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Safeguarding - an update

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It is slightly over a month since the alleged sexual misconduct of Oxfam staff in Haiti hit the headlines. Since then there has been a lot of activity on the issue of charities and safeguarding.

Two summits were held in London to consider next steps.  The summit on the 5 March 2018, hosted by the Charity Commission for England and Wales (CCEW) and the Department for International Development (DfID) concentrated on charities working internationally. On the following day, CCEW and the Office for Civil Society at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport hosted an event looking at the issues from the perspective of charities working within a UK context.

The summits were very different, but many of the emerging themes were similar.  Getting policies and procedures for the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults is essential.  However, these safeguarding policies are not enough.  To create a culture of zero tolerance to sexual exploitation and abuse means confronting a societal problem of power and inequality, particularly gender inequality.  For some organisations, confronting this problem will be more challenging than for others.  However, if the right leadership and culture is not in place within the organisation, then unacceptable behaviour can and will creep in.  It was also acknowledged that there may be particular challenges for smaller organisations and that it is essential to find ways of sharing good practice across the sectors. 

There are some big issues to deal with, then.  However the level of commitment at each of the summits was extremely good.  In the international summit, a joint statement was produced committing the charity signatories to act on 5 key areas:

  • accountability to beneficiaries and survivors
  • a shift in organisational culture
  • safeguards in the employment cycle
  • rigorous reporting and complaints mechanisms and
  • prompt and appropriate action on concerns. 

The domestic summit defined 4 themes for priority action:

  • leadership, culture and values
  • law, regulation and the statutory framework
  • capacity and capability in charities around safeguarding and
  • reporting, accountability and transparency. 

At OSCR we are committed to playing our part in this journey towards strengthening safeguarding and wider cultural change across the charity sector by helping hold charities to account.

This will be a priority area of work for us over the coming year.  Our safeguarding guidance will be published by May 2018, and we will be making sure that our annual return and our new online registration form (coming this summer) will include pertinent safeguarding questions.  We are working with other partners to look at the best way of supporting charities, small and large, as part of our commitment to being a positive, preventative and proportionate regulator.