New safeguarding strategy published by the Charity Commission
Sadly, it seems that charities are not immune to the recent sexual harassment scandals that have rocked Hollywood and then Westminster. An investigation by the Times recently uncovered a mishandling of an allegation of sexual harassment at Oxfam and back in October a number of military charities hit the headlines due to safeguarding concerns.
The Charity Commission was quick to intervene in both instances and has recently published a new safeguarding strategy reminding charity trustees of their responsibilities. As Harvey Grenville, Head of Investigations and Enforcement at the Charity Commission says:
“The public rightly expects charities to be safe and trusted environments where people are protected from harm, including the charity’s own staff and volunteers.”
The strategy emphasises that it is trustees who are accountable for safeguarding even where certain aspects of their work delegated. Furthermore, trustees must ensure the welfare of anyone that comes into contact with their charity not just beneficiaries. So whilst charities working with children or vulnerable adults will need to pay special heed to the new strategy, all charities should review their own strategy for preventing/ dealing with safeguarding issues. That said, the steps a charity should take need only be reasonable and will be seen in the context of the charity’s work.
Importantly the strategy makes it clear that safeguarding goes beyond preventing physical abuse. It also includes protecting people from harm generally. This includes neglect, emotional abuse, exploitation, radicalisation, and the consequences of the misuse of personal data.
So what steps should charity trustees take to tackle this issue?
Annex 1 of the strategy provides a useful breakdown of a trustee’s safeguarding duties.
The first step is clearly prevention and Annex 1 helpfully signposts the key areas to target in terms of prevention:
- Trustees should first of all ensure they have a thorough understanding of their safeguarding responsibilities and along with Annex 1, should become acquainted with the Charity Commission publications on this topic (see links in para 4.1. of the Strategy).
- Ensure the charity has a robust safeguarding policy which is publicly available. Review this policy if this hasn’t been done in the last 12 months. This should include a procedure for responding to a safeguarding incident.
- Ensure the charity follows good practice when recruiting trustees and staff. For example, obtain a DBS check where the individual will have regular contact with children, or adults at risk.
- Charities should carry out due diligence on any overseas partners they work with to ensure they too have appropriate safeguarding policies in place.
- Some charities (for example educational charities) will also be subject to the Prevent Duty e. the requirement to have ‘due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.’ See statutory Prevent Duty guidance here.
In the event of a safeguarding incident, trustees should ensure they create records of their investigations and keep these securely. Where a beneficiary of the charity is involved, the charity may need to make a serious incident report to the Charity Commission.
Safeguarding is one of the key areas of risk identified by the Charity Commission and this new strategy is a positive move towards minimising this risk in the charity sector.