We have all seen the shocking headlines and felt the ripple effect of the recent safeguarding scandals throughout the sector. These issues cannot be ignored, and charities really are in the spotlight when it comes to safeguarding. So, the need to have adequate and effective safeguarding procedures is more important than ever.
On 9 February 2018 The Times reported that ‘Top Oxfam staff paid Haiti survivors for sex’. It did not take long for this to send shockwaves throughout the country, and shortly after the news broke the Charity Commission opened an inquiry into the allegations. Since the news of the scandal broke, there have been many more cases where serious safeguarding issues have been identified involving national charities such as the Royal National Institute of Blind People and the Save the Children Fund.
Why is this important?
This should speak for itself - the consequences of a failure to have adequate safeguarding procedures in place can be drastic for any charity.
Charities are certainly feeling the burn from the bright spotlight on safeguarding issues: there were a staggering 532 new reports of serious incidents relating to safeguarding received by the Charity Commission between February and March 2018, compared to 1,210 throughout the whole of the previous year.
Unsurprisingly, in the wake of the public scandals there has been increased public pressure on the Charity Commission and the Government to tackle safeguarding issues. Their response has been to announce plans to put in place new, enhanced and specific safeguarding standards for the organisations they work with, and to investigate the following elements within charities:
- leadership, culture and values
- law, regulation and the statutory framework
- capacity and capability in charities around safeguarding
- responsibilities and reporting, accountability and transparency.
The high level of current public scrutiny in relation to safeguarding coupled with the reaction from the Charity Commission and the Government mean that it is now more important than ever to take safeguarding seriously and to deal quickly and thoroughly with all concerns raised.
This type of negative publicity carries a great reputational risk to any charity, including the risk of losing valuable donors. Oxfam’s experience should serve as a sage reminder of this: on 20 February it was revealed that over 7,000 people have cancelled donations to Oxfam since the Haiti scandal news story broke.
What should you do?
The issues facing the sector are very real and very troubling. However, with adequate policies and procedures in place, which are then implemented and followed by all trustees, staff and volunteers, it is possible to avoid safeguarding issues within your charity.
Remember - prevention is better than cure!
The steps you should take include:
- Identifying safeguarding risks. Are your employees going to be in contact with children or vulnerable adults anywhere in the world? If so, how frequently and in what capacity?
- Putting extensive safeguarding policies in place. Do you have sufficient safeguarding policies? Are these easily accessible for employees?
- Having a disciplinary policy that deals with employees who breach safeguarding policies. Do your employees understand the consequences of breaching safeguarding policies?
- Ensuring that you have adequate reporting procedures. Do you know who to report safeguarding concerns to at a senior level?
- Having a whistleblowing policy. Do your employees know how to report safeguarding concerns? Can your employees report concerns knowing that they will not be treated unfairly for doing so?
- Training. Having these policies and procedures in place is all well and good, but are you confident that your employees understand them and that managers are confident in enforcing them? Do you need to consider some training for your organisation?