In May 2015, the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland (SBNI), the body with responsibility for agreeing how children’s agencies will cooperate and work together to promote the welfare and safety of children in N.I, established the ‘Interfaith’ Sub Group. The rationale for the creation of the group was to acknowledge the important and central role, which faith communities play in the wider safeguarding agenda for children and young people throughout Northern Ireland.
Faith communities offer a wide range of developmental and faith based activities. Faith groups also provide the extensive use of church and community facilities. If we truly want to engage with children, young people and their leaders to promote their safety and welfare there is no better route than through the engagement of faith communities in the safeguarding agenda.
To enhance the safeguarding work, already well-established within the faith sector in Northern Ireland, membership of the interfaith group comprises of staff with a safeguarding role currently working within the four main churches. Mr Lindsay Conway (Presbyterian Church), Dr Peter Hamill (Church of Ireland), Mr Nicky Blair (Methodist Church) and Mrs Barbara McDermott (Catholic Church and interim Chair for the group). To assist there are two additional members who provide advice, Mr Colin Reid, the Policy and Public Affairs Manager for the NSPCC and the PSNI’s Detective Chief Superintendent George Clarke who is the co-chair.
Once fully functioning, membership of the group is to be reviewed and the remit will be expanded to include other faith groups.
What does the group do?
One of the main tasks of this relatively small working group is to provide a formal arrangement for the faith community to meet regularly, to share their knowledge, skills and experience of best practice arrangements for safeguarding children across the churches in Northern Ireland.
In practical terms this arrangement allows for the sharing of safeguarding policies and procedures, training materials, resources, and local community initiatives. But most of all, it enhances effective communication and co-operation about safeguarding matters across faith groups in partnership with statutory and voluntary agency members of SBNI. Working together helps to standardised practice. For example, all churches have been challenged by the arrival of social media to develop regional best practice arrangements for the whole faith community.
As a subgroup of SBNI there are many advantages for the faith community to work together. The group can avail of the learning and resources from the work and achievements of other subgroups of SBNI.
The main aims of the interfaith group for 2016 include the following.
- To develop partnership working within Faith Groups, SBNI and others concerned in safeguarding children in Northern Ireland.
- To develop and share good practice arrangement and safeguarding resources suitable for use within this sector and encourage use across any Faith Group
- To review the wider SBNI policies and procedures for their applicability across the Faith Group sector and to seek to ensure the dissemination and encourage adoption of same.
- To identify local issues and develop safeguarding initiatives within Faith Groups and share across the wider SBNI membership
- To support the promotion within Faith Groups of appropriate safeguarding messages at an operational level.