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Charities in safeguarding scandals – what rules and policies must they adhere to?

With Oxfam being hit by a second sex scandal arising out of its work in Haiti, many are rightly asking questions over the rules and regulations on charities with regards to safeguarding when working with vulnerable people and children and operating in foreign countries.

Whilst there is no actual law mandating a charity to have a safeguarding policy, there are statutes that require certain steps that any charity has to take, for instance when employing staff, and charities operating in the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom should have their own safeguarding policies.

The NSPCC, Barnardos and the Social Care Institute (to name but three) publish a series of helpful safeguarding “off the shelf” policies and provide training and guidance to promote the welfare of children and protect them from harm. Safeguarding means;

  • Protecting children from abuse and maltreatment
  • Preventing harm to children’s health or development
  • Ensuring children grow up with the provision of safe and effective care
  • Taking action to enable all children and young people to have the best outcomes.

The NSPCC’s own guidance on writing a safeguarding policy says: A safeguarding or child protection policy is a statement that makes it clear what an organisation or group will do to keep children safe.” It says it should include:

  • A statement setting out the organisation’s commitment to protecting all children
  • What the organisation will do to keep children safe and respond to concerns
  • A list of the supporting procedures that accompany the policy.

It is inconceivable that any charity operation in a disaster zone would not have some kind of safeguarding policy in this day and age, regardless of the fact that their activities take place outside the UK jurisdiction.

We know from various reports in the media that charities have “shared” information about workers who might pose a risk to vulnerable people in disaster zones, and apparently there are well overdue moves to rationalise this system.

What these charities promote is the idea that all organisations that work with or come into contact with children should have safeguarding policies and procedures to ensure that every child, regardless of their age, gender, religion or ethnicity, can be protected from harm.

It sadly appears some charities working overseas have been aware of safeguarding issues, but have failed to address them properly, or at all. It is a common trap into which many institutions fall.

The current proceedings involving the Anglican Church in the Inquiry into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse is at present identifying how the church’s safeguarding policies failed, simply because the church was reluctant to operate them. As a result, predatory abusers were simply moved on.

Fundamental to the operation of any safeguarding policy is the determination of the organisation to refer all allegations to abuse to the appropriate authorities.

Here in the UK, it will be social services and/or the police. Only trivial allegations can be dismissed. The organisation should always resist the temptation to try and mount its own investigation, which predictably concludes that the risk is in some way “controlled.”

There are bound to be further revelations emerging from the overseas charitable sector, just as there have been with charities operating solely in the UK.

Of course, these charities ignore these risks at their peril, not only because of huge damage done to the very people they were supposed to support, but also the damage to their reputation and the risk of criminal and civil action being taken against them  by victims.

The laws in place to protect children from abuse

In terms of statue in this area, the most important is the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 and Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, which mandates a system of checking employees working with children and vulnerable adults across England and Wales. Other parts of the UK have their own version of the Act.

The Working together to Safeguard Children 2015 Act (updated in February 2017 and with a new version coming out in April 2018) – is a government publication that is primarily designed for statutory agencies such as social workers, but it also covers and is intended for the voluntary and community sector who have contact with children and families.

Other statutes (again limited to either England and Wales or the UK) that specifically protect children in certain activities, and in certain situations where they are being looked after by adults, include;

  • The Children and Young Persons Act 1933 – Section 12 contains the offence of failing to provide for safety of children at entertainments. Section 18 contains the basic restrictions on employing children. Section 23 contains the prohibition against persons under sixteen taking part in performances endangering “life or limb”. Section 24 contains a prohibition against taking part in dangerous performances. Sections 25 and 26 prohibit children from certain performances abroad.
  • The Children and Young Persons Act 1963 – Section 34 restricts a child’s hours of employment. Section 37 restricts persons under 16 taking part in public performances and the provision of licences to that effect which is now regulated by the Children (Performance and Activities) (England) Regulations 2014.
  • The Sexual Offences Act 2003 – which talks about a “relationship of trust” further described in sections 16 to 24 of the 2003 Act.
  • The Children Act 2004 – under Section 48 of the Act, regulations are set out in relation to childminding.
  • The Data Protection Act 1998 and a government publication “Information Sharing – Advice for practitioners providing safeguarding services to children, young people, parents and carers” – March 2015 – this applies to anyone who is caring for children and other vulnerable people.

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