It may seem obvious to some that there is a causal relationship between the structure that an organisation adopts to deliver a service and the outcomes achieved by that service. Although that may seem obvious, I have encountered many examples in my professional life where the relationship between structure and outcomes does not appear to be understood. This is particularly true when you examine the delivery of safeguarding services for children within organisations. Within this paper I want to highlight some of the damaging errors that are made by those who plan services by discussing the situation within the Catholic Church in Ireland.
Within the children’s services field, need will often exceed the ability of the organisation to meet it. As a consequence, thresholds have to be defined and decisions made on priorities. This is the reality that we live in whether you are working in the statutory, community, or voluntary sectors. However, limiting resources unduly can make it impossible for a service to meet even its basic remit.
This is dangerous territory for any organisation and for that reason I would cite the delivery of safeguarding services in the Catholic Church in Ireland as an example of this phenomenon. The structure of the Church is such that many individual and independent parts together make up what is referred to as the Catholic Church in Ireland. For there to be a single, uniform strategy followed by the whole Church, all the separate parts have to agree to adopt it and implement it fully. This would be testing for any organisation to achieve but when you are trying to work with one that has existed for many centuries and has developed its own legal system, and is not known for its ability to change, it becomes even more difficult.
For a safeguarding service to be effective it has to have sufficient resources available to it to meet the remit given to it. It should also be backed by a willingness on the part of the organisation’s leadership to support the delivery of the safeguarding service by delegating authority and responsibility to the service unit in equal measure. Because of the nature of the child safeguarding task, the structure should possess independence as well as carrying accountability.
If we look at what is happening within the Irish Catholic Church, we see that this is being eroded. Significant investment has taken place in safeguarding services but these additional resources are based within individual Church authorities rather than at the centre within the National Board. At first sight, this may not seem to the casual observer to be any cause for concern but I disagree. I believe it to be a major issue that must be addressed.
In recent years, the Board has struggled to get a level of resources that would allow it to fully meet its remit. By limiting the resources available to it, those in leadership have also limited the Board’s ability to meet and develop its remit. Staff recruited within the dioceses answer to and are managed by the individual heads of those authorities. They have no operational relationship with the National Board and are accountable only to their bishop or religious leader. This is a concern to me as history has shown that, if structures set up within individual Church authorities, are not monitored, bad practice can creep in.
There is a relationship between organisational structure and outcomes achieved. If you fail to invest resources and authority in an independent safeguarding structure, you cannot expect it to effectively monitor practice. If it does not do this, inevitably this will lead to calls for it to be stood down as its contribution is no longer necessary. I firmly believe that this would be a disaster if it were to happen.
Much has been achieved over the last number of years but it is vital that this progress is not threatened by the Irish Catholic Church failing to support adequately the body it created to help it address the problem of clerical abuse.
If the best safeguarding outcomes are to be achieved for children within the Irish Church, it must ensure that it maintains a structure for the delivery of safeguarding services that has a reasonable chance of achieving the best outcomes. A weak and under resourced National Board, will leave the Church vulnerable to differential practices and future potential abuses. After all that has occurred in previous years, I would have thought that this would not be desired by anyone in leadership within the Church.