, volunteers and leaders. As we work for the best we should also consider Paul’s advice from Colossians, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward”. (Col. 3:23)

Together we can stay safe.

Deborah Webster is the programme coordinator for Taking Care. You can find out more information about Taking Care here. If you would like to speak to someone about a child protection concern in relation to the Presbyterian Church then please do not hesitate to email the Taking Care office dwebster@presbyterianireland.org or call +44 (0)28 9032 2284.



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