January profile: Alexandra Griffiths

Setting new safeguarding targets for the Archdiocese

As a former probation officer, registered social worker and Independent Police Complaints Commission investigator, Alexandra Griffiths has seen many things in her professional life. By her own admission, though, she encountered an unwelcome surprise when embarking on her role as safeguarding coordinator for Liverpool Archdiocese.

It came, she explains, from the attitudes of people outside the Archdiocese. ‘I’ve always been open about the fact I’m a Catholic but when I came into the role a lot of people questioned why I’d want to take on almost “a poisoned chalice”, for want of a better phrase,’ she says. ‘That really did surprise me because it’s only part of the story. Every time somebody is abused or hurt, it is one person too many and that is not acceptable, but it doesn’t tell the whole story and it doesn’t tell how many people are supported by their faith and get comfort from their faith.’

A parishioner of St Mary’s, Woolton, Alexandra had a more welcome surprise as she embarked on her job last summer – discovering the extent of the foundations laid by her predecessor, Des Bill. ‘The Archdiocese of Liverpool was ahead of its time in a lot of respects – there’s been some form of safeguarding officer here since 1998,’ she explains. ‘I can speak as a Catholic mum, and a Catholic layperson who’s come into the Archdiocese, and having had a look here there is a really good, solid foundation. There are a lot of policies and procedures I didn’t know about. I didn’t know about the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service. It’s been hugely reassuring to know all these safeguards are in place and they’re working.’

Alexandra’s aim is to build on these foundations. ‘It is quite an exciting time to join the department as we’re looking at developing and learning from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and modernising the department as well. One of the reasons I wanted to come in is to offer what expertise and skills and experience I have to try to build upon what’s already here.’

The modernising process will involve new computer systems. ‘One will support volunteers and the DBS [Disclosure and Barring Service] side,’ she says. ‘The other will support our case work so we can access records more easily.’ She describes it as ‘a huge project’ and underlines the scale of the work undertaken by the Archdiocese’s five-strong safeguarding team by adding: ‘We cover about 200 parishes with 9–10,000 volunteers, and we process all the DBS checks for all our volunteers and clergy. We also do safeguarding training for volunteers and clergy, and address any safeguarding-related issues. We’re here to support the parishes and make sure people are able to come to their church to worship safely and securely.’

The former St Julie’s High School pupil evidently enjoys a challenge. After gaining a degree in Human Applied Biology and Psychology, she set her sights on the Probation Service. ‘I started temping for the Probation Service and had a look at the work they were doing with offenders – some had made horrendous mistakes, others obviously do things on purpose – but I looked and thought, “I really want to do that, I really want to help people get to a better place while trying to keep people safe at the same time”.’ Safety is a thread running through her career and she has a hobby that demands precision, too. ‘I’m an archer in my spare time,’ she smiles. ‘It probably taps into the inner child – who hasn’t, when they’re a child, run around with a bow and arrow?’ Time for some new targets.