Are we adequately safeguarding children from harm?

School children in a classroom. Photo credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
School children in a classroom. Photo credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Last month an independent panel of experts at the Teaching Regulation Authority heard evidence from two male victims, both active members of the Orthodox Jewish community in Manchester. The allegations against Yankel Shepherd – also an active member of the Orthodox Jewish community – involved inappropriate touching, stroking and acts of a sexual nature. Shepherd himself was not present during the hearings, nor was he represented, however after hearing from both victims and considering the evidence the panel decided he was a risk to children and banned him “indefinitely” from teaching, with no hope of working as a teacher again due to the seriousness of the allegations and his lack of remorse.

It is important to highlight that there are numerous facts within the report that should concern us all. As Jenni Frazer mentioned last week, the very idea that Shepherd was able to obtain glowing recommendations to secure a teaching role in a new school, after there were known allegations, is unfathomable. Did no one consider the risk he posed to children? The panel found Mr Shepherd had clearly developed a pattern of behaviour in which he used his role as teacher, a trusted position of authority, to gain access to children with the intention of sexually abusing them.

Of the two victims the panel heard from, one alleged that the abuse occurred in the 1980’s (Child A), while the other victim made his allegations in 2018 (Pupil X). In 2010, Child A and his wife began the process of accessing appropriate support within the community with the intention of securing permission from a senior Rabbi to report the allegation to the police. After two years of being sent on a fool’s errand, with false promises of internal communal investigations and interventions, Child A with the practical support of his wife, reported to the police. Child A shared that this was when an “intimidation campaign” began on him and his family, with the end goal being the withdrawal of his statement.

When I first spoke with Child A (a number of years ago), his only wish was that Shepherd be removed from teaching in order to protect other children from potential harm.

When our shuls do not address alleged offenders until they have a criminal conviction; do not possess safeguarding policies as live working documents that are accessible to service users, and communal organisations that are ‘proud’ to meet the national minimum standard of safeguarding.  Combined what we now know from the TRA report about Shepherd, and the recent events in a United Synagogue nursery that resulted in OFSTED shutting them down – with immediate effect – I question whether our religious and communal organisations genuinely understand what safeguarding our children from harm truly means.

Safeguarding means people and organisations come together with the shared goal to prevent and stop harm against children and young people, despairingly, the impression is that our community is missing this collaborative approach and a real understanding of what is possible.

There are resources available to help our community build better safeguarding, many of which are easily accessible especially this week and can be found on twitter on the #itsnotok hashtag as part of the Sexual Abuse & Sexual Violence Awareness Week.

About the Author
Yehudis Goldsobel is the Chief Executive of Migdal Emunah & Founder of the UKs Sexual Abuse & Sexual Violence Awareness Week. She is co-chair of the Met Police Independent Advisory Group for Rape and Serious Sexual Offences and is currently doing her Master's at Goldsmiths University in Understanding Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse.
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