Category Archives: Children

We can all agree with Mr Cameron that ……

Whatever one’s politics, there is little doubt that in his Party Conference speech the Prime Minister set out his agenda for the next five years with clarity and no small degree of passion.

In the following hours and weeks it will be examined, questioned, praised an/or sceptically evaluated, and in future months and years he will be held to account, as indeed he should be.

There was one section of his address however,  where there can surely be widespread consensus, and one upon which the Church of England’s incoming General Synod might perhaps take a supportive position without risk of accusation of political partisanship.

I refer to that section in which the Prime Minister addressed the problems of those whose start in life was blighted, leading to institutional care.

The prognosis for such young people is unbelievably bleak. The PM was absolutely right to identify this as a priority.

If you have had such a poor start to life, so that the State intervened in your family and became your “Statutory Parent”, your life prospects have plunged from that point on. One does not have to apportion blame as one remarks upon this, but simply look at the historical statistical outcomes.

Such a young person will be highly unlikely to achieve 5 reasonable GSE’s; university education is incredibly rare.

One’s prospects of falling into crime, homelessness, worklessness, substance abuse, family breakdown, mental illness  or suicide, are very high indeed, and if there are children – which is more likely than not, they will statistically be highly likely to repeat the cycle. Few areas of publicly funded failure have such long lasting or cruel consequences.

When we hear folk speak of the alienated “under-class”, those with a history of being parented by the State will feature with excessive prominence within the cohort.

These outcomes will occur despite the whole process having cost the State a fortune. It is wasteful on every level, not least in the spoiling of human potential.

Yet it does not have to be like this. There are rare examples of people from difficult backgrounds making it against the odds, and no better example currently exists, than the present Justice Minister, Michael Gove who was himself an adopted child.

That gives Brother Ivo hope.

Mr Gove has responsibility for the prison service in which so many of those who began life like him currently languish. He seems to have a sense that ” there but for the grace of God go I’ and if he ever appears to  lose that sense, he may be properly reminded of it as he goes about his reforming work. Such work will complement the work of the Home Secretary and Children’s Minister in this multi-faceted field.

Surely nothing the Prime Minister said on this subject can be controversial or sensibly denied?

Neither Party has a decent record on the subject so political point scoring by either side is unsustainable; one hopes a joint determination to go forward from here is possible.

Our Churches should be at the forefront of encouraging the Government  in its endeavours within this area, yet we also need to be sympathetic critics, monitoring performance of the specific policies that flesh out the fine aspirations.

If we are to lift the alienated underclass, which all politicians aspire to achieve, it plainly makes sense to first stop adding to it. Already there are moves to preserve such youngsters within a stable family orbit beyond technical adulthood, but we need to do so much more.

This is one of those areas where strong supportive funding does make sense; such is the accumulation of costs “downstream” if early intervention is unsuccessful, that a focus on intensive  investment, innovation and the developing of consistent, long lasting, supportive relationships is wholly justified.

If the Churches cannot find a supportive role within this project, it will scarcely be able to lecture either Government or Society on the “socially relevant Gospel” again.

Legal Aid is vital to avoid transience within communities

Whilst visiting a local church in one of the poorest parishes in the Diocese, Brother Ivo enjoyed a conversation over coffee with a lady who was deeply involved in outreach to her local community.

The Church ran a cafe ensuring a good affordable hot meal on a daily basis in sociable surroundings. They were very supportive of debt counselling but struggling to find enough time and advisors to meet the need. There was good work offered to children and young people. They were perhaps the last stable institution staring in an impoverished areas and they were anxious to stay, and serve the poor the lonely and the outcast.

It is the kind of church which makes one proud to be. Christian.

They had built their presence thanks to the receipt of grants, including good support from the local Diocese, and the Local Council, yet therein lies the problems. All such grants are limited in scope and time. Having built a functioning project for the benefit of the poor, it was threatened by an approaching end to funding streams.

The church remained dedicated and optimistic and were praying for support.

Should they be forced to contract their activities, the church will join a long list of sectors to have withdrawn from the community.

Once, the parish had housed the skilled workers for a large local defence establishment. Decline in the areas began when that facility had been closed, sacrificed to sustain another community in another part of the country. Shops closed, mutual associations and friendly societies were raided by carpet baggers intent on short term profit; pubs disappeared, and with them, local sports and other voluntary organisations all of which ceased to be active. Little by little, the structures of society ebbed away, until only the Church remains.

It is not only the public infrastructure which has departed, so have traditional local families.

That had always been the case in a modest form. As families “got on” they tended to move up the hill to slightly better or bigger houses, and young people moved to other parts of the country after going to university, but this natural turnover became worse and accelerated faster.

When the local economy sunk into depression,  house prices dropped and were bought up by ” buy to let ” landlords. Their client group reflected demographic change. Set in an area close to London the community experienced a squeeze from two directions; from recent European immigrants arriving from the Channel ports, and from others moving out of London as rental costs continue to rise in the capital.

With a ready supply of poorer, socially disadvantaged, often unsophisticated renters available, absentee landlords have no difficulty letting sub-standard properties.  the Local Council has other pressing priorities and are slow to enforce the law. People don’t like living there and move when they can even though the “grass is not greener” in the next property.

It is in this context, that Brother Ivo draws attention to the recently published Theos report arguing that there is a need to restore Legal Aid. You may read the story here – http://www.solicitorsjournal.com/news/legal-profession/legal-aid/legal-aid-side-angels

It is precisely because tenants can no longer enforce the law relating to housing law, because Legal Aid is not available, that the quality of the housing stock has declined. If you cannot enforce rights and standards, your only recourse is to move on – if you can. you have no pride of place, few places of common ground, and frequently no common language or culture with those about you.

It is in transient communities that drug dealing, human trafficking, and many other anti-social activities can flourish.

In the 1990’s,  New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton pioneered policing methods which transformed first that city then Los Angeles, based upon the premise that dealing with the smaller problems of a local community paid huge dividends with the higher profile concerns. He famously demonstrated that by zero tolerance of petty crime, such as little , broken windows and graffiti, you established a social climate in which the murder rate markedly reduced.

Our Victorian forebears who founded such communities originally put it a different way. “Look after the pence and the pounds will look after themselves.’

The same principle applies with the building of community and Legal Aid has an important place which is easily overlooked in anti-lawyer rhetoric.

Stable community cannot be built out of transience, because so many other social problems flow from it.

This is not a party political issue. The savage cutting of Legal Aid happened under Labour after many years of persistent neglect. The Conservative/Liberal coalition has maintained that policy of deliberately ignoring the enforcement of the law by and on behalf of the poor.

Damage has already been done. Law firms have closed in such areas, as have Community Law Centres. The expertise which had been developed in earlier decades in specialist areas of law has already been lost.

In public finance terms, the savings are small but disproportionately harmful.

Community requires local identification because only if local people are cohesive and care for each other can they have the kind of society in which they demonstrate love for their neighbour by reporting the drug dealer, the violent partner, the neglected child or the exploited immigrant.

We need to identify transience as an important factor in righting these social problems, and whilst it is not popular to speak of the need for Legal Aid we probably cannot address many of the issues driving social exclusion adequately without it.

When Judges and Bishops “rebel”

Sir Nicholas Creighton is not a politician, neither is he a bishop. Brother Ivo does not know if he is a Christian, but as he discharges his duties as a District Judge in the specialist Drug and Alcohol Family Court in London, he demonstrates much that is similar in approach to that of the Anglicans Bishops whose recently published pastoral letter urges a fresh approach upon those about to contest the general election.

If you do not know about Sir Nicholas’ innovative work in resolving intractable family problems you can read about it here. http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/practice/family-drug-and-alcohol-court-breaking-the-habit/5041570.fullarticle

In a nutshell the Court which he has created in a pilot scheme, targets the most complex and intractable of cases where parents have failed their children through misuse of drugs or alcohol.

Many of the parents will have been brought up by neglectful cruel or incompetent parents themselves, so the problems are compounded by emotional issues which would be difficult enough to resolve as stand alone problems, even before substance abuse and inevitable poverty potentiated the difficulties.

These “families” are characterised by lack of routine, multiple relationships, and state dependency, and having been neglected or actively subverted by societal messaging that drug use and single parenthood is perfectly capable of delivering ” good enough” parenting.

Such parents are shocked when State and its agents suddenly turn from being indulgent provider to aggressive accuser, giving such fragile parents just 6 months to turn around the habits of a lifetime,  with the penalty of losing their children forever should they be incapable of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.

Sir Nicholas identifies the problem succinctly.

“A system that goes on removing children because of drug and alcohol issues, but does nothing about the core problem, is a ‘failing system’, he adds: ‘We know from experience that a mother who has a child removed deliberately goes out to get pregnant again because it is the only way she can heal the wound of the loss.’

They inevitably return , they cannot heal themselves : “if they knew better, they’d do better”.

These are people with tragic lives, often the product of poor decisions – many their own. Whilst we are enjoined not to be judgemental, they have almost invariably failed to follow the very simple basic rules for avoiding poverty, and family chaos.

1) Don’t drop out of school
2) Don’t have children under 21 years
3) Get married before having children
4) Don’t engage in substance abuse

Our societal failure to promulgate these simple basic rules is at the heart of many of tragedies that arrive in the family courts. Our Bishops could help in this regard but rarely do so with clarity.

Sir Nicholas  tired of seeing the pain of families being administered into heartbreaking separation, and of his part in letting it happen. Having seen the value of joined up thinking in the Courts of Santa Barbara California, he started a bold initiative to do things better in London. He convinced Government Departments and Local Authorities to give him enough free rein and funding – “peanuts” – to do things differently,

When Court proceedings are started, parents are brought to him quickly. He sets out a programme in consultation with independent social workers, therapists, child and adult psychiatrists, substance abuse experts and a clinical nurse. He talks plainly, offering failing parents a promise of a fair chance and real support in return for determined engagement and total honesty. If the parents agree, they enter a programme of intensive change, support and regular drug testing.

It is not perfect, it has many failures when even these efforts cannot rescue parents from deep habits and emotional fragility. The project has, however, markedly improved the prospects of success for families staying together- and when this happens the case ends with congratulations and applause for all the hard work – led by the Judge.

So what has this to do with our Bishop’s pastoral letter enjoining politicians to change their modus operandi?

The Judge, like the Bishops, recognised that standing imperiously above the process and passing judgement, was not enough. To achieve what was needed required him to re-define his role. Our Bishops seem of similar mind.

He engages the failing families with direct and refreshing honesty. One might say that he engages them with equality, and refreshing respect: he does not condescend or dissemble. He put the challenge bluntly, offered a hand up, but does not shirk from making a tough decision when the primary interest of the children required it.

He sees that the common good – of the families and the wider community – have a mutual interest in investing time effort and resources  to reverse the cycle of failure, which frequently cascades down through the generations.

He plainly believes that the failed families before him were worth the effort of redemption.

He recognises that the people he has spend years judging have a culture of failure; it is not, as our politically correct friends would have us believe, an equally valid life style choice. Nevertheless he offers them respect though a real choice: nobody can do this  for them, although if they accept the challenge they may succeed. Nothing is guaranteed, nobody can succeed for them, but the specialist Court gives them their best chance.

Neither the Judge, nor the bishops have got it all right. Both are venturing outside of their traditional roles. Both are motivated by a combination of compassion and informed practicality. We should welcome the good that can come out of it, yet this can only happen if we too fully engage with the process.

There is much to approve in the Bishop’s initiative, yet also a strand of paternalism and trust in the benefits State intervention that many find jarring, especially when they look at our own past and the French present.

Sir Nicholas seems to have struck the balance rather better.

Help is offered – but accompanied by realistic expectation.

Personal responsibility is not overlooked.

Bad destructive values are bluntly challenged.

Resources are targeted in a timely manner, but contractually based, and for carefully defined purpose.

There is compassion, but not indulgent sentimentality.

It is a blend of optimism, tempered by real world experience.

With a Judges talent for succinct communication Sir Nicholas can also encapsulate his thinking in considerably less than 52 pages, Our Bishops might do well to learn by this example.

The First Lesson of the Chilcott Inquiry

Brother Ivo has never read the Chilcott Report: nobody who was not a witness or a close associate of that process has.

It is an inquiry into an immensely important and complicated matter, involving not only historical facts about what did or did not happen before Britain went to war in Iraq, but also diplomatic matters with our principal ally the United States. with whom we have long shared sensitive security information and political confidences.

That said, most of the participants who made the decisions are still alive, many of the discussions were minutely documented and minuted, and although we are addressing issues from 10 years ago, most of the participants are alive and mentally agile enough to engage actively in the process.

Nevertheless, we have arrived at a complete shambles. Nobody is satisfied. There is much suspicion of cover up, and prevarication.

The Inquiry was conducted by a career Civil Servant.

Consider now the growing dissatisfaction with the inquiry into historical sexual abuse of children, which is currently parked whilst the “stakeholders” argue about the identity of the Chair and the scope of the investigation which is already looking at a minimum of 40 years of contentious evidence, with less reliable documentation and many participants within the process and history old or dead.

There is immense emotion involved in the historic abuse inquiry with lives having been utterly destroyed: the levels of personal investment is even greater with wholly understandable frustration, anger and a sense of injustice abounding. These factors are currently disabling the historical Abuse Inquiry from even taxiing down the runway, still less taking off.

The capable management of such an Inquiry is much much more complex and sensitive even than that of the Chilcott Inquiry. It is for this reason that the choice of Chair is so important.

Some readers will know that Brother Ivo was disappointed when Dame Butler-Sloss was forced to stand down from chairing the process. The perception of potential bias had been elevated beyond the requirement of fundamental competence to the task: sobeit.

Those who resist in principal the appointment of distinguished  Judge well versed in complex. case management need to reflect carefully upon the current Chilcott debacle.

This is what a non Judge led Inquiry looks like.

The identification of issues, evaluation of contentious facts, Judgment of credibility and succinct presentation of findings, is utterly normal to even the middle order judge, and the vast majority of cases are not only not appealed but are unappealable when explained by those whose training ethos and culture, predispose them to avoiding the errors of discursive, lengthy, and contentious judgements. Professional habituation training and ingrained good practice is vital if one is not to prolong such highly emotionally charged investigations

Professional competence within a known sphere of expertise is something we take for granted in our doctors, engineers, architects, and plumbers. Those who routinely complain that our judiciary should not undertake the Chairing of such Inquiries, need to observe what is happening over Chilcott and note what results when we entrust such matters to those whose lifelong professional experience is not within the required area of expertise.

To put it in the most populist terms, in such cases we need Judge John Deed, not Sir Humphrey Appleby

Toxic Transience

When Brother Ivo was elected to serve on General Synod, he resolved to worship with other parishes from time to time. He has tried to vary the churchmanship beyond familiarity, and has prioritised those in the poorer areas. Yesterday, he joined a congregation which is drawn from the poorest parish in the Diocese.

It was well attended, welcoming and instructive.

The Diocese has supported it well and it is well used in various guises, throughout the week. Debt counselling, a lunch club, silver surfers, youth activities, are but some of the activities which comprise their weekly offering to the community, and yet they are worried.

Because of their deprived area, they have attracted grants over the years, from European, Diocesan and Local Government sources but these were for capital projects, so far so good, but they are now entering the next phase, running on hope and prayer.

When asked directly what they would say to General Synod, given the chance, worshippers answered  Brother Ivo in similar vein, –  essentially “Don’t forget the poor”.

They like what they hear about Archbishop Justin, and when pressed, acknowledge that the institutional church has been supportive up to now, but they feel especially insecure. They are a church on the margins, they are not self supporting, and what they rightly suspect, though most probably do not know, is that the Anglican Church is about to embark on a major review (General Synod paper GS 1978) of how we should be “Resourcing the future of the Church of England”.

If there is any comfort to them and churches like them, it has been conveniently highlighted for them.
“We believe that equal weight should be given to the purposes of a) the support and development of mission work in the most deprived communities and b) proactive investment in new opportunities for growth across the country”.

It is hard to think the Church will not endorse that strategy, but it will come at a price.

If the Angican church puts its financial priorities into the inner city/ deprived town centres inevitably there will be smaller, perhaps equally faithful and prayerful congregations which will find their churches amalgamated or closed. Ancient buildings may be abandoned like eroded coastlines left to crumble.

Having voted in the last session to allow rural churchyards to be grazed by sheep, the resting places of past forebears may well be given over to benign neglect.

Synod may decide “So be it”.

Talking to those struggling to sustain mission in hard pressed urban areas one interesting feature emerged. “Transience” is a major problem. WE all talk of poverty and “lack of resources” but “transience” is an under-discussed factor>

Brother Ivo heard how the community has changed in and around the church where he worshipped. Once the surrounding streets would have housed workers for s single large blue collar employing facility. The houses would have been owner occupied, and the shops, pubs voluntary organisations, sports clubs, and churches would have made up the community.

Now, the principal employer having gone. Those in work began commuting elsewhere and with higher income moved to “better areas”.

Local business has declined, housing stock has been bought by absentee, often neglectful, landlords. The police are not seen, crime has risen and with it drug addiction and anti-social behaviour. The resilience of the local community has been sapped not least by disillusion. But also because the local families- the social glue – are much in decline. People are not marrying and separation which is higher amongst those living together – especially in poverty – compounds the transience.Those who move away from extended are more isolated and often more transient.

London Boroughs have re-located people to these communities, the rentals are on short hold tenancies, into sue standard housing where nobody wishes to remain. THere are no legal aid housing lawyers to fight their cases as Government has all but killed the sector. Many of the newcomers happen to be Eastern European who do not speak English, and thus community is further undermined.  Where it exists it is not in touch with the indigenous poor and suspicion arises, even from the Churchgoers. THere is suspicion of undetected criminality and people trafficking. These areas may be ” multi-cultural” . What is less in evidence is “community”.

It is this scarce ” asset ” which the Church can and does supply, and why “transience” is a factor we need to bring specifically into account more frequently, when discussing the problem.

What will help such communities?

Two frequent answers are “resources” and “education”.

What is particularly striking about Brother Ivo’s visit is that he learnt that the local school is failing.

That may not seem surprising until one hears that not 400 yards from the church in question, massive investment has been made in a school which Brother Ivo visited at its re-opening in 2010. It is a fine and well resourced building. There were more IMacs in a single classroom than in the nearby Bluewater Apple Superstore.

“Resources” cannot be the answer there. Results are the third worst in the country.

” Transience ” may be part of that problem, not least in the school leadership: they are on their third Headteacher since the re-build. Children come and go. Middle class parents who do remain in the catchment area do not want their children at a failing school. THe school fails partly because of the poor results imported with every newly disrupted transient child. That is a diagnosis not a criticism.

How one addresses “transience” may be complex. Labour mobility may be a good thing in certain circumstances, but plainly in the poorest communities it is also potentially toxic.

One cannot halt community decline unless and until one can give the very poor some semblance of stability from which we can build strategies to set them back on a path to integration into mainstream society.

Whether that strategy be one of debt management, language tuition, skills training or whatever, the halting of transience appears to be an early priority. The support of  local Churches with their community mission as part of spreading the Gospel must surely be an early part of the bringing of much needed stability and re-generation.

When the police, housing office, scout troops, and business community have moved out, our Churches are frequently the only foundation stone left . We surely don’t need too much discussion to decide what Christ would have us do.

Culture Matters

The late John Mortimer QC was a good lawyer, entertaining writer and renowned social reformer. He was also a fine raconteur, drawing upon a fund of Court stories, to bring colourful authenticity to his stories of his compassionate comic creation, Horace Rumpole.

He once told of an exchange he witnessed in a London Magistrate Court, when a drunk was ” up before the beak” having been arrested for being drunk and disorderly after vomiting into the stairwell of an Underground station on the commenting crowd below. It was a pretty vile occurrence.

After sentence the Magistrate attempted to counsel the drunk.

“You must not drink alcohol” he remonstrated. ” Not a drop, not even the teensy  weeiest sherry before your supper”.

The magistrate plainly had no concept of the life of the malefactor, and the story raises a smile because of it. There was a complete cultural chasm which made such well meaning advice frankly comic. However well meaning, the life experiences between them made easy comparison frankly ludicrous.

Brother Ivo recalled this story to mind when hearing discussions about drugs policy and noting that it is suggested that policies adopted in other countries can be ported across to the UK with similar results. It is especially ironic when proponents describe this as “evidence based”.

The elephant in the room for such advocates is the liberalisation of alcohol sales.

There was a time when selling alcohol was restricted to a relatively small number of outlets, only selling the product within narrow time bands and at risk of having their licence renewal denied if their premises was perceived as a hotbed of disorderly behaviour.

Potential licensees had to appear before Justicice to confirm that they would not sell alcohol to those who “are or appear to be drunk”.

The reformers of alcohol laws held out the promise of liberalisation ushering in an era of Italian style cafe culture, with young people sipping an early evening proseco before walking home to Mum with whom they still lived, and who was waiting there with the rest of the family with the customary hand made spaghetti.

One only has to pay a late night visit a University city centre to note how very different our society and its young people responded to such changes.

A similar striking comparison arose out of the sexual revolution. The Dutch attitude to prostitution and extra marital sex was often called to aid during the sexual revolution in the latter part of the 20th century.

Yet today, whilst the UK now stands as the worst, in terms of teenage pregnancy, in the world the Netherlands has the lowest rate, reflecting perhaps an earlier strict Protestant culture  where a child out of wedlock still carried societal disapproval. Similar laws – but very different outcomes.

In yet another field, the prevalence of gun ownership in the USA is often used to suggest a direct corolation between lawful ownership and unlawful deaths, yet Switzerland has similar widespread gun possession without US levels if murder.

Put simply, culture matters.

How the same policy plays out may vary vastly between different communities.

The issue of how we deal with our serious drugs problem is too complex for the scope if this blog, but anyone who believes that easy comparisons can be made between different cultures is misleading themselves and the debate.

The Anglo-Saxon culture has long had a culture of excess in relation to alcohol as literature testifies; Chaucer Pardoner’s tale centres upon it, Shakespeare’s Falstaff is no moderate imbiber, and Hogarth paints a surprisingly modern picture of this country’s relationship with booze.

Offered the chance to engage with oblivion, this culture appears to be drawn to making that existential choice. Even the eloquently liberal Rumpole was an habitué of El Vino’s demanding a bottle of its finest cooking claret, after his latest thumbing of the nose at the legal establishment.

The social evils associated with drugs are many, complex and serious.

The costs are both direct – in terms of health care and crime, but also indirect, in terms of child abuse, undiagnosed mental health issues, self harm and family breakdown. Those indirect costs are not only financial but emotional.

Family dysfunction is a communicable social disease which grows exponentially. Any modern Rumpole knows from direct experience that drugs run like a musical theme throughout the tragedies of most of the characters who populate the case load of any practitioner of law in the fields of crime, domestic violence, child abuse, housing law, or welfare rights.

Many with close knowledge of the devastation which drugs cause to families and, especially, children will view any proposed change with great care. Improved practice is welcome; informed culturally calibrated policy will assist; facile comparisons with unrelated cultures will not.

Defending Lord Hope -different times, different understandings

Child abuse is back in the public eye.

Archbishop Justin has been reported in the Daily Telegraph as having broken down in tears at the horror of engaging with yet more stories of child abuse, having immersed himself in the detail of many historic cases and then meeting survivors personally. Brother Ivo is not surprised.

It is possible to inure oneself to such material, indeed it is very necessary for professionals in the field to do so, for otherwise the tasks of analysis could simply not be done. Like trauma paramedics and surgeons, the constant exposure to raw pain and tragedy can have searing affects on those not habituated to it, and those who have to consider these  matters on a daily basis have to  harden their emotional carapaces to survive. Beyond the initial investigating officers, Prosecutors are required by “best practice” to view relevant images. Officers and the lawyers testing such allegations have to ask in detail what happened and press victims for verifiable detail.

To appreciate the difficulty involved, it is worth reminding ourselves that the weeping Archbishop is the same Justin Welby who was brave enough to surrender himself to heavily armed Muslim terrorists in order to negotiate the release of hostages. He did this on more than one occasion. This is not a man who lacks courage, strength of character or self control.

That is the measure of what such stories can do to the strongest of characters, and explains his determination to expose the past wrongdoings. It also shows how hard it is to engage with such matters. It was perhaps even harder in the past when society found it hard to credit such allegations.

We also seem to be having further difficulty finding a suitable person to chair the public inquiry into child abuse at the heart of public life. Having jettisoned Lady Butler-Sloss because her brother was Attorney General at the time, we now have the Commons Committee taking a second look at Fiona Woolfe, the former President of the Law Society and Lord Mayor of London.

She was apparently on dinner party terms with Leon Brittan whose handling of child abuse dossiers during his time as Home Secretary may form part of the Inquiry, and so many  say this makes her an unsuitable choice. Brother Ivo is inclined to the view that anyone with Lady Woolfe’s background who considers herself not to be a part of the establishment must have slightly dubious judgement for that alone. Sometimes we can cannot see the blinding obvious because we do not want to. It may make us wrong, it does not make us evil.

Whilst the Inquiry will be assisted by many other persons of varying expertise, one cannot help thinking that the Chair should be a leading Judge with long direct experience of both the nature of the subject and the way in which this field of the Law evolved.

We have a dilemma. If we choose someone who was working in Child Protection at the time, they may have some connection with some of the people whose judgements are under question, if they are of a later generation they are out of touch with those times.

Child abuse, past and present is poisonous.

The Church of England is currently responding with what may be a wholly understandable over reaction, on the “better to be safe than sorry” principle.

For some years we have required strict checking of all volunteers; that said, Brother Ivo is aware that in some Dioceses there is still significant complacency amongst clergy and delay in undertaking awareness training. It is now a disciplinary offence to allow a visiting preacher into the pulpit even on a single ocassionally without checking their Disclosure and Barring Service status. This is to prevent friends of suspended clergy giving opportunity to be once again the public face of the Church.

Similar hard practice applies in the secular world too, not leasting to best selling authors reading to children in bookstores.. Apparently the author Philip Pulman reacted to such requirements in 2009: ” It is insulting and I think unnecessary, and I refuse to be complicit in any scheme that assumes my guilt.”

That such indignation occurs in modern times, may give some slight insight into the problems which confronted many in much more naive times, not least former Archbishop David Hope.

Many years ago judges, policemen, clergy, Headteachers etc had a very imperfect understanding of sexuality in all its sometimes shocking variety. Their understanding of child abuse was even less

Brother a Ivo’s father had never heard of homosexuality until he joined the services in 1942. Queen Victoria famously caused the exclusion of lesbians from the criminalisation of homosexual behaviour because she simply could not believe that such things happened.

Today’s 10 year olds probably have a greater range of sex education than the bishops and judges of yesteryear, and cunning abusers knew how to play the game of outraged innocence in order to discomfort accusers. It was easy then to pull the wool over eyes that were culturally reluctant to see. It also worked on the simply inadequately prepared. We are called to be as wise a serpents and gentle as doves. Sometimes the wolves play on the gentleness of doves.

Even institutions like the National Council for Civil Liberties allowed the Paedophile Information Exchange to hide in plain sight like Jimmy Savile at the BBC. When intelligent women like Harriet Harman and Esther Rantzen were blind-sided by such people, how can we be surprised at the failures of senior clergy of a very different generation? We may judge them as insufficient to the task -which many were with hindsight and would acknowledge- but we should be slow to go further

In the 1950’s there was less public sexuality. Like Queen Victoria, most could never conceive of a child as the object of sexual desire. Even today, Brother Ivo suspects that many would struggle to “see” the inconceivable.

If you have not confronted it, who could imagine a mother choosing to remain in the same room watching television whilst her boyfriend penetrates her two year old on the dining room table? Who could conceive of her remaining on a relationship with such a man? It is natural not to want to believe such things happen, yet this is the measure of depravity that brings one Archbishop under suspicion of neglect and another to tears.

Of course we must condemn and learn, but before ascribing gross neglect, still less complicity, it is important to remind ourselves that we have built our understanding by learning from much past failure of those lower down the learning curve, and the considerable exploitation of naivity. Victims were manipulated by cunning and wicked perpetrators.

So were some who failed to protect.

Putti is in the eye of the beholder

images-5

One suspects that the Bishops of the Anglican Church will be slow to join the debate about whether the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party ought to be offering an apology for her tenuous association with the Paedophile Information Exchange via her NCCL employment in the 1970’s.

This may be an error.

Having joined the party political debate over the implementation of Welfare Reform policy via a letter to the decidedly Labour supporting Daily Mirror, the Bishops could perfectly well justify an intervention along the lines that politicians who are kean to identify the specks in their opponents eyes, should first remove the beams in their own.

Brother Ivo need not labour the point.

It is not offensively party political to remind those in the public eye that there is an integrity issue within this story, and if the Bishops can pass comment on complex policy, how much easier and appropriate is it to reassert primary principles using Christ’s own words?

The party of Ms Harman, her husband Mr Dromey, and their friend Patricia Hewitt has never shied from repeatedly calling upon Andrew Mitchell to apologise for a probably false allegation that he accused police officers of being “plebs”, just as they hounded Conservative Aiden Burley to stand down from Parliament over an imprudent decision to introduce a Nazi uniform into a stag party weekend. Both Prince Harry and Ed Balls have made the same mistake and survived in the public esteem, so we do seem to have a public lack of clarity about such matters.

Perhaps the Bishops could help sort that confusion out?

Of course one could put one’s tongue in cheek and suggest that the Bishops fear to engage with this issue because of our own tainted history on child protection. Perhaps they fear that Ms Harman would accuse them of hypocrisy?

Miss Harman did however, once offer some support for Churches within her former role.

There does need to be common sense about images and rather sensibly she campaigned to prevent parents from being prosecuted for taking pictures of their babies in the bath. She probably thereby saved us from subsequent prosecution by the politically correct, for is not Church Art is awash with naked little cherubs which adorn Churches as part of the symbolism of innocence.?

Putti is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

Yet the entanglement of the NCCL with PIE was darker, and although Ms Harman may have joined the organisation after PIE affiliated to it, her subsequent representations to Government on matters of legal reform did offer a measure of protection to paedophiles even if it were inadvertent.

Specifically, she appears to have sought to repeal the law against incest, which can be a useful offence  with which to prosecute the abusive. She also sought to make certain prosecutions contingent upon the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions, thereby raising the threshold at which cases would be brought by removing discretion from local prosecutors. Such procedural changes do matter, and PIE would have been cheered by such interventions.

Having heard Miss Harman going on the offensive against the Daily Mail last night on the Newsnight programme, linking PIE’s activities to that newspaper’s publication of photographs of girls in bikinis, it appears to Brother Ivo that she has compounded the accusation of lack of judgement.

She cannot deflect legitimate questions in this manner.

Those are not illegal images. They are photographs of young adults who consented to them being taken. They are no more exploitative or offensive than many other images one might find within our churches. The image of young woman or child can be beautiful to behold without being tainted by abuse or malign intent. Ms Harman herself asserted as much during those NCCL years.

Her attempt to deflect criticism by attacking the Daily Mail is misjudged in substance as well as being unwise tactically, not least because the Mail is not alone in questioning her judgement in these matters. The Guardian,the Daily Mirror, and the Daily Telegraph also see the point which continues to elude Ms Harman.

If the Daily Mail accepted an advertisement from a modern day PIE or if the Conservatives or UKIP allowed them a stall at their party conferences, would not Ms  Harman be persistent and shrill in her condemnation? Can she therefore truly complain that others ask her to acknowledge that her libertarian instincts may once have caused her to be less alert than she would now be?

In short what is the big deal about saying one made a mistake 30 years ago? Why the careful and persistent refusal to acknowledge error?

Nobody thinks that with their minds directed to the issue today, with our knowledge of what paedophilia is, and how it is cunningly practiced, that Ms Harman, Mr Dromey, and Ms Hewwitt would have any truck with it whatsoever. That is not the problem.

First there is a separate question of whether PIE secured public funding from the then Labour Government for its activities: if so, an NCCL association may have been part of building of a respectable front of the organisation. This is an uncomfortable next step in the inquiry and one that politicians may seek to close off early.

Second, during the Sexual Revolution of the 1960’s enthusiasts mirrored Wordsworth’s cry about the French Revolution ” Bliss was it in that Dawn to be alive”.

Just as that political revolution had a dark underside to its legitimate critique of the status quo,  so we are finding out that the sexual revolution was not as innocent as we first thought. There was much about the repressed sexuality of our forebears that needed a healthy readjustment but some dark motives and tragic outcomes also emerged from those heady days.

The mature response is to acknowledge that fact.

Part of the problem that paedophiles present is that they are devious, plausible, persuasive and adept at presenting themselves as victims. Brother Ivo has no difficulty in accepting and understanding that in those heady days, when we had nowhere near the understanding of how these people work, it was possible for them to attach themselves to a campaigning group that challenged the old inhibitions and some prejudices, not least against homosexuals. There is nothing uniquely shocking if they conned three NCCL officers -they have conned enough Bishops.

The confusion of paedophilia and homosexuality did and does occur. It is discomforting for many well meaning folk  to acknowledge that in arguing for gay rights they may have inadvertently assisted the paedophile to claim victimhood for his/her attachment to the young. but plainly that happened and some of our senior politicians failed to see the wood for the trees.

That should not perhaps be a hanging offence but that is not the end of the matter.

The failure to grasp the obvious point, is a character flaw in a serious politician and this will harm those accused more than the original accusation.

Did not the Watergate or Monica Lewinski scandals teach anyone that it is the obfuscation and the cover up that does the most damage? Brother Ivo would have expected greater sophistication.

So why is the error being compounded?

Recently Brother Ivo declared “We are the insurgents now” as he pointed out that the radicals of social change now have an ascendancy and a record by which they may be judged. That will not come as good news to those who overthrew traditional Christian teaching to make this Brave New World.

The Social Radicals are no more comfortable acknowledging the un-intended consequences of their ideals and institutional inadequacies than we in the Church; we have had to learn to deal with it. The architects of the Radical sexual revolution are just beginning to realise that they now have similar accounts to render.

Casting those stones does not look as easy and attractive now does it?

Hypocrisy is not the only unforgivable sin – except for the Sun

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Brother Ivo is in no position to judge whether the former footballer and soccer pundit Stan Collymore is or is not a “vile hypocrite”.

Factually he lacks data, and ethically he was warned not to throw the first stone, although he does not believe that this in itself disqualifies one from examining the issues. One should simply beware if a warm glow of self-righteousness seems to be enveloping the room as one types.

The known facts appear to be that Mr Collymore behaved badly many years ago during the breakdown of his relationship with Ms Ulrika Jonsson. Brother Ivo has no illusions about domestic violence, having assisted in the establishment of one of the earliest Women’s Aid Hostels.

We do not know how Mr Colymore has reflected upon those times; if he has needed to repent and reform let us hope that he has done so. Certainly there is no current information to suggest that he is currently behaving badly in that manner. Let us hope that sort of thing is behind him.

We also know that he made some remarks on Twitter about the ethics of another footballer who he regarded as being guilty of cheating  “simulation”,  and as a result faced a barrage of threats including threats to kill. This has caused him to delete his Twitter account which is doubtless a cause of regret to his followers, for whatever his past personal sins, over one hundred thousand followers had valued his contribution to sporting commentary.

He complained that the social networking site Twitter had not been sufficiently assiduous in tackling the problem of cyber bullying. He is not wrong to do so. Not only is all bullying wrong but the anonymous form of the medium seems to carry a huge temptation for some to act in a way they would never contemplate in other more open circumstances.

He has since closed that account which is perhaps wise and practical.

All this was localised within the cybersphere  until the Sun Newspaper saw fit to print the above, making it a front line story. It is very sad misguided and equally wrong.

Ms Jonsson is not as famous as she once was. In the land of celebrity this is regrettable. One does not know whether the form and prominence of her reported remarks are as she would have wished; Brother Ivo has a rule of thumb to treat all journalists with a degree of circumspection, and distrust, so she  too,may not be happy with what we see.

If she wanted this presented in this way, it does her no credit; if she did not, she ought by now to have learnt greater prudence. It does matter what people say about you even if they do spell your name right.

Brother Ivo is not a knee jerk critic of the Sun or the News International brand. They have done some bad things – and some good.  They plainly speak to a constituency which is loyal and the fact that their demographic is one that turns elections makes it a significant one in terms of shaping our society’s attitudes which is where this is such poor and regrettable way to present a serious issue.

If Ms Jonsson’s grievances against Mr Collymore are still so raw then she needs help and prayer.

If help is needed for her, even more is required for those responsible for this headline to understand that there are worse things in the moral universe than hypocrisy, and cyber bullying might be one of them.

Mr Collymore may be big enough and ugly enough to take care of himself, yet the constant reports of adolescent suicides driven by this new form of emotional violence tells us that not all who suffer in this way have his resilience.

He was right to speak out about it using the platform he enjoys as a media personality, and he was also right to indict those who can act to rein in abuse – but prevaricate.

If he has accepted his past faults then he is no hypocrite. He is thereafter allowed to say that these things are wrong without being constantly discounted through past transgression.

 

Even if he has not, we have no status of outlaw any more. Even those who once wronged, are entitled to the protection of the law. What is worse is that by pitching in against him, the Sun and its supporters seem to be fortifying the views of those who felt able to join in the violent abuse of him

“It’s ok to bully Stan because of what he did to Ulrika ” is not a healthy message for any society, neither is the idea that a past wrongdoer must either suffer in silence and/or allow others to hone their skills upon him before turning their attention to others more vulnerable. He was right in trying to do something to stop it.

In short terms, surely even bullying a bully is still bullying?

We are back to an old problem, one that Brother Ivo has written about before. It is the problem that hypocrisy is over rated as a secular sin, and that it has become the one that is never forgiven.

We seem to raise this issue of hypocrisy to a level where anyone who has once fallen, is regarded as incapable of having a legitimate grievance or contribution for ever after.

Christianity is nothing if not the faith of the second chance. Peter was given a second chance after denying his Lord. Paul was chosen despite persecuting the early Church and having made no personal effort  to reform. If there is hope for these two, then there has to be hope and redemption for Mr Collymore.

It was William Wilberforce who addressed the shallowness of our obsession with hypocrisy, which we employ at wholly inappropriate times. “Who is the greater public benefactor”, he asked, “the “hypocrite” who points the way to virtue, or the “honest man” who points the way to perdition”?

Mr Collymore was right to say that bullying is wrong and that those who are in a position to swiftly moderate it should do so. The fact that he may have acted as a bully previously in no way invalidates the point he was making, and neither has anybody seriously suggested that in his description of the problem and judgements upon it he is being in any way mealy mouthed or reporting the facts of the problem inaccurately.

If he has learnt from past transgressions then thanks be to God. Even if he has not, his willingness to share his experiences enables us to look at the problem with renewed urgency. That is a contribution to the public welfare in itself.

There may be a young girl staring at her text messages right now wondering whether she can rightfully complain. Maybe she has not been an angel in such matters and others are paying her back. What is she to make of headlines like this in the Sun?

Brother Ivo would much rather she risked being “a hypocrite” than deciding to become a cadaver.

A New Year Resolution for the Church

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Today stands between the day on which we commemorated the Holy Innocents, and the secular festival at which we attempt to make life improving resolutions which we shall almost certainly fail to live up to within hours.

Many, appreciating their own personal character weakness where weight loss is concerned, will simply choose not to make any resolutions for the New Year at all, and that will deliver its own slew of remorse.

This is therefore a good time for Brother Ivo to offer a New Year Resolution to everyone in the Church which is practical, necessary, and which the vast majority who adopt it will feel totally unthreatening. It will never be regretted.

That resolution is for the Church to “Make Child Abuse History”

Over the past few years, the Church, along with many other institutions, such as the police, schools and BBC have grappled with the horrors of child abuse. A cultural change towards the acceptance of disclosure has resulted in a vast legacy of historic abuse being uncovered as more and more people step forward to say that “this happened to me”.

The Church has yet to receive the credit it deserves for a subsequent committed, thorough and conscientious response to its past failures. Advice has been sought, experts consulted, policies developed guidelines published and courses have been run with healthy attendances. The files of retired and deceased clergy, some painfully thin, have been examined and victims offered counselling and overdue apologises. Insurers have paid out.

Despite a genuinely creditable response, the old adage “Thou shalt not win” can scarcely be better illustrated than by the way the news has been greeted that the Church has  been seeking record numbers of police checks upon its employees and volunteers. How odd, given the history, that the latest criticism has been couched in terms of the Church being over-scrupulous in this regard.

There is more to come as long planned programmes are rolled out in the months ahead within a widespread climate of renewed responsibility accepted by the higher echelons  of the Churches, and yet there is still genuine cause for concern that all will not be well.

Churches are places of special vulnerability where abuse is concerned. We deliberately set out to attract children and to welcome the vulnerable. Nobody wants to think it can happen on their watch, in their corner of respectability. Our mission statement is to be undiscriminating about those to whom we minister. Our very desire to think well of all,  is our principle weakness where the predatory paedophile is concerned.

They do not arrive with a forked tail and cloven hooves. They look and behave much like the rest of us – only more so. They are kind, helpful, industrious, outwardly faithful , and perhaps most difficult of all, frequently indispensable. Some may lack self awareness and not appreciate where their corner cutting of procedures and protocols will lead. They may be female as well as male, married, straight, gay or ostensibly celibate: they may be under age, clerical or lay. They can also be very plausible, persuasive and possessed of easily injured feelings.

It is only in comparatively recent years that we have come to appreciate the complexity of identifying and addressing this problem on both an institutional and personal level.

Those charged with improving the Church’s response to the problem, which includes Brother Ivo in a minor way, will have long term term work to do, because both the nature of the problem, and our understanding of it mutates on a regular basis. Five years ago Jimmy Savile was an eccentric hero a “cheeky chap” beloved of all for all the good he did. Let that be your warning.

Like the thief in the night we do not know the hour or the identity of the next malefactor to threaten our churches. Faith confers no immunity.

There have been over 30 Public Inquiries into child deaths in recent decades. The one constant theme to emerge from these most extreme and distressing examples of child abuse is that “Everybody knew a little but nobody joined up the dots”. It applied in the Jimmy Savile case; it applied in the case of the Bradford Muslim taxi driver child abuse ring; it will apply in the next scandal of the church organist and the choir member. Often the victim will have been manipulated not to see their own victimhood and may protect his/her abuser.

The price of freedom from child abuse is eternal vigilance and that is both routine and frequently dull.
There is no point in devising thorough Child and Vulnarable adult policies unless there is scrupulous, painstaking, and persistent application of them on a daily basis. It is the responsibility of every Priest, Minister, Church Warden. Youth Worker. PCC member, and worshipper.

Whilst discussing this with colleagues, Brother Ivo was alarmed to hear than one of the continuing problems in the rolling out of protective measures is the misguided resistance of a significant proportion of incumbents who suffer either from  over confidence in their own insights, or excessive suspicion of encroachment upon their own autonomy from the Church hierarchy.

In the Church of England the independence of the incumbent is frequently overlooked by outsiders who over estimate the coercive power of the Bishop.  A Bishop can lead persuade and cajole, but the legal pressures he can exercise are less than many appreciate Such local independence and autonomy  is valued theologically by many. It is also is the single weakest spot in the Church’s protection of the vulnerable.

No incumbent where abuse occurred, wanted it to happen , but it very rarely arrives out of a clear blue sky. After the event, it is always possible to look back and see where simple adherence to basic protective principles would have averted or mitigated the harm. If the recent scandals in the major institutions teach the lowly parish officer anything, it is that even the most sophisticated of organisations become complacent, and fail to see the obvious.

Plainly procedures do not of themselves protect, yet well considered structures help us in every aspect of our lives, and stopping child abuse is no different.

So if you are short of a New Year resolution, Brother Ivo invites you to resolve to make it your business to take child protection seriously and to help “Make Child Abuse history”.

In practice this means asking your church about its acceptance of its Diocesan policies and guidelines, and how it plans to audit compliance on a regular basis.

It is not an easy thing to do and may not make you popular, yet Jesus plainly had strong views on the welfare of His little ones, and little will gladden His heart more than each of us taking a personal interest in keeping them safe and happy as we speak of his love.