Safeguarding polices – What can charities learn from recent scandals?

Featuring Duncan Leslie | 15th August, 2018

The aid sector is guilty of “complacency verging on complicity” over an “endemic” sex abuse scandal, a damning report from MPs has said.  Stephen Twigg, chairman of the international development committee, said charities were “more concerned to protect their own reputation”.

The extent to which this scandal reached the headlines reflects not only the scale of the lack of trust in charities but also poses questions around charities’ safeguarding policies (and other policies) and the way in which they are implemented (or not).

One of the main concerns has been that this was a known issue that has been widely associated with the charitable/aid sector for a long period of time. The committee said in their report: “Having understood the length of time that the sector has been aware of these issues, we reflect with confusion on the apparent shock of those we spoke to in the immediate aftermath of the Times report. This has been a known problem in the international aid sector for years.”

Charities should adopt a more proactive approach, as opposed to a reactive regime. This can be initiated by ensuring that procedures and policies are not neglected and lost amongst the other aspects of running a charity and should be regularly reviewed and made fit for purpose.

In the event that such issues within a charity do occur, it is important that charity leaders, CEOs or Trustees on the Board remain transparent and honest rather than bury bad news.

What needs to be done and how can such scandals be prevented in the sector?

The culture around safeguarding is shifting towards better reporting, screening and accountability. MPs have suggested that standardised criminal record checks such as DBS checks should be adopted, to provide details of past allegations to prospective employers.

Oxfam claim to have now taken steps to strengthen its safeguarding policies and Caroline Thomson, Oxfam’s chair of trustees has confirmed that the charity have tripled funding for safeguarding, established an independent whistle blowing helpline and committed to publish details of cases twice a year.

Our advice

We urge charities to look again at areas of their organisations where safeguarding or similar high profile risks could become an issue and ask the following questions:

  • Are these risk areas well managed?
  • What is the quality of internal reporting like for such matters?
  • Are key problems likely to be brushed under the carpet?
  • What can be done to improve systems to enable boards to have more confidence that key policies are being adhered to?
  • Is there a historical issue that really needs to be addressed?

If you have any queries relating to the above, or other questions regarding your charity, please get in touch with one of our specialists within the sector.

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