Survivor engagement

This blog shares the latest updates and developments from the NSP.

At its last meeting, the National Safeguarding Panel scrutinised survivor engagement. The Panel heard from two members of staff working on survivor engagement in the National Safeguarding Team and two members of Diocesan Safeguarding Teams.

Survivor engagement and perspectives

The Panel acknowledged that the Church made a commitment at the 2018 General Synod to improve survivor engagement and since then it has grown significantly. The Panel wanted to know what have been the benefits, both at a national and diocesan level?

From a national perspective working with survivors helps in making policy and guidance fit for purpose. Dioceses are encouraged to develop their own survivor engagement strategies; however dioceses may be doing different things with some having made little progress. One successful approach is for dioceses to establish and co-ordinate survivor groups locally, who can advise them. There was recognition that dioceses need to learn from each other in order to improve practice.

A panel member asked why only a small number of survivors had engaged in the Past Cases Review 2 (PCR2). It was explained that the guidance had changed during the Review such that dioceses that began the work early had not been advised to put in place a survivor engagement strategy.

A staff member from the National Safeguarding Team acknowledged that there are misconceptions and fears in promoting survivor engagement. There is a fear of re-traumatising victims/survivors and some dioceses do not know how to deal with this.  The National Safeguarding Team is engaged in developing training with the input of survivors to address these concerns.

Working with survivors

Staff working in the National Safeguarding Team are committed to working alongside survivors to produce policy, guidance and training materials – usually referred to as co-production. The Panel asked for successful examples and to understand the challenges that need to be overcome to achieve a positive outcome.

One successful example is from the Newcastle diocese which led to the production of materials to support survivor engagement. The Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor demonstrated particular drive and skill in starting this work and a small group of survivors was brought together. There were positive benefits for survivors who found that they did not just contribute they also learned. The production of materials, which are now being used throughout the Church, led to a sense of achievement.  As a result of this experience, the National Safeguarding Team is encouraging other dioceses to establish small working groups which have parameters for the designated task and clear safeguarding arrangements, so people feel safe and confident to work with the church.

A diocesan staff member said that it comes down to relationships, “It’s not us and them, it’s us, coming together and agreeing what we can do collectively”. However, it should be recognised that some survivors do not want to be part of a group but their input is just as valuable, so having other ways for them to contribute is important.  

A member of the National Safeguarding Team emphasised the similarities of findings across different reports and from their work with survivors. Different pieces of work with implications for survivor engagement need to complement each other and avoid duplication.

The Responding Well policy guidance reflects survivor feedback and there are a number of survivors on the Responding Well Implementation Group. It was also noted that national projects such as the Redress Scheme have benefited significantly from survivors being members of the relevant working group.

Survivor Reference Group

Several years ago the Church of England set up a Survivor Reference Group. The Panel asked whether given the much greater number of survivors now engaged with the church, there is a continuing need for this group.

There was recognition that engagement with the Survivor Reference Group had stalled, and coupled with staff turnover, this has led to a lack of understanding of the history of the group. The National Safeguarding Team are currently discussing a way forward. The increased engagement with a wider group of survivors requires an assessment as to  whether a Survivor Reference Group is the right way forward.


Noting that communication with survivors is a feature of several recommendations of the Independent Safeguarding Board report, the Panel asked how the adoption of a Victim Charter would help survivor engagement?

A member of the National Safeguarding Team said that there are similar findings in a number of reports. Commitments to survivors with regard to support are currently set out in the “Responding Well to Victims and Survivors of Abuse” policy.  

Questions were asked about commitments in the recent survivor survey and a response will be published in due course. It may be that a Charter is not the best way to deliver the commitments. Clearer guidance from the National Safeguarding Team could help improve consistency across dioceses. However, it was recognised that dioceses are independent entities and may resist central directives.

An example of good practice was highlighted where a diocese has developed a leaflet which sets out standards of service and expectations. Crucially it includes timescales for responding to contacts from survivors.

The Panel were conscious that there have been a number of reports and surveys of victims and survivors but as yet there is no coherent overall engagement plan.

Sharing learning

The Panel noted an increasing number of survivors being used to support a variety of projects and consultation initiatives and therefore asked what opportunities are there to share learning and experiences?

A member of the National Safeguarding Team responded that there is a commitment to sharing safeguarding learning and to ensure that it is disseminated nationally. One way is through Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor learning days and events. The weekly safeguarding newsletter from the National Safeguarding Team also includes relevant information and there are monthly meetings for all staff who engage with survivors. Dioceses ensure that they share survivor feedback.

Diocesan Safeguarding Advisory Panels (DSAPs)

Diocesan staff were asked about roles of DSAPs in relation to survivor engagement and whether survivors are represented on panels.

Some dioceses have representation and the Panels have a crucial role in monitoring diocesan survivor engagement strategies. Ensuring that there are good services in the dioceses for survivors is also a key role of Panels. National Safeguarding Team staff said that the work to develop a regional model of safeguarding offers opportunities to assess the consistency of the delivery of safeguarding standards including that of DSAPs. This forms part of this year’s work programme.

Social media

The Panel asked how account is being taken of newer processes of grooming and abuse such as via the internet and social media. Are there processes to hear the experiences of children and young people?

The National Safeguarding Team are undertaking extensive mapping activity to establish where children’s voices are being heard through known networks and how this could be improved. The aim is to ensure feedback is used to tackle preventative opportunities and stop harm. There is a recognition of the need to diversify survivor engagement particularly involving children, young people, and families.

Support and supervision of staff

The Panel recognised that staff need both support and supervision when engaging with survivors.

The National Safeguarding Team provides monthly peer group meetings and access to a wellbeing adviser. Panel members recognised that staff and clergy supporting survivors have to deal with some challenging issues including survivors’ sense of betrayal by the Church. In addition to the abuse there has often been a violation of faith and morality. Diocesan support and supervision were identified as key factors that needed to be enhanced to improve services for survivors.


The Panel acknowledged the growth of survivor participation and engagement in safeguarding activity over recent years. This is reflected in the additional investment and resources committed to it by the Church of England. There are many examples of good practice being delivered at national and diocesan level. The Panel recognised the valuable role that survivors play and the significant commitment that is made by them to assisting the Church to improve its safeguarding practice.

Despite this, those who have experienced church-based abuse still have fundamental concerns about too many areas of safeguarding practice. This has been a recurring theme in published reports including that of IICSA (the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse), PCR2 and the Independent Safeguarding Board report (mentioned above). The findings of the Panel scrutiny session provide further evidence that on many occasions survivors’ expectations are not being wholly met in areas of engagement, consultation, policy development and practice.


  1. The Panel will further consider ways to explore the underlying tensions and barriers which can present in the relationships between staff members, survivors, survivor groups and their advocates.
  2. The Panel notes that the Director of Safeguarding is reviewing the arrangements of the current Survivor Reference Group. The Panel recognises the frustrations experienced by some survivors in respect of the group and wishes to scrutinise the new proposals at the earliest opportunity.
  3. The Panel accepts that there needs to be a positive shift in the mindset and approach to survivor engagement to ensure it becomes part of the business-as-usual approach for the church, delivering genuine working together. The National Safeguarding Team should provide assurance that the Survivor Engagement Framework will address this.
  4. Consistency of service standards and service expectations for survivors at a national and diocesan level remain weak. The Panel should be apprised at its meeting in December 2023 of the progress of work to address these issues.
  5. The Director of Safeguarding should update the Panel on the outcomes of its mapping work to harness children’s voices within the safeguarding programme.
  6. The National Safeguarding Team should produce a coherent forward plan for survivor engagement with key milestones and share this with the Panel at the earliest opportunity.

The meeting covered a lot of ground but still had a number of questions. The Panel would welcome written answers.

  • What data is collected to provide insights into the contributions and issues highlighted by survivors and how is this management information reviewed and assessed to support both survivors and staff?
  • Survivor engagement aims to be inclusive, meaningful, and impactful – how is this evaluated?
  • The Panel notes a considerable number of recommendations in the Independent Safeguarding Board report on survivors’ experiences. Within the NST what capacity is there to address the 38 primary and 46 secondary recommendations?


Reading this blog may have affected you and raised issues of concern.

If you are a survivor or victim of church-related abuse and feel the need to talk to someone, you can contact Safe Spaces helpline on 0300 303 1056.

The following link will take you to the Church of England website and the page on reporting abuse and support for victims and survivors.

You can find more information on how victims and survivors can engage with the Church of England.

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