Very few people will have missed the latest scandals to have hit the sector. All of which involve very different scenarios, but all connected under the topic of ‘safeguarding’ and because the relevant charities seemingly failed to take necessary action to safeguard their beneficiaries, members, volunteers or staff, as the case may be.
Increased focus on safeguarding
These issues have of course not escaped interest from the press and time will tell what effect such headlines will have on the trust and confidence in the sector generally. However, the headlines coupled with prompt Charity Commission action, the Department for International Development’s firm stance and its new enhanced and specific safeguarding requirements to be met by charities before they can bid for future funding have meant that charities are taking note and considering whether they are also vulnerable to similar criticism and reputational and funding risks.
Charity Commission response
The Charity Commission has been quick off the mark to publicise its updated guidance for charities on the importance of safeguarding and has released information on its website setting out how it interacts with whistle-blowers, which may encourage future whistle-blowers to come forward.
Impacts all charities
The topic of safeguarding has often been dismissed as only being of relevance for charities dealing with children or vulnerable adults. However, it has significance for any charity with staff or indeed any level of interaction with the public. As a basic principle of good governance trustees should proactively safeguard all those coming into contact with the charity and this needs to be a key governance priority. A prudent board of trustees will be reviewing their own policies and procedures, testing the robustness of their own safeguarding arrangements and putting new policies in place where they are lacking.
As the Save the Children example has shown, the emphasis is not simply about the protection of vulnerable beneficiaries but also about harassment in the workplace. The current prominence of the #MeToo movement is encouraging trustees to take responsibility for the culture within their charity to ensure that all those interacting with the charity are protected.
Many charities who don’t directly provide services to beneficiaries, but contract others to do so on their behalf, are reviewing and tightening up their contracts and ensuring that all those involved with their staff, volunteers or beneficiaries have their own effective systems of control and adequate safeguarding policies in place and are aware of their obligations, including the obligation to report to the charity if an incident occurs.
Serious incident reporting
The Charity Commission is publicising an increase in the number Serious Incident Reports being filed relating to historic as well as current risks to charity funds and reputation as a result of the press reports and that trend is likely to continue. The Charity Commission’s annual report of its compliance case work reports that over half of all serious incidents reported relate to safeguarding concerns. However, the increased awareness of serious incident reporting has also led to an increase in reports more generally outside the topic of safeguarding.
Trustees should ensure that they, and all those working for, or representing the charity understand their reporting requirements. Further it is important that there are clear reporting lines within the charity, the organisations they work with, and to the Commission so that any incident can be adequately assessed, addressed, and reported if necessary.
For more information, please contact Sarah Rowley at firstname.lastname@example.org or +44 (0)20 7203 5370.
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