Comforting person

Complaint or concern? Why you need to define and apply safeguarding in your own terms

Safeguarding in the development sector is vital.

Currently, not enough is being done to facilitate and capture low-level concerns, which may lead to or indicate serious cases of sexual violence or exploitation. Best practice procedures must be in place so that concerns can easily be raised and responded to.

To address the issue of under-reporting and provide best practice guidance, the Bond Safeguarding Group has put together a toolkit to strengthen safeguarding report handling mechanisms.

As a member of the steering group, I trialled this toolkit in my own organisation, United Purpose. Here are two points on why it is a valuable resource, and how your organisation can use it.

Definitions: choose the right words

The words you choose to communicate safeguarding can help or hinder the number of concerns raised. This is especially important in contexts where abuse may be normalised or where there is strong social or economic pressure to stay quiet. Women who regularly experience domestic violence may not consider physical or sexual harassment as a safeguarding breach. They may also fear rejection from friends or family or fear for their job security if they speak out.

To take an example, the stigma attached to the word “complainant”, or the legal inference of an “investigation” may deter disclosures, ; whereas words like “concern” or “feedback” instead of “complaint” or “report” may help someone feel more at ease and able to come forward. It is why I purposefully use neutral language in safeguarding and choose words that, as far as possible, reduce any stigma or anxiety for people who have information to share.

A further consideration is that the full purpose of safeguarding is often lost in translation. In India, Hindi phrases meaning “securing futures” are used. In the Gambia, Mandinka and Jola words refer to “protection.” And in Malawi, the closest Chichewa word, “chitetezo,” translates as “security.” But when safeguarding is only interpreted as protection and security, it loses its broader preventative purpose and can be misinterpreted.

This means that opportunities to frame safeguarding in more accessible terms, which encourage open and honest feedback or promote well-being, are lost. In a sector where multiple languages can be spoken in any one office, we also need to think carefully about how words and concepts translate. My Malawian colleagues took twenty minutes to translate their ten-word safeguarding & well-being motto, “spread a positive culture, break the silence, and be part of the greater good.” And even then, they weren’t totally satisfied.

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The safeguarding definitions resource is an essential tool to help choose and define words which reflect your organisation’s context and needs. Each entry includes UN, Interagency, UK Legislative or UK Agency definitions along with considerations, concern, and questions of the term’s current or future use.

Reporting pathways: build trust and assurance

One of the first things I learnt working in safeguarding is that most incidents are not raised through formal channels. Diligently reading the whistleblowing policy is going to be the last thing on your mind when you are in distress. You are likely to tell someone you know and trust, and if this approachability is not built into your feedback channels, no one else.

The primary purpose of the toolkit is to represent safeguarding report-handling mechanisms through a flowchart visually. It also provides clarity on how incidents are handled and will help strengthen twenty core report-handling elements using guiding principles, training tips, and case studies. This will help make your feedback channels approachable and build trust and assurance in your organisation’s reporting pathways.

Staff and stakeholders should see that a bypass is in place to avoid people if needed and that there are pathways to psychosocial support, services, or authorities. They should understand how decisions are made and when outcomes are shared with affected people.

Knowing that every incident, no matter how minor it seems, will be confidentially responded to, documented, and learnt from, can also build confidence in reporting pathways. In turn, the flowchart can also help advise the person raising the concern on what will happen and when.

From a training perspective, I find the visual parts of the toolkit particularly useful. In a recent workshop after some scenario work with the case studies, we cut out and mapped the elements on flipcharts with sticky-tape and marker pens. This helped provide clarity of roles, and defined responsibilities and processes for safeguarding committee members – our second objective.

Having completed phase one of the toolkit, which included expert review and advice across our sector, we are now inviting organisations to download and test it further. We would love you to provide constructive feedback on its use, content, graphics, or terminology – we really look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Consultation is open until 29 February 2020, and you can sign up to download the toolkit and provide input here.