Key appointment to new safeguarding service for religious congregations in England and Wales

Independent Catholic News [London, England]

August 20, 2021

Anne O’Brien of Hexham and Newcastle diocese has been appointed as Chair of a new safeguarding structure dedicated to supporting the responsibilities of religious congregations.

The ‘Religious Life Safeguarding Service’ is being set up following a review of safeguarding across the Catholic Church conducted by Dr Ian Elliott. This review recommended significant changes to the organisation and delivery of safeguarding services in the Church. The Religious Life Safeguarding Service will offer a full safeguarding service designed for Religious Congregations, including the provision of case work and training.

For three years Anne O’Brien has been the Chair of the Independent Safeguarding Commission for the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle – and has also worked at a national level for the last 20 years within the NHS and the Department of Health. She held a Company Board Director position at NHS Professionals Ltd for 11 years. Anne is a faculty member of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh Quality Governance Collaborative and is currently advising the College on its global engagement and governance activity.

Fr David Smolira SJ has been overseeing the development of this new service for the past 7 months and said this about the appointment: “I am absolutely delighted that Anne O’Brien has accepted the role of Chair of the Board of the Religious Life Safeguarding Service. She brings a wealth of safeguarding expertise and experience as well as a proven track record in governance. As the first Chair of the Board, Anne will play a very important role in developing the service and ensuring that its commitment to best practice and responding compassionately and professionally to the needs of victim/survivors will be at the heart of what the RLSS does.”

Anne O’Brien commented: ”It is a privilege and a responsibility to become the first Chair of the RLSS, particularly at such a pivotal time for safeguarding in the Catholic Church. I intend to use my experience to support religious congregations embrace the changes we need to make, and I look forward to getting out and about listening and learning, ensuring we bring people with us as we develop. The voice of those hurt will be heard and will help us to improve what we do.”

Those in Religious Life in England & Wales and the Religious Life Safeguarding Service itself are fully committed to working to create a safer Church for everyone and to fully implement the recommended changes of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and the Elliott review.

In part, this is being done in response to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) and the Elliott Review, both of which reported towards the end of 2020 and both of which were critical of the safeguarding work being undertaken in the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

The Religious of England and Wales are completed committed to following best practice in the area of safeguarding and are willing to invest significant financial resources into this project to ensure that this happens.

The new approach, recommended by Dr Ian Elliott, will be a standards-based approach to safeguarding and this will be audited by the Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency.

Previously safeguarding needs were primarily met through dioceses but going forward the Religious Life Safeguarding Service will offer a dedicated service to meet the safeguarding needs of Religious. Like all other areas of the Church the RLSS will be working with the standards and regulations set by the Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency in a one church approach.