Posted by Deanna Hurst, Partner
The safeguarding crisis in the charities sector
Restless Development, a British youth charity, is the latest charity subject to accusations of sexual misconduct and systemic neglect. Volunteers claim that staff, and other volunteers, were involved in sexual relationships with pupils at placement schools and each other. They also report being forced to stay in unsafe accommodation and made to travel with taxi drivers under the influence of alcohol. Those who raised concerns say that these were dismissed by senior staff who put complaints down to “failing to adapt” to circumstances.
The allegations come in the wake of the Oxfam scandal arising from sexual misconduct by the charity’s staff in Haiti. The real damage in recent scandals has not arisen from the breach of safeguarding obligations, so much as from the lack of rigour and openness in how the charity has dealt with incidents.
The Charity Commission report
A report issued by the Charity Commission following an investigation into how Oxfam manages safeguarding and responds to individual allegations reminded charities that trustees are ultimately responsible for safeguarding. A failure by trustees to manage safeguarding risks may be considered to be misconduct, mismanagement and/or a breach of trustee duty.
The role of Trustees in safeguarding
The Charity Commission have recently updated their guidance and safeguarding strategy which makes it clear that trustees should proactively safeguard and take reasonable steps to ensure those who come into contact with children or adults at risk have the expertise, knowledge and skills to do so effectively and responsibly.
The Commission’s guidance reminds trustees that it is essential that:
- the charity prioritises safeguarding so that it is safe for those affected to come forward and report incidents with assurance that they will be handled sensitively and properly
- there are adequate safeguarding policies and procedures in place
- measures are taken to protect people
- there is clarity about how incidents and allegations will be handled should they arise.
Reporting serious incidents – a positive or a negative?
The Commission’s serious incident reporting regime requires trustees to report all serious incidents. The reporting of incidents demonstrates that the trustees have identified the risk and are taking appropriate action to deal with it.
The Commission has revealed a marked increase in the number of incidents being reported by charities. During February to March 2018, 532 reports were received compared to 172 incidents in the same period in 2017.
It is vitally important that charities reinforce the message that volunteers, staff and beneficiaries can report genuine concerns in confidence and without fear. Aside from the trustee duty, if a transparent and thorough investigation discovers nothing of concern then the charity’s reputation is protected in any event.
The ultimate goal of trustees should be to safeguard and promote the welfare of their charity’s beneficiaries. If there has been a breach of safeguarding then the fact that the issue was swiftly reported, investigated and any recommendations implemented, can serve to preserve trust in the charity and its integrity.
Another consequence of failing to implement appropriate safeguarding policies is negative publicity which can have long-lasting damage on your charity’s ability to carry on its work and fundraise effectively.
If you have any queries relating to safeguarding or reputation management then please do not hesitate to get in touch with Jacqui Lazare in our charities team:
01225 730 243 Email us
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