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Safeguarding Is Everyone's Concern

on Wednesday, 13 December 2017.

Issues related to safeguarding by charities have had a high profile in the press in recent months.

There has been ongoing scrutiny of charities which have failed to protect children from sexual abuse by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and confirmation by the new Chair, Alexis Jay, of ongoing scrutiny by them until at least 2020.

There have been allegations of widespread historic abuse in football and youth sport generally, as well as recent allegations against John Smyth QC in relation to a charity running holiday clubs.  

Charity trustees should also be aware that safeguarding issues are a key agenda item for the Charity Commission as a regulator.

As a result, many trustees will be considering safeguarding and its implications for their charity and, where necessary, reviewing their safeguarding policies and procedures.

Does Safeguarding Impact on My Charity?

The first consideration for a charity's trustees is whether safeguarding is relevant to their charity. This will depend on whether the charity (including its trustees, staff and volunteers) has contact with children or vulnerable adults.

This will involve considering the following issues:

  • Identifying the charity's beneficiaries and whether services are provided to children or vulnerable adults.

  • Assessing how frequently the charity's trustees, employees and volunteers have contact with children and vulnerable adults.

  • Assessing whether those services are provided to children or vulnerable adults on an unsupervised basis.

  • Understanding the context within which services are provided and whether those services are otherwise regulated,  which will be the case for charities involved in, for example, education and health and social care.

This may not always be a straightforward assessment. Some charities may carry out work which is not focussed on children or vulnerable adults but which does mean that, eg their staff come into contact with them. By way of example, the staff of a charity providing accommodation and other services to the adult parents of children in hospital may have no contact with the children in hospital, but may have contact with other children staying in the accommodation provided by the charity. 

What Safeguarding Arrangements Should Be in Place?

Charities that do have contact with children or vulnerable adults will need to ensure that they have appropriate policies and procedures in place. In addition they should ensure that trustees, staff, volunteers and any other relevant individuals (eg agency workers) are aware of their responsibilities and work actively to promote the welfare of children and vulnerable adults. 

It should be clear to everyone involved with the charity what action they need to take in response to any safeguarding concerns (however minor) if they occur.  It is very important that a clear culture of listening to safeguarding concerns  is implemented.  

We suggest that:

  • All charities that work with children should familiarise themselves the "Working together to safeguard children guidance" and those that work with vulnerable adults familiarise themselves with the Care and Support statutory guidance issued under the Care Act 2014.

  • Any additional legal framework that applies to the charity should be clearly identified. This will depend on the nature of the work that the charity undertakes, but there are specific statutory duties for charities that operate schools, colleges, early years, health and social care services and housing services. 

  • An individual should be identified with overall responsibility for safeguarding and the provision of services which promote and safeguard the welfare of children and vulnerable adults. Ideally this should be an individual at senior management level.

  • An individual trustee should also be identified to oversee the work that the safeguarding lead undertakes, with clear lines of accountability to ensure that the trustee can properly oversee the work of that individual and report to the board.

  • The charity should implement a safeguarding policy. The policy will depend on the charity's structure and the nature of its activities, but we suggest that it should:

    • confirm a commitment to safeguarding and the welfare of children and/or vulnerable adults;

    • set out the arrangements for the identification and management of concerns about children and/or vulnerable adults;

    • confirm how allegations of safeguarding breaches (relating to staff, volunteers and/or third parties who may or may not necessarily be associated with the charity) should be dealt with;

    • the checks that should be carried out on all staff, volunteers and other third parties that have access to children and/or vulnerable adults;

    • the training that will be given to allow individuals to understand and comply with their duties;

    • how information is recorded and shared amongst relevant individuals; and
    • when and how external local agencies will be involved.  For example, in appropriate circumstances it will be necessary to involve the Local Safeguarding Children's Board and/or  Local Safeguarding Adults Board.

    • A charity's trustees should review their safeguarding policy regularly to ensure that it is being implemented and remains legally compliant and fit for purpose. Charities should adopt a "lessons learned" approach to incidents that occur.

  • The charity should ensure that appropriate training is in place for trustees, staff and volunteers on all aspects of safeguarding and appropriate supervision and support is provided.

The safeguarding policy may also need to align with any whistleblowing policy the charity has in place.

Historic Allegations

In addition to looking at the policies and procedures that are in place now, some charities may face  allegations that predate their existing arrangements. Many charities are facing historic allegations which, in some cases, date back some decades.

We recommend that charities have clear systems for dealing with allegations of this type as well as those for dealing with current concerns. In most cases, it will be appropriate to base those processes on the current procedures with the aim of supporting those involved and managing any ongoing risk.

Trustees are advised to consider a range of issues, not least how to respond to the complainant. They should clearly record the allegations and brief the trustees and senior managers (while maintaining appropriate confidentiality and data protection obligations), ensure appropriate regulatory reports are made, ascertain whether there is insurance cover available for any claims and/or advice on the issue and prepare reactive or proactive statements for stakeholders and the press.

Charities are also likely to find it helpful to review the report of the roundtable Safe keeping: the implications of historic child sexual abuse allegations convened by Charity Finance, which  looked at best practice in this context, including ensuring current governance arrangements are fit for purpose, safer recruitment practices are in place, appropriate training is provided and ongoing monitoring is high on the agenda.

The Charity Commission and Reporting Serious Incidents

As mentioned above, safeguarding is likely to continue to be a key concern for the Charity Commission. The Commission's latest annual report confirms that more than half of the 'serious incident reports' it receives relate to safeguarding issues. We have already seen evidence of the Commission becoming more proactive, eg by approaching charities whose annual returns state that they work with children or vulnerable adults, but do not confirm that a safeguarding policy is in place. 

The Commission does recognise that the content and detail of a safeguarding policy will depend on a charity's activities and the level of risk associated with those activities:

"The risks will be higher the more central the activities involving vulnerable beneficiaries are to the charity’s core purposes and services, or the more frequently these activities take place. In such cases, the policy will need to be more detailed and the trustees will need to do more to fulfil their legal duties" (from the Commission's strategy for "dealing with safeguarding vulnerable groups including children issues in charities").

However, the Commission is clear that policies and procedures should be in place and trustees should ensure that individual trustees, staff etc. know how to apply them. 

Most charity trustees will be familiar with their general obligation to report serious incidents to the Charity Commission, but we recommend that they keep the Commission's guidance (which is due to be updated) firmly in mind in this context. 

The Commission expects reports to be made to them immediately where there are suspicions or allegations of abuse or mistreatment of vulnerable beneficiaries, as well as where reports are made to external agencies. 

Conclusion

The fragmented nature of current safeguarding requirements (which largely depend on the nature of a charity's activities and involve a consequent lack of clarity about minimum requirements) creates particular difficulty for charities. In addition, we suspect that this will be an area that sees further change in the near future.

We recommend that trustees who are unclear about their duties and responsibilities in this area should take appropriate professional advice.  


If you require any further information in relation to the matters raised in this article, please contact Con Alexander on 0117 3145 214.

This article was originally published in Charity Finance.  

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