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Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Text of interview with new child protection agency director
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 Eileen Shearer, newly-appointed Director of COPCA (Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults) gave her first interview on national radio this morning. The text of her interview with Jenny Murray on Radio Four BBC Woman's Hour follows: Jenny Murray: Eileen, what drew you into this kind of work 25 years ago? Eileen Shearer: Well initially I don't think I focussed on child protection as such. When I first became a social worker I was a fairly naive 24 year old. I knew I wanted to work with people and I knew I wanted to help people and in those days there was quite a kind of focus really on working for public services which I don't think we have in quite the same way now. But I suppose I just feel very committed to making sure that children's welfare is defended and that children are safe. J: Now you joined the NSPCC team in Rochdale, I think in 1986. What kind of work were you doing on the front line there? E: Oh well that was a fascinating job. We were doing investigations and we were on duty in turn as a team so we were on duty for 24 hours seven days a week and we would respond to public allegations of child abuse of all kinds. We also did assessment work with families who'd committed very serious child abuse - maybe killed a child or very seriously injured it to see whether they could ever have the care of children again in the future and to help people decide what the future of the child should be. And we did therapeutic work with children and their families.And we also started up one of the very first groups to work with child sex offenders. J: Now this was the mid eighties - How difficult was it then to convince people that abuse, particularly sexual abuse was taking place, and how widespread it was? E: Oh quite difficult, I think. I mean there is a process that I think the Roman Catholic Church has also shown itself to have gone through, that every organisation goes through, and I think which our society has gone through which is first of all just to not want to see this. And to deny it. and not to believe what children tell us. And do I do think we have moved on since the mid-eighties thank goodness. I think far more is known about how child sex offenders operate and how addictive their behaviour is. We now understand that if we intervene with young people who commit sex offences we have much more chance really of changing their behaviour and controlling it in the future. J: How much did you know in those years about what was going on in the catholic church? E: Oh very little. I'm not Catholic. And of course it wasn't in the public arena. But then in those days I didn't know what was going on in the institutions - you know childrens homes and so on, in social work J: Now, when we look at an institution like the Catholic Church, the men are immensely powerful in those communities. They wield tremendous influence and there's a kind of culture of secrecy which you see in things like the confessional. How do you propose to cut through that culture? E: Well in deciding whether I was going to go for this post and ultimately accept it, I had to be very clear about whether there was a real mandate behind the authority of this post. and I think I was reassured about that by the fact first of all that the Catholic bishops of England and Wales accepted Lord Nolan's recomendations in full. And in doing that they are giving up some of their autonomy because they are accepting that there needs to be consistent national policies around child protection. The bishops have the autonomy to manage things however they want in their dioceses and they've decided that they will accept this restriction for child protection purposes. So I think that's a very good sign. i think also the commitment and the integrity of the management board of COPCA which is chaired by the Archbishop of Birmingham is was very impressive to me and the fact that the rigour and the sort of examples of the role plays that we had to do in the process of he selection proceedings very much told me that they understand now what they're dealing with and what needs to happen which is basically a very strong preventative strategy that prevents the church from being infiltrated by people who want to get access to children to abuse them . J: And yet earlier this week the Vatican announced that they will hold secret trials of priests in paedophilia cases to and I quote "protect the rights of the accused." Didn't your heart sink when you heard that? E: I read it in the Times and was somewhat dismayed. But I'm very glad you've raised it because in fact we've clarified that and the Archbishop said something about this on Monday, at the press conference that we held. In fact this is a misunderstanding. What that document refers to is solely the church's internal procedures under what's called Canon Law, to if you like discipline priests who've committed wrongdoings of a variety of kinds within their role. Just as an employee in an organisation is subjected to that employee's disciplinary procedures and that is in addition to and parallel to the investigation of allegations of abuse which will always be undertaken by the statutory authorities. J: So we would be wrong to assume that the church is still trying to put an emphasis on the perpetrator rather than the victim . E: Completely wrong yes. I 'm please so say. I think the church is really taking this seriously and they're going to develop recruitment and selection policies, police checks for everyone. I've been police checked, The Archbishop of Birmingham as been police checked. The important thing is that those policies are made known That people feel it is OK to raise concerns about what's happening with children and that there are clear codes of conduct that protect children and young people as well as the people in the church who work with them . J: From a personal point of view you're a woman with a 16 year old daughter. And I always wonder how people like you cope in your private life with hearing terrible stories of abuse and cruelty to children day after day after day. E: Well in my senior management roles I don't any more I have to say, I do think the toughest job - - well there are two toughest jobs - one is the front line work with children and families because of all the emotion and stress and the uncertainty and the next one is the front line manager. I remember at one point when I became team manager in Rochdale reading case conference minutes because one of our roles was to chair case conferences and I just read about this little girl who was being made to walk several paces behind the rest of the family by her step father and if she was naughty as defined by him she was made to stand in a room all night with no heating and no clothes on and I just cried. And if if I'd been investigating that .. I think the difference is that when you're actually dealing with it you're doing something positive and I think I was so upset about this little girl because I was reading about it second hand. J: Eileen Shearer - the best of luck in your new job. Thank you very much for being with us. E: A pleasure. Thank you
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