The importance of safeguarding in all sectors should by 2018 be plain however, in particular, certain organisations within the charitable/NGO sector have seen attention focused on them in this regard recently. This has included Save the Children and Oxfam. Other charitable bodies in for example the faith and school sectors have also been the subject of intense scrutiny about their approach to safeguarding. This has led to a significant increase in the volume of work for its regulator, the Charity Commission (‘the Commission’).
Safeguarding is relevant not only to the beneficiaries of charities’ work but also their employees. Following allegations about Oxfam the Commission established a statutory inquiry to consider allegations of misconduct by staff involved in its humanitarian response in Haiti. The Commission had concerns that Oxfam may not have fully and frankly disclosed material details about the allegations at the time in 2011.
In February 2018 the Commission also established a safeguarding taskforce. Its purpose was to help the Commission manage and respond to the increase in reports of serious safeguarding incidents and to undertake a review of the historic serious incident and whistleblowing reports on safeguarding issues that had been received previously.
In the same month the Secretary of State for International Development wrote to the 179 charities the department funds 2018 seeking assurances that all appropriate incidences had been reported to the Commission. This prompted 33 charities to report a number of further incidences. The total number of reports from those charities is now 219 of which 127 are historic.
Overall, the Commission reports that it has received 532 new reports of serious incidents on safeguarding in February and March 2018 compared to a total of 1,210 in all of 2016-17.
Between 1 April 2014 and 20 February 2018 the Commission had received 5,501 incident reports and of these 3,300 have been re-reviewed to identify any gaps in comprehensive disclosure by charities and to establish whether appropriate follow up actions were taken, including whether incidents were reported to other primary regulators or agencies. Of the incidents re-reviewed 2000 involved potential criminal activity and only one had not been reported to the authorities contemporaneously. It has now been reported to the police.
A further aspect of the Commission’s work, which is a potential repercussion for any charity, is the removal of the safeguarding functions from the trustees. Such an outcome was recently imposed on Ampleforth College in Yorkshire following the instigation of an inquiry into historic abuse at the College in 2016. The Commission considered that safeguarding policies had not been improved enough since the start of the inquiry and appointed a solicitor as interim manager of the educational trusts that manage the College and its preparatory school.
The work of the Commission’s taskforce will be published in a report intended to set out the key findings and lessons for charities. The date for publication has yet to be confirmed.
In December 2017 the Commission issued an alert to all charities reminding them of the importance of providing a safe and trusted environment for all those that came into contact with them. It specifically advised them to review their organisation’s safeguarding governance, management arrangements and performance if they had not done so in the last 12 months and to contact them about any unreported safeguarding issues or incidences. All charities were reminded that safeguarding should be a key governance priority.