The importance of safeguarding

19 October 2018 - Elizabeth Nichols

In light of recent allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct which have been levelled against high profile charity and not-for-profit organisations over the last year, never has it been so important for organisations, of all sizes, to review their safeguarding policies and procedures.

This week, the Charity Commission announced the findings of it’s Task Force. The Task Force was set up in February 2018 “to explore the nature of incidents reported and the type of charity making the report, in order to inform our understanding of risks facing charities, and in turn our approach to individual case work and the provision of guidance to charities.”

The findings of the report were that “Reports of serious safeguarding incidents were not always made sufficiently quickly; our guidance requires charities to report a serious incident promptly.” With the Task Force citing that they “have serious concerns about continued underreporting of serious incidents in charities.”
In response, this week, the British Government stated that it intended to support a global register of sex predators with the aim of protecting vulnerable people both in the UK and overseas. Not only is this international crisis devastating for victims, both those who are known and those who go unreported but is having an impact on charities themselves. Shirley Greer, Charity Insurance Specialist at Scrutton Bland reflects on what charities and not-for-profit organisations should be considering in order to protect themselves and their clients.

The Government’s report is all around ‘safeguarding’, what is safeguarding? 
Safeguarding refers to the measures and processes in place which protect the health, well-being and human rights of individuals. Safeguarding is a term which is often used in regard to children, young people and vulnerable adults who need protecting against harm and or abuse.

Why is it so important to have a robust safeguarding policy?
Anyone who has a position of responsibility or works with children or vulnerable adults has a duty of care to protect them. For organisations who rely on volunteers or operate with temporary or transient staff – such as charities who run overseas operations- ensuring that safeguarding procedures are being followed, can be challenging.

It is an unfortunate statistic that the number of people suffering from mental health, often associated with poverty or homelessness is rising, and therefore so are the numbers of people who can be considered as vulnerable. Whilst the charity commission has already reported a significant increase in the number of safeguarding incidents post the Oxfam scandal, the Commission still believe that there are a large number of safeguarding incidents which are going unreported.   

The rise in movements such as ‘Me Too’ and other victim empowerment and support groups, has inevitably led to an increase in the number of reports of abuse, many of them historical. Whilst support for victims speaking out is something which can only be positive for society, for organisations who may have unknowingly employed or worked with the abusers, the cost of legal action and damages can be catastrophic.

What can charities, business and organisations do to protect their clients and themselves?
Any organisation working with children, young people or adults at-risk should have a safeguarding policy and procedure in place and should review this regularly.

Training and awareness amongst staff and volunteers can be the key to successful safeguarding, not only will this help by clearly outlining what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour but can also act as an early warning signal where staff see and report incidents before they arise.

There should be a high degree of awareness among staff and volunteers of safeguarding issues and their own roles within the organisation for protecting people from harm. The Charity Commission advises that safeguarding should be a priority for all charities, not just those working with groups traditionally considered at risk.

There are a wealth of sources to help charities and originations identify and create a safeguarding policy. Successful policies should be clear, to-the-point and be a set of guidelines which everyone in your organisation can adhere to, this will give your policy integrity and most importantly could help in ensuring the safety of anyone who could be the subject of abuse. The Anne Craft Trust have some great advice on their website for drawing up a safeguarding policy:

  • Empowerment

People are supported and encouraged to make their own decisions and informed consent.
“I am asked what I want as the outcomes from the safeguarding process and this directly inform what happens.”

  • Prevention

It is better to take action before harm occurs.
“I receive clear and simple information about what abuse is. I know how to recognise the signs, and I know what I can do to seek help.”

  • Proportionality

The least intrusive response appropriate to the risk presented.
“I am sure that the professionals will work in my interest and they will only get involved as much as is necessary.”

  • Protection

Support and representation for those in greatest need.
“I get help and support to report abuse and neglect. I get help so that I am able to take part in the safeguarding process to the extent to which I want.”

  • Partnership

Services offer local solutions through working closely with their communities. Communities have a part to play in preventing, detecting and reporting neglect and abuse.
“I know that staff treat any personal and sensitive information in confidence, only sharing what is helpful and necessary. I am confident that professionals will work together and with me to get the best result for me.”

  • Accountability

Accountability and transparency in delivering safeguarding.
“I understand the role of everyone involved in my life and so do they.”
So, once you have a solid safeguarding policy, trained your staff and put reporting procedures in place what should you consider next? According to Shirley, under insurance is a big issue in the third sector and particularly for Abuse Cover. Insurance against the impact of Abuse Cover can provide protection against the costs resulting from legal defence fees and compensation payments in the event of an abuse allegation or claim of negligence. However, like all polices there can be restrictions and conditions such as ensuring that you have a robust safeguarding policy in place and that its reviewed annually. Shirley’s advice is to consult with a specialist insurance and risk management adviser if you are looking to find protection for your organisation.

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