After recent accounts of those in senior management positions failing to see or ignoring indicators of abuse within their organisation, charities and their safeguarding practices have fallen under scrutiny from the Charity Commission. Safeguarding is a key governance priority for all charities, not just those working with groups traditionally considered at risk.
Requirements for trustees
Charity trustees have ultimate oversight of, and responsibility for, all aspects of the charity’s operation. They are the governing body of the charity and are accountable legally to the Charity Commission and other regulatory bodies. One of the most important and comprehensive responsibilities of charity trustees is their duty of care both to their charity and towards their beneficiaries. Along with senior leadership of a church, they are ultimately responsible for preventing any harm to volunteers, staff or beneficiaries.
Where a charity is working with vulnerable beneficiaries such as children and young people (those under 18 years of age), or with adults who may be at risk of harm, then they need to have safeguards in place to protect everyone from abuse.
It can be easy for churches to sign up for charity status to get gift aid, only for the church not to fully realise its expectations. Any registered charity in England or Wales needs to comply with the safeguarding requirements of the Charity Commission, which is the relevant regulatory body. Therefore organisations, such as churches, applying to register with the Charity Commission who work with vulnerable beneficiaries will need a safeguarding policy. The organisation’s policy must be submitted with the application along with evidence that all those working with children or vulnerable adults (including trustees) have been safely recruited and undertaken a Disclosure and Barring Service check where eligibility is met.
It is also a requirement for trustees to report what are known as ‘Serious Incidents’ to the Charity Commission. A ‘Serious Incident’ would include an allegation of abuse. Charities must also declare on their annual returns that they have met safeguarding requirements.
Safeguarding is not something that should be ignored or put to one side to be dealt with later.
Doing the work behind safeguarding may seem to some people to be a tedious and bureaucratic exercise, but it is vital and will ensure trustees will be overseeing a more secure environment.
The importance of a charity or church to promote itself as a safe place cannot be stressed enough in order to give beneficiaries and the public confidence in them. A safeguarding strategy for trustees demonstrates they are acting in the best interests of vulnerable people, that they have taken reasonable steps to prevent harm, and that they have assessed and manged risk.
CCPAS also has its own guidance for its membership on the importance of safeguarding for charity trustees that also includes a 10-point ‘people and risk’ checklist.
Sadly, too often we hear of organisations needing to review and reflect on their safeguarding practice after such crises. Our desire is to see organisations not only ensuring they have robust safeguarding policies and procedures, but that they have the means to evidence and demonstrate that what is directed within policy is delivered within practice. We long to see churches and organisations pioneering the way in best practice, modelling this, and being looked to as a ‘lighthouse’ of safer practice, especially within often vulnerable places. We are pleased to see the government being active and being on the forefront of raising awareness and making sure charities and churches understand the latest updates in policies.