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Goddard resignation: 5 key steps residential schools should now take

While the signs of a wobble were there – the uncertainty about ‘local law’, the questions about the approach to the Janner enquiries, the Times revelations about her absences abroad – the resignation of Dame Lowell Goddard as Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) still feels like a setback.

What will it take to get this inquiry, dogged by false starts from the very beginning, properly underway?

Our first thoughts are with the survivors and campaigners who have waited so long for this inquiry to start shedding light on the institutional failures that led to their ordeal. This further upheaval must be agonising.

But what of the institutions who are subjects of the inquiry?

They are – on the whole – hugely different from the ones bearing the same name which let children down so badly in the past.  Their leaders are unrecognisable from their predecessors.  But their reputations are on the line now, and one of the things they will be judged on is how they engage with the inquiry.

It seems there are three types of people now in charge:

  1. The ‘obsessive planners’ who won’t leave anything to chance.
  2. The ‘wait and see-ers’ who understand they may be called to give evidence but don’t see the point in preparing until they know for sure whether they will be.
  3. The ‘head in sand-ers’ who think that, whatever happens, it will be alright on the night.

The first group of people have already done what they can to prepare.  The third – small in number – are beyond help.

It is those in the second category who must take care not to take false comfort from Goddard’s resignation.   For, while it seems inevitable there will be a further delay, this inquiry will go ahead.  And, as always, the best way of minimising the impact on an organisation is to make a plan.

This means:

  1. Conducting a scoping exercise to analyse the extent of exposure to these issues.
  2. Taking specific legal advice and getting the very latest insights from expert lawyers in this field.
  3. Creating proper communication and stakeholder management plans.
  4. Commissioning a Culture Check or similar service to assess the organisation’s current cultural health. Distinguishing between ‘then’ and ‘now’ is one of the most difficult challenges for leaders but this will provide tangible evidence of what the environment is like now.
  5. Ensuring that leaders have the practical and psychological support they need.

It is in everyone’s interests to ensure this inquiry proceeds smoothly.  That will be greatly assisted if those who are subject to it plan meticulously.

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