Over the past 15 years, an epidemic of child sexual abuse has overwhelmed police services and our daily news-feeds.
Awareness of this scourge has increased across society — partly thanks to the bravery of survivors who have explained its devastating impact — and it is clear that safeguarding has not been adequately addressed in the past, particularly by faith organisations.
There is no place for naivety: the Jewish community is no different. We need preventative measures in place to minimise risks for our children.
This includes creating a culture in which people are aware of the importance of child protection and feel comfortable raising a concern, in the knowledge that it will be dealt with swiftly and appropriately.
In the United Synagogue, we have taken a number of steps to safeguard our 12,000 child members, and any young visitor, as fully as possible.
We created a network across our synagogues of trained and experienced individuals to co-ordinate child protection and feed any issues arising on the ground through to our central team. In this way, members of a shul have ready access to someone to whom they can take their concerns.
We work with these individuals to ensure that we know whose volunteering roles bring them into contact with children.
Communal organisations are blessed with a spirit that drives so many to get involved and give of their time contributing to the life of the community.
However, we cannot be complacent. We can no longer be informal in accepting these services without the rigour of DBS checks and appropriate training. We need to know who we are trusting with our children and they need to know they have an important responsibility. This is not fail-safe. Communities are not corporates but need robust and professional procedures if we are to tackle this challenge effectively.
Parents today have many concerns. Can they hire a bar- or batmitzvah tutor, for example? We would suggest that anyone working regularly with a child must have undertaken an appropriate level of safeguarding training and have a clear DBS check. The safest course is always to supervise.
We have also had to formulate approaches to such thorny issues as how to deal with a situation where a sex offender wishes to reintegrate into a community.
We have created “safeguarding contracts”, ensuring this could only be done with a full risk assessment, working with police and probation officers and with all appropriate safeguarding measures taken. We have worked closely with other faith organisations to learn from their expertise.
Safeguarding is a major commitment for any organisation. It involves not only the will to look after our next generation but significant time and resources. There are no guarantees.
It is a sad reality that this investment is necessary — but we have no choice.
Joanne Greenaway is Head of Safeguarding at the United Synagogue