Mission or meddling?
On the 10th December 2020 Ofsted undertook a joint monitoring visit to Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre (STC) in Northamptonshire to assess whether actions had been taken following their previous inspections. They found a number of failings which significantly impacted the safety and wellbeing of the children there which they outlined in a letter to the Secretary of State for Justice on 16th December.
In particular, the inspection team found that some children were being locked in their bedrooms for 14 days and only allowed out for 30 minutes each day, and there was no evidence that educational entitlements were being met. As a result of those and other findings, the Urgent Notification (UN) process was invoked.
In the light of Ofsted’s UN letter, St Margaret’s Church in Rainham, Kent has instructed solicitors to send a letter to the Ministry of Justice, detailing various breaches of the law at Rainsbrook. If a satisfactory response is not received within 14 days, a letter before action will be sent, which is the first step in applying for a judicial review. Some people may ask: how does this relate to our mission?
At St Margaret’s we are committed to share the good news of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ. The good news has particular regard for those who are most vulnerable and therefore being faithful to our calling means taking with the utmost seriousness the challenge of preventing abuse from happening and responding where it has happened – without fear or favour and regardless of ‘where’.
If we are to be obedient to Christ, we must practise fully and positively a ministry which protects all who are vulnerable – including those incarcerated. Part of how we grow spiritually at St Margaret’s is by deepening our understanding of the gritty calling of Christ to mission.
Mission is about letting God shine His light through us into dark situations – putting Jesus’s values into action locally and beyond. At St Margaret’s we have a particular call to work with children and young people who may be on the margins of society. In 2018 the church was awarded £30,000 of Government funding to run a project to help tackle knife crime across the Medway towns, work it continues today through its mentoring scheme.
It is also relevant that Medway has a long-standing connection with youth justice. The first borstal was established in the village of that name, near Rochester, in 1902. There is a Young Offenders Institution at Cookham Wood, Rochester for boys and young men aged 15-18. There used to be a Medway STC too. It closed in March 2020 after a series of damning inspection reports. The UK’s first Secure School will open on the former Medway STC site in 2022.
So what is Jesus saying to us about Rainsbrook STC? Is he saying ‘this is out of your area; leave it for others; concentrate on things closer to home’? Or is he saying ‘Go and act in my name’? We firmly believe it’s the latter, and that God has brought us together with our particular gifts, experience and contacts to serve Him in this way. Our vicar, Rev Nathan Ward, used to be a prison governor, our deputy church warden is a former crown prosecutor and another PCC member is a human rights lawyer.
As one of the two remaining STCs in England and Wales (the other is at Oakhill, Milton Keynes) it is quite possible that Rainsbrook has, or will at some stage have, children from Medway there. But even if that were not so, we would still feel compelled to intervene in Christ’s name:
‘Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
(Matthew 25: 40)