The big interview — Safety first
Claudia Bell is a Safeguarding Advisor with the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS). She spoke recently with Sheila Marshall about keeping faith and secular environments safe for society’s most vulnerable.
ET: How did you become a Christian?
CB: My parents didn’t go to church but, when I was about 12, I wanted to go; I can’t remember why. I went to a Pentecostal church with my mum’s friend and loved it.
As I got older, I got interested in other things. I went on a Christian camp, but instead of running to God I ran away. Shortly after that, I didn’t really go to church again.
It wasn’t until I was about 21, after finishing university that I felt that calling again. A friend of mine introduced me to a church and I became a Christian in 1997.
ET: How has your faith played a role in your career to date?
CB: My parents were foster carers. I always wanted to be a social worker; I wanted to do something that was caring.
When I became a Christian, I was already a social worker working for a London borough. My work took on a different meaning, in terms of having compassion for people and living in a way that God had called me to.
Looking back, I can see that it has played a part in every area of my work. It’s great, because I now work for a Christian organisation, but still have contact with secular organisations.
ET: What frequent challenges have you faced in working with faith organisations?
CB: The biggest challenge with faith organisations is getting them to understand the importance of safeguarding and why it’s necessary in their churches and local communities.
Whilst a lot of churches get this right, some churches want to deal with everything themselves, which isn’t always appropriate.
ET: What frequent challenges have you faced in working with secular organisations?
CB: Despite CCPAS being a Christian organisation we are fairly well known for what we do amongst secular organisations. An ongoing challenge is maintaining a professional profile particularly when working with government bodies. As a team we are very experienced and knowledgeable which helps.
ET: What’s your response to the reports of abuse surrounding Jimmy Savile, the BBC and care homes?
CB: It’s really sad and highlights the level of secrecy attached to abuse. Abuse isn’t a taboo subject in society anymore, yet, people still don’t want to talk about it; often, it is out of fear.
There have been lots of questions about why people waited so long to report their experiences. In my experience, it’s because people haven’t been listened to before or they worry that they won’t be believed.
It’s a wake-up call for all of us. In my job at CCPAS we have certainly experienced an increase of calls about historical abuse and it’s important that people realise that it’s never too late to speak out.
ET: What are you most grateful for in your work?
CB: When I applied for my current job, I was excited that I could use my experience, skills and gifts for a Christian organisation, as well as for those who don’t have faith in Christ. It’s a real privilege and I’m thankful and humbled.
ET: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
CB: To always be confident in my decisions. In social work, there are some hard decisions that have to be made. It’s about seeking God’s wisdom; and, if I don’t feel 100 per cent confident that I can explain a decision, then I won’t make it.
ET: How do you unwind from work?
CB: I work from home so I miss the travelling time where I’d play a good gospel CD. Whenever I can I listen to music and spend time with my family. My family is important to me so it’s important to get work-life balance.
ET: Have you achieved that balance?
CB: I’m still working on it. Working from home takes discipline. I try my best to shut off from work at the weekends to enjoy family time.
ET: How can organisations and communities safeguard better?
CB: There is a wealth of resources, as well as advice and support available. CCPAS is the only independent Christian organisation that provides the breadth of resources, advice and support for churches.
I always talk about creating a safeguarding culture throughout the church, because the whole congregation needs to be aware of safeguarding issues. It’s about creating openness in the church, having clear lines of communication and making resources available to everyone.
CCPAS has a simple 6-minute DVD resource called Kids are safe here. We encourage churches to play that to the whole congregation about 3 or 4 times a year. That way, new people get a clear message that your church is serious about safeguarding.
ET: What are the marks of a safe community?
CB: First, one that accepts that abuse could conceivably happen in their midst. Sadly, as Christians, we are not immune from that.
Second, where measures are in place to safeguard children and vulnerable adults. CCPAS encourages churches to adopt the 10 safeguarding standards which include having a robust safeguarding policy, identifying someone to take responsibility for coordinating all safeguarding matters and training.
It’s right that our church doors should be open, but for that reason they are vulnerable because people with ill intent can gain easy access to children and vulnerable adults. Safer recruitment policies for all worker including volunteers are a must.
ET: Which verse has encouraged you most, recently?
CB: I carry Proverbs 31:8-9 with me all the time: ‘Open your mouth for the speechless, in the cause of all who are appointed to die. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy’.
The heart of the work is about protecting children and vulnerable adults who can’t make decisions or speak up for themselves.
ET: You said you listen to gospel music to unwind. Who are you currently listening to?
CB: I’m listening to Israel Houghton’s recent album, Jesus at the centre.