Name: Eileen Shearer.
Job: Director, Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults. Based in Birmingham.
Job description: To develop and co-ordinate national policy on child protection, and offer advice and support to the Catholic church.
Skills/qualifications needed: I’m a qualified social worker and have a masters in social science and an MBA.
What’s your job like?
The Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults was set up in 2001, and I was appointed in 2002. I lead a small team, although we’re not fully staffed at the moment. My background is in social work and before this I was a regional director at the NSPCC.
There are good local structures for child protection inside the church. Every diocese, (area controlled by a bishop), has its own child protection commission. Child protection experts, including social workers, serve on commissions. My role is to influence rather than line manage them.
Developing a single national policy is new for the Catholic church. Previously there was local autonomy.
When I got this job I was described in the press as an “agnostic single mother”. I’m not Catholic. I was brought up Anglican and consider myself to have an open mind about religion, which is helpful in this job.
I’m feeling my way around and becoming familiar with the way things work in the church. I think there are benefits to me not being a Catholic. I am independent for a start. The outside world might have seen it as a stitch-up if a Catholic was appointed to this role. There are few women in senior roles in the Catholic church, which also makes me different.
It’s important for the church to demonstrate that attitudes to protecting children are changing. People want to share ideas and co-operate with the task in hand. There’s a feeling of “Let’s get on with it.”
Some insiders regret that dealing with child protection costs so much. But the costs of doing nothing would be enormous.
I’m on a steep learning curve, but the work is very enjoyable and my colleagues are the nicest bunch of people I’ve ever worked with.This is an unusual job for a child care professional and it’s not easy. But I have the chance to make a real difference.
Job File of Eileen Shearer