Safeguarding is a topic that has never been more relevant in the charity and third sector than right now. With stories about multinational aid charities reaching the public eye and casting a shadow over the whole sector, charities should act now to ensure their safeguarding policies are airtight. Victoria Simpson, Head of Charities, discusses why now is the perfect time.
Are safeguarding procedures relevant to your charity?
Safeguarding issues should be at the top of your agenda for discussion - it is a key governance concern that every charity has to consider. Many charities believe that because they do not work with or come into regular contact with children or vulnerable adults, or if they do not work within a community with possible exposure to children and vulnerable adults, that safeguarding procedures will not apply to them. It doesn’t matter how big or small your charity is, or how well you think you know your staff.
If your charity comes into any kind of direct or indirect contact with children and/or vulnerable adults, even on an infrequent basis, then it is important your charity has a comprehensive safeguarding procedure in place.
Any safeguarding policy should also be read in conjunction with the charity’s other policies and procedures, particularly those relating to data protection, health and safety, making complaints, whistleblowing and the protection of staff and volunteers, such as codes of conduct, anti-bullying and reporting procedures to ensure that staff and volunteers can work free from any form of abuse or harassment within the workplace.
Regulators react to misconduct allegations
In a year that has seen high profile, international charities such as Medicins Sans Frontiers, Oxfam and Save the Children hit the headlines as a result of serious misconduct allegations concerning the exploitation and harassment of vulnerable persons and charity staff, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) and the Charity Commission for England and Wales (CCEW) responded quickly issuing urgent safeguarding guidance.
In particular OSCR’s interim guidance 'Keeping Vulnerable Beneficiaries Safe' focuses on the safeguarding of children under the age of 18 and vulnerable adults who are over the age of 16, but who are not able to look after themselves, their property or their rights.
What duty do trustees have in relation to safeguarding?
Trustees have a duty of care under the Charities and Trustees Investment (Scotland) Act 2005 to ensure that safeguarding and a safe working culture are a key focus of their charity. Failure to review and properly manage safeguarding risks can be treated as a serious regulatory breach of the trustees’ duty of care and is misconduct in the administration of the charity.
Remember that the trustees are accountable for everything the charity does. If a safeguarding issue should emerge, it is the trustees who will be held responsible and their actions will be looked into closely. Failure on the part of the trustees to ensure that proper safeguarding policies and procedures are in place, that are reviewed regularly, understood and applied by the staff and volunteers of the charity can cause serious and long lasting reputational damage. As we have seen, this form of reputational damage does not only potentially affect your charity’s supporters and funders, but it can detrimentally affect the wider charity sector too.
We strongly recommend that all charities act now to review their existing policies, procedures and risk register, with a view to updating where needed and to identify where any additional policies or guidance may be required. Do not assume that safeguarding or any related issue is irrelevant to your charity. Any concerns should be rectified without delay and professional advice sought if needed.