Safeguarding hit the headlines again last week, as the International Development Committee published a report focusing on exploitation and abuse in the aid sector. In the report, MPs accused charities of “complacency verging on complicity” in relation to these issues, saying that “self-delusion” and a “collective failure of leadership” had prevented charities across the sector from tackling problems before they came to light.
While this makes for difficult reading, it is important for charities to consider what they themselves can do to help improve this landscape, both to protect those at risk and to protect their own reputation. This can at times seem to be a vague and insurmountable task, particularly as the Charity Commission has adopted a broader interpretation of what “safeguarding” means in a charity context, to extend beyond children and vulnerable adults to include the protection of all those who might come into contact with a charity, including beneficiaries, staff and volunteers. However, there are several places charity trustees can look to for guidance and support on how to put effective and up-to-date safeguarding measures in place.
As a starting point, the report itself made a number of recommendations for charities, emphasising that they should:
- Ensure the beneficiaries of humanitarian aid have knowledge of and confidence in their rights;
- Operate a zero-tolerance culture on sexual exploitation and abuse;
- Proactively seek and respond to reports of wrongdoing robustly, with feedback to victims and survivors; and
- Identify known perpetrators of sexual exploitation and abuse through improved reporting and accountability, and prevent them from moving into new positions.
As ever the Charity Commission is also a useful source of guidance, and published updated Guidance on 1 August setting out trustees’ safeguarding duties and how they can ensure they fulfil them.
This emphasises that trustees must:
- Be alert to the fact that individuals may target their charity in order to get to others who are at risk, for instance by using its records, and take actions to prevent this;
- Obtain appropriate DBS checks from all its personnel, including trustees themselves, staff and volunteers;
- Carry out checks on any organisations that the charity funds, including overseas partners, to make sure they have appropriate controls in place to protect those at risk;
- Keep a regularly updated Safeguarding Policy; and
- Manage all incidents or allegations of abuse responsibly, including:
- Keeping internal reports securely;
- Making reports to the police, social services and other agencies where necessary;
- Implementing changes to reduce the risk of any further incidents; and
- Setting an organisational culture that prioritises safeguarding, so that it is safe for those affected to make incidents and concerns known.
In particular, the Guidance notes that trustees must take reasonable steps to protect all those connected with their charity from harm – highlighting the point that safeguarding duties apply not only to charities working with children or vulnerable adults, but all charities, regardless of their size, type or income.
Statutory guidance on how organisations can work together to safeguard and promote the welfare of children can also be found here.
Finally, trustees should also be aware of the automatic disqualification rules which apply to those managing charities. These recently became stricter and more widely applicable, and the changes came into effect at the start of August, so if a reminder of these would be useful please see our earlier blog on this issue here.