Charities, stay compliant with safeguarding responsibilities

At our recent charities seminar we looked at the latest legal issues facing charities.  One of the topics that we examined was how to ensure your charity is complying with its safeguarding responsibilities.

Safeguarding presents a significant challenge for charities.  It is a topic that is high up on the Charity Commission’s agenda and charities are increasingly finding that donors are asking for evidence of safeguarding policies and of trustees’ oversight of safeguarding.  In this article we explore the key aspects of safeguarding that charities need to be aware of.

What guidance should charities be reading?

The Charity Commission’s Safeguarding and Protecting People for Charities and Trustees and the Strategy for Dealing with Safeguarding Issues in Charities are two must-read documents for charities.  These documents set out the Charity Commission’s approach to safeguarding and all charities should ensure they are complying with the rules and guidance set out in these documents.

Woking Together to Safeguard Children will be a key document if your charity works with children.  It describes the framework within which all the different agencies and types of organisations are meant to work together co-operatively to safeguard children.  Its key message is that safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility.  It is legally binding and there is an important section for charities that sets out their specific responsibilities.

Keeping Children Safe during Community Actives, After-School Clubs and Tuition is a relatively recent piece of guidance and, for charities working with children, it is a document that should be read in full.  Rather than being legally binding, it sets out best practice guidance.  However, the Charity Commission will still expect charities that work with children to be incorporating this guidance into their policies and procedures.

What does the Charity Commission require of trustees?

The Charity Commission says that safeguarding should be a governance priority for all charities.  In particular, the Commission requires that trustees take reasonable steps to protect from harm people who come into contact with their charities.  The scope of this duty is therefore extremely broad.  Not only do trustees need to ensure they are protecting the charity’s beneficiaries, staff and volunteers, they also have a duty to protect anyone who happens to come into contact with the charity.

The Charity Commission will hold trustees to account if things go wrong in a charity, so trustees should make sure they are providing their charities’ staff and volunteers with strategic leadership and guidance.  Whilst the day-to-day management of safeguarding will usually be delegated to the charity’s staff, trustees should make sure they are scrutinising and overseeing what is going on and challenging safeguarding decisions.

What is the Charity Commission’s role in safeguarding?

The Charity Commission’s role is to ensure charities are a safe and trusted environment and that trustees are complying with their legal duties.  The Commission’s focus is on the steps that trustees are taking to protect those that come into contact with the charity from harm and to minimise the risk of abuse.  Where trustees fail to manage safeguarding risks adequately, the Commission can find that there has been misconduct or mismanagement in the administration of the charity and that there has been a breach of the trustees’ duties.

Whilst the Charity Commission is not there to administer safeguarding legislation or to bring criminal proceedings, the Commission can still refer any concerns on to the police, local authorities or the DBS where it considers matters need to be taken further.  The Commission will also hold trustees to account where something goes wrong, checking that trustees followed the applicable laws and guidance, and trustees will be expected to take responsibility for putting things right.

What are the practical steps to getting safeguarding right?

Getting safeguarding right is about pitching your charity’s culture right.  Trustees should take the lead in setting an organisational culture that prioritises safeguarding over other interests.  This means creating an open, honest and non-blaming culture.  Your charity’s staff, volunteers and beneficiaries should feel safe to come forward and report any safeguarding incidents or concerns, knowing that when they do so their concerns will be handled sensitively and that those concerns will be properly investigated and followed-up.  A charity’s reputation should never be a barrier to reporting or investigating safeguarding concerns.

Safeguarding is not a one-off exercise.  Making safeguarding a priority for your charity means engaging in a continual and ongoing cycle of review.  Your risk register should set out the outcome of an in-depth assessment of the current and upcoming risks affecting everyone who comes into contact with your charity.  You should then be using this to feed into the systems and processes that your charity needs to put in place to manage those risks.  For example, all charities need robust policies and procedures, an up-to-date training programme for staff and volunteers, and a high calibre of staff on whom careful recruitment checks are undertaken.  When developing these systems and processes, charities need to consider issues such as how lines of accountability will run through the charity, how trustees will receive the information they need to scrutinise safeguarding and what resources will be allocated to safeguarding.  Trustees then need to engage in a process of reflection and review, examining where the charity’s systems and processes could be more effective and taking further action to remove the barriers to good safeguarding.  

How Moore Barlow can help

It is more important than ever that charities are getting safeguarding right.  We are on hand to support charities in reviewing their safeguarding arrangements and developing their policies and procedures.  Where something has gone wrong at your charity and you need some guidance on how to properly manage a safeguarding incident, we can support you through that process. Please get in touch with our Charities team.