Safeguarding and beyond: Working together to build good practice

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Earlier this year we published our interim safeguarding guidance.  It outlines the responsibility that charity trustees have to make sure their charity has the appropriate safeguarding measure in place to prevent and protect vulnerable beneficiaries from harm and to make sure that they can enjoy their right to feel safe and secure.  

But beyond safeguarding, it is also essential that charities are protecting all those who they are working with, whether they be staff, volunteers, beneficiaries, visitors, contractors and so on.  Is the culture of the organisation one in which staff, volunteers and beneficiaries can raise issues and feel confident that they will be dealt with?  Is it a culture where there is zero tolerance for bullying and harassment?  Are HR policies conducive to the creation and maintenance of a positive culture?  Is the employment cycle robust enough to make it difficult for anyone with a hidden, abusive agenda to infiltrate the organisation?  How good is the organisation about being honest about and learning from its mistakes?

During the year, we have been working closely with partners in Scotland and beyond to look at the best ways of building good practice in terms of safeguarding and on some of the wider issues touched on above.  We have been delighted at the willingness of the sector to engage in constructive debate and action in this area.  What we have seen over the year is that while there is a great deal of good practice, there are gaps that need to be filled, and practices that need to be improved. We are working closely with Scottish Government, SCVO, the Scottish International Development Alliance and other sector partners to work out the best ways to give overall support to the sector in Scotland.

We are also engaging with partners in other parts of the UK.  Charities often stretch beyond geographical borders and so it is essential that we are working closely with the Charity Commission for England and Wales and the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland.  There is also a lot of good work being spearheaded by the Department for International Development (DfID), as it looks at how to build best practice on an international scale.

As part of that work, DfID organised a summit aimed at tackling exploitation, abuse and harassment in the ‘aid’ sector.  This was a great opportunity for key organisations to come together to commit to building good practice in different areas.  Aside from a great number of representatives from international development charities, there were also representatives from donors, the United Nations, the private sector, research organisations, UK and international financial institutions.  Each grouping made key commitments as to how they were going to tackle sexual exploitation, sexual abuse and sexual harassment in their work within the aid sector.

Key to all the commitments is putting those affected by sexual exploitation, sexual abuse and sexual harassment at the centre of the solutions, and some powerful voices of those who had been affected were heard during the day.  Making everyone safe involves developing cultures, systems and procedures that make it as difficult as possible for anyone who might want to exploit difficult, complex and sometimes chaotic humanitarian and development situations to engage in bad or criminal behaviour. 

Some of the biggest challenges for the sector are around the employment cycle; how to make sure that recruitment and vetting procedures are robust enough.  This is complicated where people are moving around the globe, and where different jurisdictions will have distinct legal and procedural approaches.  There are concrete commitments to try and work on that, through developing a positive ‘passport’ for those working in development and by trying to develop better information sharing between charities at the point of referencing, allowing appropriate disclosures to be make. It will be interesting to watch the progress of these initiatives over the next period.

I left the summit feeling very hopeful.  The commitment I had seen here in Scotland was strongly echoed throughout the day and across all sectors.  Many of the issues we need to deal with are societal and cultural in nature, and therefore very complex.  Only through building strong partnerships and learning from each other will we be able to build on the best practice that is already out there, and to deal with the gaps and difficulties that have led to problems for several charities.

At this year's 'Meet the Regulator' event in Edinburgh, Jude conducted a presentation on Safeguarding and you can watch the video here.

OSCR has guidance for charity trustees about safeguarding available on this website.