NI Adult Safeguarding

SECTION F: Recognising & responding to Adult Safeguarding Concerns

Bishops, clergy, staff or volunteers who are concerned about someone who may be experiencing harm or abuse must promptly report these to the Diocesan Adult Safeguarding Panel or the Safeguarding Officer (NI).

There are a variety of ways that you could be alerted that an adult is suffering harm:

  • They may disclose to you
  • Someone else may tell you of their concerns or something that causes you concern
  • They may show some signs of physical injury for which there does not appear to be a satisfactory or credible explanation
  • Their demeanour/behaviour may lead you to suspect abuse or neglect
  • The behaviour of a person close to them makes you feel uncomfortable (this may include a staff member, volunteer, peer or family member)
  • Through general good neighbourliness and social guardianship

Being alert to potential abuse plays a major role in ensuring that adults are safeguarded and it is important that all concerns about possible abuse are taken seriously and appropriate action is taken.

Responding to Disclosure of Possible Abuse

In cases where an adult discloses abuse to a bishop, a member of the clergy, member of staff or a volunteer, it is vital that they know how to react appropriately.
All bishops/clergy/staff/volunteers should be made aware of to the following guidelines:


  • Stay calm
  • Listen attentively
  • Express concern and acknowledge what is being said
  • Reassure the person – tell the person that s/he did the right thing in telling you
  • Let the person know that the information will be taken seriously and provide details about what will happen next, including the limits and boundaries of confidentiality
  • If urgent medical/police help is required, call the emergency services
  • Ensure the immediate safety of the person
  • If you think a crime has occurred be aware that medical and forensic evidence might be needed. Consider the need for a timely referral to the police service and make sure nothing you do will contaminate it
  • Let the person know that they will be kept involved at every stage
  • Record in writing (date and sign your report) and report to the person in charge/ Safeguarding Officer at the earliest possible time
  • Act without delay

Do not

  • Stop someone disclosing to you
  • Promise to keep secrets
  • Press the person for more details or make them repeat the story
  • Gossip about the disclosure or pass on the information to anyone who does not have a legitimate need to know
  • Contact the alleged person to have caused the harm
  • Attempt to investigate yourself
  • Leave details of your concerns on a voicemail or by email
  • Delay

The Diocesan Adult Safeguarding Panel or the Safeguarding Officer (NI) will advise on any immediate action required to ensure the adult at risk of harm is safe and make a decision as to when it is appropriate to speak with the adult at risk of harm about the concerns and any proposed actions. The Diocesan Adult Safeguarding Panel or the Safeguarding Officer (NI) must then report the concerns and any action taken to the social services appointed person (see Section K useful contacts).

Safeguarding Officer
The role of the Adult Safeguarding Champion (ASC) is set out in the Adult Safeguarding: Prevention and Protection in Partnership Policy (NI) (2015). The Church of Ireland is required to appoint an ASC because clergy, paid staff, non-stipendiary staff and volunteers who are leaders of organisations within the Church may be required to complete Access NI checks under Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups (NI) 2007 legislation.

The ASC for the Church of Ireland is the Safeguarding Officer (NI). Contact details for the Safeguarding Officer (NI) can be found at

The Safeguarding Officer (NI), with the support of the Church of Ireland Safeguarding Board, provides strategic leadership, advice and oversight in relation to adult safeguarding and is responsible for supporting dioceses in ensuring the implementation of this Code of Good Practice. The Safeguarding Officer (NI) is also the main point of contact with HSC Trusts and the PSNI for all adult safeguarding matters.

The Safeguarding Officer (NI) with the support of the Church of Ireland Safeguarding Board should ensure that the minimum expectations are met within the wider Church.

The Adult Safeguarding: Prevention and Protection in Partnership Policy (NI) (2015) summarises the key responsibilities for the ASC as follows:

  • to provide information and support for staff on adult safeguarding within the organisation
  • to ensure that the organisation’s adult safeguarding policy is disseminated and support
    implementation throughout the organisation
  • to advise within the organisation regarding adult safeguarding training needs
  • to provide advice to staff or volunteers who have concerns about the signs of harm, and ensure a report is made to HSC Trusts where there is a safeguarding concern
  • to support staff to ensure that any actions take account of what the adult wishes to achieve – this should not prevent information about any risk of serious harm being passed to the relevant HSC Trust Adult Protection Gateway Service for assessment and decision-making
  • to establish contact with the HSC Trust Designated Adult Protection Officer (DAPO), PSNI
    and other agencies as appropriate
  • to ensure accurate and up-to-date records are maintained detailing all decisions made, the reasons for those decisions and any actions taken
  • to compile and analyse records of reported concerns to determine whether a number of low-level concerns are accumulating to become significant; and make records available for inspection

Diocesan Adult Safeguarding Panel

The panel will be appointed by the Bishop subject to approval by Diocesan Council. This should be composed of a senior cleric plus two others, with at least one lay member. The panel as far as is practical should comprise persons of different gender. The Adult Safeguarding Panel will work closely with the Safeguarding Officer.

According to legislation, the Safeguarding Officer (NI), takes on the role of Adult Safeguarding Champion. The Diocesan Adult Safeguarding Panel members take on the roles of ‘appointed persons’. The Adult Safeguarding Panel will receive regular training in the role of appointed persons through the Safeguarding Officer.

Adult safeguarding issues should not go through the Safeguarding Trust Child Protection Parish Panels. All adult safeguarding issues should be referred to the Diocesan Adult Safeguarding Panel.

All reports will need to be made to central Safeguarding Officer (NI).

Any bishop, cleric, staff member or volunteers may make a report to the Diocesan Adult Safeguarding Panel or to the Safeguarding Officer (NI). The Diocesan Adult Safeguarding Panel will then report to the Safeguarding Officer (NI).

Reporting Procedures for Concerns about Adults who may be at Risk of Harm and or in Need of Protection

It is important to remember that the safety and well-being of adults at risk must be the paramount consideration in any incident and such vulnerable individuals or groups should never be put at further risk of harm by delay or inaction. The Church has a responsibility and will pass on safeguarding concerns to the civil authorities even when it does not concern church personnel directly.

  1. When a concern is noted the information should be raised with the Diocesan Adult Safeguarding Panel or the Safeguarding Officer REMEMBER IT IS NOT YOUR ROLE TO INVESTIGATE. Contact details will be found on relevant Diocesan website and
  2. The Safeguarding Officer will determine if the matter should be referred to the HSC Trust and / or the PSNI.
  3. Arrangements should be in place to ensure that an absence of a delegated person does not delay reporting to HSC Trust or PSNI where there are immediate safety concerns.
  4. Every safeguarding concern must be taken seriously. The safety and well-being of an adult at risk must be paramount in every investigation and it is important that any actions taken or any delay or inaction does not place the adult at risk of further harm.
  5. It is important that an adult remains in control of their information, and where they are able, to give informed consent for a referral to be made that this is agreed.
  6. Whenever a concern is raised and it is possible and practical, take notes during the conversation. Always ask permission to do this and explain the importance of recording all information. Where it is not appropriate to make notes at the time, make a written record as soon as possible afterwards before the end of the day. It is important to sign and date this record.
  7. Explain to an adult raising a concern what will happen next. Indicate who will be made aware of the information given by them. Leave contact details of the Safeguarding Officer (NI) in case the referrer needs to ask questions later.

Recording Concerns and Storage of Information

Good record management standards and practices are required for the organisation to ensure confidentiality and that the security of adults’ information is respected.

An accurate record should be made of the date and time that the bishop/member of clergy/staff/ volunteer became aware of the concerns, the parties who were involved, and any action taken; for example, if first aid was administered. Any questions that bishop/clergy/staff/volunteers ask in ‘checking out’ the concerns should also be recorded verbatim.

The record should be clear and factual, and recorded at the time or as soon as possible thereafter. Information you have may be valuable to professionals investigating the incident and may at some time in the future be used as evidence in court.

Details of your conversations and actions should be recorded clearly and signed and dated by you.

Information recorded would normally include:

  1. As much information as possible about the circumstances that led to the concern/allegation being raised; the context of the conversation; any observations; who else was present etc.
  2. The exact words of the individual who reported the concern; and specifically what the person is worried about and why
  3. Any explanation offered to account for the risk, injury or concern
  4. Details of any action already taken about the incident/concern/allegation
  5. Any views expressed by the individual or their carer(s) about the matter
  6. Detail which, to you, may seem irrelevant. It may prove invaluable at a later stage in an investigation

All original records must be passed immediately to the Safeguarding Officer. Any copies of records retained must be kept secure and confidential.

All records may be needed in legal proceedings if required.


Any notes or information held must be stored confidentially and in a secure place (including electronic filing) and shared only with those who need to know about the concerns, disclosures, allegations or suspicions of abuse. Further guidance for faith sector organisations on the management of records, confidentiality and sharing of information is available in the GDPR regulations document on the Church of Ireland Safeguarding website:

Consent and Capacity

The focus of any intervention must be on promoting a proportionate, measured approach to balancing the risk of harm with respecting an adult’s choices and preferred outcome for their own life circumstances. The right of a person with capacity to make decisions and remain in control of their life must be respected. Consideration of ‘capacity’ and ‘consent’ are central to adult safeguarding; for example, in determining the ability of an adult to make lifestyle choices, such as choosing to remain in a situation where they risk being harmed or where they choose to take risks. There should always be a presumption of capacity to make decisions unless there is evidence to suggest otherwise; for example, when in a pastoral role you are aware that an individual has a diagnosis of dementia or a moderate to severe learning disability. However, there are also some circumstances when it may be necessary to consider the protection and rights of others, and overriding the withholding of consent may be necessary to ensure the protection of others.
This decision will be made by the statutory services.

It is good practice for those involved in ministry to explain to an adult at risk that they cannot keep a concern a secret and that there are agencies and organisations that are able to provide the adult with advice and support. Adults should be encouraged to agree with you having a conversation with the Safeguarding Officer to begin to offer support in a meaningful and respectful way that is cognisant of how they want to deal with their situation.

Where an adult who has capacity to make decisions refuses to give permission to report the concern it is important that this is noted and respected. The adult should be informed that their views are important and will be considered but that it is a pastoral responsibility to discuss the matter with the Safeguarding Officer to ensure the safety and well-being of others. This may include allegations of a criminal nature which must be reported to PSNI and/or HSC Trusts.

Raising a Concern about someone in a Position of Trust in the Church – this includes all Clergy, Staff and Volunteers

All organisations that provide services for, or work with, adults at risk must have appropriate whistle-blowing procedures, and a culture that enables safeguarding concerns and allegations to be addressed. There should be particular awareness that the welfare of adults at risk is paramount. Whistle-blowing as part of the safeguarding procedures is intended to encourage and enable anyone with a serious concern, to raise that concern.

People who work within the Church of Ireland, including but not limited to office holders, bishops, clergy, staff or volunteers, may find it difficult to speak out and raise their concerns as they may feel they are being disloyal to their colleagues or to the Church. They may also fear harassment or victimisation. Whistle-blowers are protected by law from victimisation, subsequent discrimination or disadvantage provided the matter in question is raised with genuine concern. The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998  gives workers legal protection against being dismissed or penalized as a result of publicly disclosing certain serious concerns. The policy extends this protection to volunteers.

It is important that an individual raising concerns puts their name to an allegation and does not raise it anonymously. Where concerns are expressed anonymously they will be considered, however, they are much less powerful and far more difficult to investigate and prove. Concerns can be raised in confidence. At the appropriate time, however, a whistle-blower may be approached to come forward as a witness, in order to bring the matter to a conclusion.

If an individual has any concerns that someone within the Church is engaged in activities or behaviour that is contrary to any part of these safeguarding policies they should, in the first instance, contact the Safeguarding Officer (NI) or the Diocesan Adult Safeguarding Panel.

If an individual feels unable to contact the Safeguarding Officer (NI) or the allegation involves this person, then advice should be sought from the Bishop of the Diocese.

If an individual feels unable to contact a member of the Church of Ireland they can go directly to the Gateway Service in the relevant Health and Social Care Trust.

Concerns may be raised verbally in the first instance. However, this should be followed up in writing stating the history of the concern and providing as much detail as possible including any supporting evidence.
The earlier concerns are raised, the easier it is to take action.


The Adult Safeguarding Policy runs in conjunction with the Church of Ireland Dignity in Church Life Charter, Safeguarding Trust for working with Children, and all other Representative Church Body policies:

  • The Church of Ireland is committed to the highest possible standards of conduct, openness, honesty and accountability
  • The Church of Ireland takes poor practice or malpractice seriously, giving examples of the types of concerns to be raised, to endure that a whistleblowing concern is clearly distinguished from a grievance
  • Bishops, clergy, staff or volunteers have the option to raise concerns outside of line management structures
  • Staff or volunteers are enabled to access confidential advice from an independent source
  • The Church of Ireland will, where possible, respect the confidentiality of a bishop, member of clergy, staff or volunteer raising a concern through the procedure
  • It is a disciplinary matter both to victimise a bona fide whistle-blower and for someone to maliciously make a false allegation

There may be situations in which concerns or allegations turn out to be unfounded. It is important that everyone in the organisation knows that if they raise a concern which, through the process of investigation, is not validated, they have not in any way been wrong in their initial action. Responsible action needs to be encouraged in the organisation and whistle-blowers should be confident of support. The whistle-blowing policy needs to be regularly reviewed to ensure procedures work in practice. It is everyone’s duty to be vigilant in preventing abusive practice.

How the Church will Respond

The Church of Ireland gives an undertaking to minimise any risk to an individual raising a concern in good faith and will support them in doing so. It will not tolerate victimisation, intimidation or negative repercussion of anyone raising a concern in good faith and will take action.