What happens when
the PSO receives a complaint
When the Professional Standards Office receives a complaint, we will decide whether to accept the complaint or refer it to the relevant Church Authority for resolution.
We may ask the complainant and/or the Church Authority for further information.
We will consider and analyse the information we receive, and then make our appraisal of the complaint and decide on the most appropriate course of action.
All information is considered carefully, impartially and fairly — we don’t take sides.
The Professional Standards Office is fair and impartial. We are committed to making balanced and well-informed decisions and to providing accurate advice in relation to all complaints.
Appraising a complaint is a very important first step in the process. It’s the point where we gather preliminary information needed from the complainant, the relevant Church Authority, and other sources, to help us make the right decision.
Our initial appraisal will be completed as quickly as possible, although this may be extended for more serious or complex matters or in cases where it takes longer to get the necessary information.
Selecting the appropriate process
After initial appraisal of a complaint, we will advise the complainant and relevant Church Authority how the complaint will be managed. We will inform the complainant and relevant Church Authority of our decision and what needs to happen next.
Abuse complaints will be managed via the Towards Healing process (see below). The Professional Standards Office is responsible for managing that process. Non-abuse complaints (i.e. grievances or misconduct) will be referred to the relevant Church Authority for resolution.
If we decide to refer the complaint to the relevant Church Authority or we can’t take a complaint any further, we will explain the reasons why and any options that may be available. We will also keep the complaint on record to help us identify any patterns of conduct or practice, or systemic issues.
Towards Healing process (Abuse Complaints)
In brief, although the Towards Healing process is flexible and will vary from case to case, the process can include the following steps:
A contact report (written and signed complaint) will be obtained from the complainant. An independent professional will be appointed by the Director of Professional Standards to obtain the contact report. The complaint resolution process is explained, any mandatory reporting will occur, and counselling or other support is also usually offered to the complainant for the duration of the process.
The complainant will also be encouraged to report the matter to the police. If he or she does not wish to do so, the Director will make a non-identifying report to the police. The complainant will also be required to sign a declaration confirming that they do not intend to report the matter to the police.
A privacy statement will also be signed which will allow the Church to disclose information for administrative, investigative and pastoral care purposes under the Towards Healing process.
Once the contact report is received, if the complainant has chosen not to go to the police, the allegations will be passed on to the relevant Church Authority. The Church Authority is expected to put the allegations to the accused person if possible and obtain a response. At that point, the accused person may be stood aside pending investigation. The Director of Professional Standards will provide direction in this respect.
If the allegations are denied, or if there is uncertainty about the facts, and the Director of Professional Standards believes it necessary, independent professional assessors will be appointed to investigate the allegations and make findings. The Director of Professional Standards is obliged to appoint two assessors unless the Director considers that in the circumstances one professional assessor is sufficient. The assessors chosen must be independent of the Church Authority, the complainant and the accused.
The purpose of an assessment is to investigate the facts of the case to the extent that it is possible to do so. The assessors will provide a written report to the Church Authority and the Director of Professional Standards. The assessors will make findings about whether they consider the complaint to be true on the ‘balance of probabilities’, based upon the evidence available at that time.
The Church Authority may seek such further information as it considers necessary to understand the needs of the complainant, including a report from a suitably qualified and independent professional concerning the impact of the abuse on the complainant.
Depending on the findings of the assessment, the Director for Professional Standards will appoint an independent professional facilitator to moderate a process for communication between the complainant and the Church Authority. This may involve a meeting, under the direction of the facilitator. The outcomes of that meeting typically include an apology, payment of counselling costs, and agreed financial assistance or reparation.
Outcomes relating to the accused
Where the claim is accepted or admitted, or substantiated by the assessment process, the Church Authority has to decide what action it should take with respect to the perpetrator.
An independent review process is available managed by a National Review Panel.
A person may request a review on the basis that the Towards Healing process was not followed correctly or that the findings of the assessment are flawed.
It is important to note that a review is not a reconsideration of the eventual outcomes of the matter.
A complainant may seek a review within three calendar months of the end of the facilitation or otherwise when the Church Authority gives its response to the complaint.
However, the Chairperson of the Review Panel may allow a review outside of the three months’ time limit if there are compelling reasons to accept a request for review.