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Safeguarding: Where next for the sector?

Since the Safeguarding Summit on 5 March, Bond has been working with members, the Charity Commission, DFID and an independent group of experts to take forward a set of actions that will transform the way the sector approaches safeguarding.

Four safeguarding working groups have been looking at the best of current practice, as well as developing new approaches to the key aspects of accountability to the people we work with and help and our staff, organisational culture, the employment cycle and reporting. We have also been linking with our counterparts in the UK domestic sector to ensure that we make the best use of existing experience and expertise.

A culture of zero tolerance

It’s clear from the discussions across all the groups that the single most important contribution to the transformation of the sector’s approach to safeguarding comes through the development of a safeguarding culture, exemplified by appropriate leadership behaviours. Without an appropriate organisational culture, policies, processes and procedures will not be fully implemented and are unlikely to have any impact.

A leadership charter

We will be working with members to develop a draft leadership charter, including a set of commitments for senior leadership within humanitarian and development organisations, clarifying responsibilities and full spectrum accountability around all forms of violence, exploitation, and abuse by their staff, consultants, and volunteers.

It will commit leaders to work towards increasing diversity and inclusion within senior leadership. It will also commit organisations to produce transparent annual reports which will include information on safeguarding, with common standards of reporting, both quantitative data and exploring qualitative analysis of trends in safeguarding breaches.

Keeping culprits out of the sector

Much has been said about vetting processes, and the routes by which individuals under investigation can be recruited by other humanitarian agencies. We believe that much more can be done through exploring the legal aspects of referencing and self-declaration, as well as trialling new technologies such as registers based around blockchain or the role of integrity testing in circumstances where criminal records checks are unavailable.

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The long term impact of this could be hugely beneficial but we would also need to accept that some of this may only bear fruit in ten or fifteen years. Widening the scope of regulated activity in relation to DBS checks would be an immediate benefit, while decisions about reporting allegations (or not) to local law enforcement need standardising across the sector.

Whether some of this can be delivered through a Safeguarding Centre of Excellence is something that we will ask members’ views on over the next few months.

Proportionate regulation and funding

Throughout the process, we have been making it clear to DFID (and through them to other donors) that any new measures need to be proportionate for smaller organisations, so that they are not overwhelmed by regulation, and that there are no “unintended consequences” in terms of undermining efforts to fund national and local organisations. We have also made it clear to donors that the costs of safeguarding will need to be factored into funding agreements.

Support from Bond

Over the next few months, in the lead up to DFID’s major international safeguarding conference in October, we are recruiting a safeguarding adviser and will be engaging with members around the priorities that have emerged (the ideas above are just a few examples) from the initial working groups.

We will also be providing tangible support to members about getting the basics of safeguarding – both culture and practice – well established in organisations, with the launch of two major new training courses. Bond will be doing all it can for its members and their partners to ensure NGOs protect people from abuse, hold abusers to account and encourage those affected to come forward to report incidents.

Find out more about Bond’s safeguarding work and see safeguarding guidance and resources.