Safeguarding in international aid key steps to consider

Trustees should read this alert and consider what further steps they could take to ensure they are keeping people safe from harm.

Progress to date on safeguarding in international aid

In 2018, the international aid sector joined forces to improve safeguarding practices. The Commission acknowledges the progress that has been made since by international aid charities in creating safer environments, among both small and large organisations, which continue to provide remarkable, life-saving work in challenging circumstances.

International aid charities, supported by Bond as the UK network for organisations working in international development, have delivered tangible safeguarding improvements in 4 key areas:

  1. Accountability to people they work with, including improved safeguarding policies and procedures.
  2. Organisational culture, such as the new tool for leaders on developing and modelling a positive safeguarding culture.
  3. The employment cycle, for example the creation of the Misconduct Disclosure Scheme in 2019 to stop perpetrators of sexual misconduct from moving around the sector undetected.
  4. Reports and complaints mechanisms, with improved transparency and accountability reflected by the increased number of safeguarding serious incident reports received by the Commission.

However, positive improvements made in safeguarding arrangements to date risk being undermined by some continued weaknesses.

Ongoing issues which harm effective safeguarding and key steps for charities to consider

The Commission’s casework, supported by findings from the UK Parliament International Development Committee’s recent report Progress on tackling the sexual exploitation and abuse of aid beneficiaries, demonstrates that further work is required to deliver transformative change. Analysis of recent safeguarding serious incident reports, including those related to activities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has also identified specific areas of ongoing risk.

The Commission recognises the particular challenges that come with safeguarding in an international context which have been accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Typically, where there are greater risks, trustees will need to invest more effort in order to discharge their legal duties.

The Commission therefore recommends that trustees of international aid charities consider what steps they can take within their own charity, and by working collaboratively with others, to achieve more effective safeguarding arrangements.

Strengthening safeguarding risk prevention and risk management measures

Every trustee should have clear oversight of how safeguarding and protecting people from harm are managed within their charity. This means monitoring your performance, not just using statistics, but with supporting information. This will help you to understand common themes and identify risks and gaps so you can ensure they are addressed.

Key steps that trustees may consider include:

  • making sure policies, communications and ongoing performance management help maintain appropriate behaviours by charity staff and workers to each other and the beneficiaries they serve
  • joining the Misconduct Disclosure Scheme to help protect your charity and other organisations in the sector from individuals who pose a safeguarding risk
  • exploring if gender and diversity imbalances in your charity’s trustee board and senior management are potential safeguarding risk factors which require proactive management
  • determining if you can use the sector-led safeguarding culture tool as part of developing and modelling a positive safeguarding culture
  • reviewing Keeping Children Safe’s summary findings from safeguarding-specific central assurance assessments of charities to identify any relevant lessons for your charity such as whistleblowing and safeguarding risk management

Improving reporting by local beneficiaries

Evidence from recent reports suggests that underreporting of safeguarding incidents directly to international aid charities persists. The Commission recently contacted a sample of international aid charities and found that several had not received any safeguarding reports from third parties or partner agencies. A nil return in itself is not assurance that incidents are not occurring, as incidents may be going unreported. The local context, including cultural traditions, gender roles and differing justice systems, can lead to reporting barriers, as could the reporting mechanism itself.

Key steps that trustees may consider include:

  • giving victims and survivors, and their families and friends, a safe means to report their concerns and complaints
  • designing reporting mechanisms that are sensitive to the local context, considering face-to-face reporting and safe spaces for witnesses and survivors to report
  • where appropriate, using community-based organisations to hold open and frank conversations with beneficiaries about any concerns in a safe and trusted environment
  • reviewing the reporting arrangements in place with any third parties or partner agencies and assessing what steps can be taken to develop them

Developing management responses including victim and survivor support

Trustees should ensure that support is available to victims and survivors. Experts recommend a survivor-centred approach and this was echoed in the IDC’s recent report. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) define a survivor-centred approach to safeguarding as putting the victims’ or survivors’ needs at the centre of thinking, based on principles of safety, confidentiality, respect and non-discrimination. In such circumstances, your approach would therefore be tailored in order to factor in the victim’s or survivor’s individual and ongoing needs.

Key steps that trustees may consider include:

  • developing a survivor-centred approach to safeguarding that accurately reflects the range of potential harms faced and considers possible victim and survivor support services from programme/project conception
  • clearly communicating what support is available to victims and survivors and how it is accessed
  • acting quickly to prevent or minimise any further harm or damage when incidents or allegations occur
  • launching robust and timely investigations into allegations or concerns where they arise

Effective safeguarding is never ‘complete’

International aid charities are diverse. The risks faced, and how these are managed, depend on the size, nature and complexity of the charity and its activities. However, trustees need to ensure that their charity’s safeguarding measures take proper account of local factors and work for those that they are designed to serve. Systems and processes, however good, must be underpinned by leaders and senior managers remaining vigilant and placing the highest priority on keeping people safe.

All charities, in the aid sector and beyond, must be alert to the risk of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse and should foster a culture committed to rooting it out.

/Public Release. This material comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. View in full here.