Safeguarding has historically been associated with legal obligations to protect children and vulnerable adults (adults at risk) from abuse and neglect.
There is a clear duty, supported by a detailed legislative framework under the Children, Education and Care Acts, to protect the most vulnerable in society.
However, we are now seeing an extension to the concept of safeguarding beyond the protection of vulnerable groups, to the protection of people generally. The Charity Commission required Oxfam to ‘improve its governance and management of safeguarding’ when allegations of sexual exploitation were made against its staff in Haiti in 2017. Since December 2017 charity trustees have been expected to take reasonable steps to protect from harm, all people who come into contact with their charity. This involves protecting them from abuse and mistreatment of any kind.
High-profile movements such as Me Too, Black Lives Matter and Everyone’s Invited have brought societal expectations about safeguarding and inclusion into sharp focus. They serve to highlight the harm that can result from abuse, discrimination, harassment and bullying and help to articulate the duty of care which we owe to each other. The BBC is currently accused of failing to properly investigate Martin Bashir’s interview of Princess Diana, which includes whether her safety and welfare were considered or protected. There is no reason why these behaviours and cultures within an organisation should not be considered as safeguarding matters.
The Government’s formation of a Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, publication of strategies on, for example, ‘Tackling Child Sexual Abuse’ and ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion’ and public/statutory inquiries into institutional abuse, such as the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, also signal that these are matters to be confronted at a national level.
An effective safeguarding culture is critical to the creation of a safe and supportive environment for all who come into contact with an organisation. At VWV we have a team of safeguarding specialists with the experience and expertise to help organisations in all sectors comply with safeguarding responsibilities. This involves many elements but should include:
- an ongoing assessment of potential safeguarding risks
- a review of governance arrangements to ensure that there is effective oversight and delegation
- recruitment procedures that seek to identify and deter unsuitable applicants
- knowing how to manage, report and investigate current and non-recent safeguarding allegations
- how to set an effective safeguarding culture where people can raise concerns safe in the knowledge that appropriate action will be taken
- the implementation of policies and procedures that form the practical basis of a safe and supportive environment.
An organisation that cares about the people with whom it engages, or indeed its own reputation, cannot ignore the need to work in a way that safeguards and promotes the welfare of people. All types of organisation, not just those that work with vulnerable groups or who have charitable status, should therefore be taking steps to adapt to these changing societal expectations.
Richard Hewitt is a partner in the safeguarding team at national law firm VWV. Richard can be contacted on 07909 642 718 or at email@example.com.