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Triratna: Safeguarding with sincerity and integrity
from Munisha, European Safeguarding officer, Triratna
I’m sure, like me, you want to be absolutely sure Triratna is doing its Safeguarding properly, with sincerity and integrity. Over the last nine months I’ve read online much doubt and criticism in this area so I’d like to tell you about this work, so that you can decide for yourself.
I have been developing central Safeguarding policy for Triratna since 2013 and I’d like to reassure you that I am absolutely serious about this work: my family suffered for many years with the near-catastrophic consequences of sexual abuse of a child. When I started working in this area for Triratna I remember saying to myself that if the occasion ever arose I would refuse to defend the indefensible. Thankfully I’ve never been asked to do so.
With regard to the small number of accounts I have received of legally and ethically questionable sexual relations between Order members and their spiritual juniors, I can assure you that I have followed British Safeguarding requirements in every case (though through inexperience I did make a mistake with the first case I dealt with, for which I have apologised to the person concerned, though overall I assessed and handled the case correctly.) I do my Safeguarding work with external advice and training from British professional Safeguarding bodies such as the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS) and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).
For the protection of those giving such accounts, and for the protection of evidence, etc, this work is necessarily highly confidential. It is an article of Safeguarding good practice that nobody has a right to know about any particular case except the very few who need to know in order to address the matter effectively and prevent further harm.
What is Safeguarding?
‘Safeguarding’ is a British term applied to the duty of legally established institutions to protect from harm ‘children’ (under 18s) and ‘vulnerable adults’ or ‘adults who may be at risk’ under certain conditions (much less easy to define).
Safeguarding follows nationally agreed guidelines. Though it’s not a legal requirement the Charity Commission expects charities in England and Wales to have Safeguarding policies, and similar provisions apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
It’s been alleged by some that my Safeguarding work for Triratna is more about making Triratna look good than about ensuring the wellbeing of children and vulnerable adults. I would utterly deny this, but it’s actually worth pointing out that another thing the Charity Commission expects is that every charity takes steps to protect its reputation. As non-profit-making voluntary bodies set up for the public good and receiving money donated by the public, charities are a huge part of British public life. It’s every charity’s duty to help uphold the credibility of charities in general through good governance, financial and legal - which includes good Safeguarding.
In the face of repeated calls for Triratna’s Safeguarding to be handled externally, I have checked with the CCPAS and NSPCC and several other Safeguarding experts and all agree that Safeguarding is supposed to be led and managed by those within an organisation, because only they have the relationships, understanding, influence and trust necessary to affect that organisation’s culture. Plenty of free external guidance is available from Safeguarding agencies but it is the police who provide the final, external, safeguard.
I started talking to Triratna’s European Chairs’ Assembly about Safeguarding in 2013, and published Triratna’s first model Safeguarding policies in 2015, for the use of any centre worldwide. Updated versions came out in 2016 (and will again this year). I encouraged all European centres to appoint Safeguarding officers too, or the local equivalent.
To ensure a joined-up approach to Safeguarding and ethics more generally, at all levels of Triratna, I work as part of an Ethics Kula I set up last year, which comprises Saddhaloka (College), Dhammarati (International Council) and Lokeshvara and Parami (Order convenors) with the help of one or two Order members with professional experience of Safeguarding and the British criminal justice system. This Ethics Kula is very much in its early stages of development as all its members have been very busy all year as members of the Adhisthana Kula.
I’ve been amazed at the speed with which Triratna UK has adopted Safeguarding: even before the local BBC TV report in September 2016 I think most UK Triratna centres and other charities/enterprises had policies and officers. (It’s only fair to mention that some centres, such as Rivendell Retreat Centre, had their own policies years before I came along.) Centres in other countries have adopted these Safeguarding documents too, or local equivalents, but we have to bear in mind that our centres are all legally independent, and that Safeguarding as understood in Britain does not exist in many other countries. Still, we can expect that the culture will spread. At the centre where I live in Stockholm, for example, we have translated, adapted and adopted the British model documents.
Such documents develop over time, as needs and understanding grow. Our model policies are but a good start; they will continue to develop as Safeguarding awareness develops at every level of Triratna over the next few years.
European Safeguarding officer, Triratna
17th June 2017
Contact our safeguarding team at any time: safeguarding [at] triratnadevelopment.org