Crisis management is the application of strategies designed to help a Church body deal with a sudden and significant negative event. In terms of safeguarding this can be a range of events including removal of a cleric or religious from ministry, the resignation of a Church authority or exposure of poor practice through an audit or media investigations.
This guidance is designed to assist Church authorities and personnel manage a crisis situation which ensures:
• Children are safeguarded
• Risk is assessed and managed
• Communication is clear, open and honest
• Action required to manage all aspects of the crisis is taken
This guidance is not designed to be an exhaustive list (as each crisis is different) but to provide a guide to the areas that should be addressed. Each crisis will require a different approach with different personnel involved in the management, so that damage to children, the lay faithful and Church personnel is limited. The priority must always be to ensure that the well-being of children is safeguarded.
Step 1 – Preparation
The Bishop should consider with a ‘critical friend’ the best approach to adopt by scoping:
• The nature of the current crisis and how it might be managed
• Who will be in a crisis management team
• Who might coordinate of responses to the crisis
The Bishop`s responsibilities and redlines.
The term critical friend can be defined as ‘a trusted person who asks provocative questions, provides data to be examined through another lens and offers critique of the person’s work, as a friend. A critical friend takes the time to fully understand the context of the work presented and the outcomes the person or group is working toward. The friend is an advocate for the success of that work’ (1). Within a child safeguarding setting in the Church, such a person could be available to reflect ideas and honestly assist in analysing a situation with a focus on safeguarding children and not the reputation of the Church or the Church authority.
(1) Costa & Kallick, 1993, Through the Lens of a Critical Friend. Educational Leadership
With this in mind it is important that the Bishop selects someone who will offer them honest advice and will balance an appropriate blend of support and challenge, to enable the Bishop to reflect on the issues outlined above.
Step 2- Convene Crisis Management Team
The Bishop convenes the Crisis Management Team. The makeup of this team will depend on the nature of the crisis. Depending on the nature of the crisis, the team should be selected from role holders within the safeguarding structure. For example if the crisis relates to case management it would not be appropriate to involve the chair of the safeguarding committee due to confidentiality issues. Examples of those involved in the Crisis Management Team may include
• Communications person
• Canon lawyer
• Civil lawyer
• Support for both complainant and respondent
• Chair of safeguarding committee
• Critical friend
At all times confidentiality and data protection requirements must be respected. If the crisis relates to a situation where sensitive personal data is shared, all members of the crisis management team should sign a confidentiality agreement. This will apply in situations eg where a respondent is asked to step aside from ministry. The purpose of convening a group of people is to identify the Bishop’s response and communication approaches so that there is clarity around what is happening; who is taking responsibility for actions and to ensure that all those potentially impacted by the crisis are responded to appropriately.
At the meeting of the Crisis Management Team the crisis should be discussed from a range of perspectives to help identify issues that need to be addressed. These perspectives could include:
• Lay faithful
• Complainants and families
• Respondent and their families
• Church personnel (Pope, Papal Nuncio, Metropolitan, Superior General, Clerics, religious and lay)
• General public
Once the discussion has taken place, the Crisis Management Team should then:
• Advise on priorities – safeguarding of children, responding to complainant etc
• Identify actions based on these priorities
• Identify roles based on these actions
• Using these actions produce a crisis management plan (this can be updated and revised throughout the crisis management process)
• Identify coordinator to ensure the plan is completed
Step 3: Crisis Management Plan
The Crisis Management Plan is developed based on the priorities agreed by the Crisis Management Team. This will differ for each crisis and may change throughout the process of managing the crisis. The agreed plan should provide a clear outline of the actions required, date to be completed and personnel assigned to these actions.
The actions within the Plan need to include clear targets to:
• Ensure statutory obligations are met
• Ensure canonical obligations are met
• Ensure there is no risk to children
• Ensure support is being offered as appropriate
• Develop communications plan
• Outline when the plan will be reviewed or updated
• Conduct a serious incident review after the process, to identify future learning and improved practice.
Step 4: Communications
Throughout the process clear and appropriate communication is vitally important. To assist with this a communications plan should be developed as part of the Crisis Management Plan. This will include information to answer the following questions:
• What decisions need to be made early in the process that will not change? These need to be agreed and communicated to all so that there is absolute clarity about the Bishop’s position in relation to agreed actions.
• Who are the audiences you want to target?
• What are the messages you want to send to these audiences?
• How are you going to send these messages to the audiences identified?
• Who will take responsibility?
In developing the communications plan it is helpful to consider the following:
• Be honest and apologise
• Appropriately share information
• Anticipate and prepare
• Get to the truth quickly and effectively
• Ensure that public information is current and correct (check own social and other media outlets)
• Maintain control- plan when you want to release information and only comment on what you are being asked about
• Be humble
• Take responsibility
• Minimise or relativise
• Allow emotion, vanity or ego to cloud your judgement
• Don’t breach confidentiality
• Don’t be dishonest and cover up
Step 5: Serious Incident Review
Once the crisis has passed, an important part of the Crisis Management Plan is to conduct a Serious Incident Review to identify and distil future learning to prevent a similar crisis happening in the future. (See 3.10)