Charity Commission alert on safeguarding issued to overseas aid charities

International aid charity trustees should be aware of the alert issued by the Commission towards the end of last week, which sets out steps such charities can take to make sure they are keeping people, including beneficiaries, employees, volunteers and others, safe from harm.

“Tangible” improvements, but some continued weaknesses

The Commission recognises the “tangible safeguarding improvements” already achieved by charities operating in the international aid sector in the areas of accountability, organisational culture, the employment cycle, and reports and complaints mechanisms.

The alert has been issued, however, after the Commission has identified specific areas of risk by analysis of recent safeguarding serious incident reports, and in recognition of the fact that certain safeguarding challenges experienced by charities working internationally have been brought into the spotlight as a result of the pandemic.

Recommendations made by the Commission

The alert made a number of recommendations to charity trustees for ensuring effective safeguarding arrangements are in place, focusing on the following areas:

Strengthening risk prevention and management measures.

Charity trustees should have clear oversight of how safeguarding and protecting people from harm are managed within their charity.

They should monitor the charity’s performance by reference to the statistics available and supporting information, to allow them to identify “themes”, as well as risks and gaps that need to be dealt with.

Particular steps that charity trustees should consider include:

  • ensuring policies / communications / performance management help maintain appropriate behaviours by charity staff and volunteers,
  • joining the Misconduct Disclosure Scheme,
  • exploring if gender / diversity imbalances at board level and in senior management are potential risk factors that require “proactive management”,
  • checking if the safeguarding culture tool developed by the sector could help their charity develop a positive safeguarding culture, and
  • reviewing Keeping Children Safe’s summary findings from safeguarding-specific central assurance assessments of charities to identify any relevant lessons for their charity.

Improving reporting by local beneficiaries

The Commission is particularly concerned about underreporting of safeguarding incidents, and suggests charity trustees may consider:

  • ensuring a safe way for victims and survivors, as well as their families and friends, to report complaints and concerns,
  • creating reporting mechanisms that are sensitive to the local context,
  • where appropriate, using community based organisations to offer a safe and trusted environment in which such organisations can have “open and frank” conversations with beneficiaries about any concerns, and
  • reviewing and assessing what can be done to further develop any reporting arrangements in place with third parties or partner agencies.

Developing management responses, including victim and survivor support

Charity trustees should ensure support is available to victims and survivors, having the needs of the victim or survivor at the centre of the charity’s thinking, in a survivor-centred approach based on principles of safety, confidentiality, respect and non-discrimination.

Steps that trustees may consider taking include:

  • developing a survivor-centred approach to safeguarding which starts from project or programmed inception,
  • communicating clearly what support is available and how it can be accessed to victims and survivors,
  • acting swiftly to prevent or minimise further harm or damage when an incident occurs or allegation is made, and
  • making sure a robust and timely investigation is launched where an allegation is made or a concern is raised.

Safeguarding: a trustee’s work is never done

Safeguarding remains a key focus for the Charity Commission, and the alert emphasises the continuing need for trustee vigilance and for trustees to make keeping people safe their highest priority.

While effective safeguarding will vary from charity to charity, depending on its organisational structure and activities, trustees of all charities have one thing in important thing in common when it comes to safeguarding: they ultimately have responsibility for safeguarding, regardless of any delegations they put in place.

Trustees of international aid charities should read this latest Commission alert with that responsibility in mind, and consider what steps their charities need to take to work towards effective safeguarding.

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