Keeping Ahead of the Game

Saturday, January 1st, 2011 by David Pearson

David retired as Chief Executive Officer at the end of July 2010. In this article he reflects on the origins of the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS) and his involvement over the years.

I knew it was the right time to be passing on the baton when my eight-year-old grandson observed a few months back that the only people to drive my sort of car were old people. His ever tactful older brother quickly interjected by saying that he had noticed drivers who were young mothers in their twenties. I have now changed my car and it’s generally regarded as being ‘cool’!

That’s not all that’s changed, because over the past three years we have been involved in a gradual transition of the CEO role from me to Simon Bass. Simon has worked with CCPAS for a number of years and is greatly respected by those with whom we work. Inevitably, the memories come flooding back during such a transitional process. People often ask about the origins of CCPAS, and why so many members of my family are involved! Like many charities, we started with little money and willing volunteers. In 1984 I set up office in the small box bedroom of my house. This later extended to a caravan in the garden until, through what can only be described as a miraculous string of events, we established ourselves in a church building nearby - where I had attended Sunday school, spent many years as a youth leader and was involved in building two extensions - which we now occupy as part of our offices!

How it all Began

In 1977 a group of ministers and friends from the Assemblies of God fellowship launched the Pentecostal Child Care Association, (PCCA) under the leadership of the late Gerald Chamberlain, and opened a children’s home in Clevedon, Somerset, a couple of years later. I was at that initial meeting in Minehead and, as a Team Manager in Social Services at the time, questioned the wisdom of establishing a children’s home when the trend was very much towards family placement. However, in 1984 I became Secretary of the PCCA and sought to establish the residential care service on a more professional footing, with a second project opening up in Wolverhampton in 1988 and a specialist project in Walsall for severely disabled children in 1993. We thank God for all those who worked with us during those years in providing care for many needy children and one of the things I hope to do in my semi-retirement is to write up the history of that era.

In 1980 I became Area Social Services Manager in Brixton, South London, responsible for an office providing social work and social care services to children and adults. Valerie Howarth was my boss and now, as Baroness Howarth of Breckland, chairs the advisory group relating to the work we, with others, are undertaking with African churches in London. The nearly seven years in Brixton were amongst the most momentous of my life and it was then that the seeds of CCPAS were sown.

This was a time of great community unrest, with major disturbances taking place. I remember on one occasion walking through Brixton, briefcase in hand, to collect my car which was being serviced. I suddenly found myself in a situation where bricks were landing around my feet, young men in masks one side, and police with shields and batons on the other. My briefcase saved me from being identified as a ‘rioter’ on the one hand or under cover police officer on the other!

Little did I know that one of the individuals in the police ranks, Bob Pull, was going to become a CCPAS colleague, and that those events were going to prove life-changing for him too. It was during those days that I learnt so much with regard to engaging with disaffected individuals and groups, and the positive influences that churches can have on communities. This was to stand me in good stead many years later in the work with African communities in London.

The Need for Bridge-Building

During this time, churches began to contact me regarding issues of abuse, knowing of my experience in Social Services and my Christian faith. A common feature in such circumstances was often a complete breakdown in communication and understanding between churches and statutory agencies, with families and children being lost in the middle. With an understanding of both perspectives, I saw a need for bridge-building to bring about respect and understanding on all sides. Children were being failed. Victims of abuse were not finding justice. In fact their experience so often was that abuse was being compounded by the negative responses they received from their churches. Yet it was clear to me not just as a professional but as a Christian that things needed to change.

The God I served was both righteous and just. Jesus came to set people free from oppression - why was this not reflected in the Church around me? I was determined as a professional and believer to do something about it and felt a calling to seek to address the issues from a national perspective. I dreamed of a church that was ahead of the game and setting the standard in its measures to protect children and support all those affected by such horrific abuse and never seeking to defend the indefensible.

This vision underpins the work of CCPAS today. We jealously guard our reputation as an independent organisation, being free to speak out when necessary on behalf of victims of abuse without fear of church, state or organisational constraint. It was clear that we needed fences at the top of the cliff rather than always having to provide ambulances at the bottom.

Around this time I was being invited to speak on various platforms in regard to abuse generally and sexual abuse in particular. One particular seminar was at the annual conference of Assemblies of God and called ‘The hidden sins’ (the title was not of my choosing!) Well, I think the content must have been quite shocking for some people, though this was not betrayed by two elderly women sitting in the front row who, having struggled up the stairs, explained at the end of the morning that they thought they had come to the ‘Growing Old Gracefully’ seminar!

Stepping Out

Demands on my time were increasing. I had a very pressurised Social Services job, was actively involved in leadership in the church, and seeking to manage and develop the PCCA projects. One of my daughters said to me one day, “Dad, you should give up one job, you can’t do everything”. How right she was, and shocked too when I responded in terms that I had realised that and was proposing to leave Social Services to develop the work of PCCA, and the vision I had for the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service. She knew some children of poor pastors and suddenly saw her clothing allowance disappearing. It didn’t!

So I left the local authority and become self-employed, working as Children’s Guardian (representing the interests of children in Court proceedings) and as a consultant to lawyers, Social Services and others on safeguarding issues. This was to give me space to develop the fledgling work of what was to become CCPAS, initially aided by volunteer support from my own family. Working from the box room in my home with a secretary, Doreen Pepper, wife of the then PCCA Treasurer, Ivor, some 30 miles away, sending tapes through the post. Some things just don’t change. This article is being dictated whilst I am ‘on the road’, to be sent over the internet for typing in Swanley!

Caring magazine was launched in 1985 to primarily support Christians involved in fostering and adoption. It was just a few hundred copies and compiled through the use of Letraset, enlarging and reducing type on a photocopier (with lots of real cutting and pasting), and assembling by my family to work endlessly round the dining room table. With a current 17,000 print run, we have thankfully moved on from those early days!

When it was no longer possible to store files on the landing, in the loft, and the bathroom, we decided it was about time we had a proper office. Part of the premises of a local church was offered to us and I remember a couple of years earlier, my wife, Pauline, and I had walked round the building in the middle of the night praying that it would be released back into God’s work. It was attended by a handful of people and little did we know then that we would be playing a part in the next chapter of the building’s history.

It was offered to us on a shared-use basis and we obtained estimates to bring it into a usable condition - some £20,000 which we did not have. I recall saying that if we were to go there then God would have to provide the £20,000. Within a few days a church, completely unaware of our situation had made a donation to CCPAS (as it was to become) for that very amount!

So now more than twenty years ago, we moved into our first official premises. Pauline and I worked voluntarily and we had two paid members of staff, one being Anthea Reynolds who is still with us.

Always a Faith Venture

Money in those days was tight but there was always enough to cover the bills. Not long after we had set up the office however, John Perkins our Treasurer phoned one morning to say that there was no money in the bank to pay any wages and this included those working in the children’s home. We immediately gathered in my office to pray and before we had finished, the phone rang. It was someone completely unknown to me. “I represent a trust”, a voice said. “Do you have any needs?” I replied that we were wondering how we were going to pay the staff that month but I didn’t suppose he could help. He asked how much was needed and a cheque for the full amount arrived a few days later. That’s the only grant we have received without having made an application - other than to God that is!

CCPAS Training Begins

One of the earliest requests for training came at the behest of our good friend, Barry Lock, who had been an Area Director in Kent Social Services and for whom I had provided some consultancy services. A young minister in his church, a certain Steve Chalke, had set up a new organisation called Oasis and Barry had been appointed as the Chief Executive Officer. We ran the event for Oasis, inviting churches from around the Tower Bridge area of London to send people along. This was probably the first Facing the Unthinkable course.

In those days there was strong resistance to reporting alleged crimes against children to the police or Social Services. I remember speaking to one vociferous individual who insisted that such matters would be handled by his church eldership. I asked him if someone had been stabbed in the church car park would he phone the police or call an elders meeting. He replied, “Strange you should say that, because it did happen and we did call a meeting to decide what to do about it”! Thankfully today that kind of attitude is a rarity and in my experience most churches will do the right thing; but that’s not to say there aren’t still some hearts and minds to be won over.

Training goes Nationwide

Following the success of the Oasis event, Barry encouraged us to take our training further afield. At about the same time, someone in Scotland sent us a message via our good friends Andy and Dot Croall saying that Pauline and I should take what we had to the nation. If this is God’s calling, we needed help, and within a matter of days Marian Parfitt (now Lovatt), previously unknown to us, offered services full-time as a volunteer, having taken early retirement from a lead responsibility for children in a local authority. If that again is not an answer to prayer, I don’t know what is!

As Pauline and I became busier, it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the same level of involvement at our church. Our pastor, Ray Bhindra recognised our calling to national ministry, and prayed for us, releasing us to be able to do all the God had planned for our lives. Around that time a Catholic Bishop with whom we were working also publicly prayed for us, acknowledging our gifts and thanking God for us. This was in the days before the Catholic Safeguarding Agency when we were giving a lot of support to Catholic Dioceses.

From these early days and continuing to the present we have worked across the denominations, independent churches and both faith and non-faith organisations of all descriptions, reaching the parts most Christians cannot reach! For almost twenty years, most weekends have found Pauline and I in a local church delivering safeguarding training and support. We have run more than 1,300 Facing the Unthinkable seminars during that time, as well as other training in organisations from mission halls to cathedrals.

CCPAS Safeguarding Policies

Marian helped us to develop the CCPAS safeguarding policy and, initially, taking our Facing the Unthinkable training around the country. Indeed, Marion was responsible for the original draft copy of Guidance to Churches, our first safeguarding manual, which in those days amounted to four pages. Following various edits and re-writes over the years its successor, Safe and Secure, is now web-based and nearly 300 pages in length - a good illustration of how CCPAS has developed over the years. CCPAS model policies existed before the government Safe from Harm guidance which forms the basis of many safeguarding policies today. CCPAS were pioneers of policies, for example, working with offenders, later adopted by the major denominations and other organisations.

On several occasions, I have been called on to advise Ministers in the Department of Children, Schools and Families and the Home Office as well as the Laming Inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie. Another important part of the work of CCPAS has been responding to all those affected by abuse, whether this is advising leaders, supporting victims, offenders or the wider family and church community.

I will never forget the woman who contacted me many years ago to thank me for what I said on a tape of one of our seminars. She had been a child victim of abuse by a priest. When talking to a street evangelist one day, she had made her feelings of revulsion towards the church quite apparent. The worker was undeterred and followed up the contact by offering her one of our Facing the Unthinkable seminar tapes - not exactly what I would have recommended in the circumstances! She said that listening to the tape brought her into a relationship with God and a healing process had commenced.

This emphasised to me the importance of victims having a voice, particularly where churches have not accepted responsibility for their actions and even blamed the victim for the abuse. Greta Randle, current CEO of the Association of Christian Counsellors, mentions in her recent book, Forgiving the Impossible?, that the CCPAS Facing the Unthinkable seminar and helpline have played a significant part in her own healing from childhood sexual abuse.

Media and Government

Our work in promoting safeguarding and speaking on behalf of victims has often been national news, including a grilling by John Humphries and Sarah Montague on the Radio 4 Today programme. CCPAS’s expertise has also been used by government in framing national guidance and in implementation by statutory and voluntary agencies, churches and faith and non-faith organisations. We know from research carried out last year by Dr Peter Brierley that some 37% of all churches in England use CCPAS services. CCPAS is the seventh largest Criminal Records Bureau umbrella body.

We, of course, work across the UK and overseas, too, in the sense that we are supporting many mission organisations. The internet means that our support is seconds away from groups and individuals anywhere in the world. Our twenty-four hour helpline, originally financed by the Department of Health, is quite unique. Often people ring us in the evenings and at weekends, having found us on the internet, wanting to talk to us because there is no one else available.

It’s Team Work

So, a lot has happened over the years from small beginnings. Some, like John Perkins our treasurer/trustee, have faithfully served CCPAS for many years. Others have joined us as trustees and workers, playing an equally vital role in CCPAS’s development. Today, though still based in Kent, we are a team of more than thirty, serving in various locations around the country. Many hundreds of you in churches and groups far and wide have been flying the safeguarding flag, supporting the work of CCPAS. My sincere thanks to you all.

Simon Bass now takes up the leadership. He is someone who has played a significant part in keeping CCPAS ahead of the game over the past few years and I know will take the organisation from strength to strength.

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