Research into understanding the challenges of safeguarding children and young people in international Christian work

A research study commissioned by thirtyone:eight and undertaken by the University of Chester

Sending and serving safely

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Watch the launch of the research report broadcast live on 25th February 2021.

A word about the report from the Chair of the International Development Select Committee

It is of paramount importance that all those who work overseas with children and young people have their safety at the centre of their engagement.

As Chair of the International Development Committee, I am acutely aware there remain difficulties in this area. Abuse, harassment and exploitation of aid recipients by some frontline aid workers continues despite significant efforts to prevent this. The work that takes place around the world in some of the most challenging locations presents significant risks for organisations, workers and particularly for local communities and aid recipients. Those organisations and individuals that engage in this work must do all they can to ensure the contextual vulnerabilities and risks are understood and mitigated through the development of effective and culturally competent practice. These practices must be embedded in robust
processes and procedures that enable the highest levels of clarity and accountability. This must all be done in collaboration with local communities organisations are there to serve.

Thirtyone:eight are uniquely placed to understand the issues of safeguarding in international work with children where there is a Christian faith basis. I am hugely encouraged that they have collaborated with the University of Chester to undertake this exploratory study into this under-researched area. As far as we know, this is the first such study to address this vital area of support that churches and other faith-based organisations contribute to the global humanitarian development effort.

The recommendations that this research have produced should be considered by all organisations who are engaged in international work with children and young people; whether this is short or longer term. I look forward to seeing the developments in training and other resources that might follow this study and encourage all relevant organisations to play their part in further improving the safeguarding of children and young people worldwide.

Sarah Champion MP - Chair of the International Development Committee

Report recommendations:

Faith settings and other sending organisations which support individuals in International Christian Work with children and young people should ensure they are safely recruiting all those they are sending applies.

The findings indicate the need for an enhanced awareness of the safer recruitment processes for those engaging in international Christian work whether it be for short or more longer-term mission placements. The policies, procedures and tools necessary for safer recruitment, including relevant background checks need to be accessible, affordable and relevant to smaller organisations and those working in faith settings.

Cultural competence in safeguarding and child protection should be specifically addressed by Faith settings and other sending organisations as part of an individual’s preparation for International Christian Work including when and how to report concerns.

There is a clear need to more fully prepare individuals for child protection concerns that they may encounter when working abroad and to develop an awareness of safeguarding procedures in the local contexts in which individuals may be working. Any difference between UK and the local context should be addressed as well as the legislative and cultural implications. Resources should be developed and made available to organisations to enable them to do this on a country by country basis so they can easily and affordably make this available to individuals.

Specific training which sufficiently prepares individuals for international Christian work with children and young people should be developed and made easily accessible for organisations to offer to individuals before they undertake any work.

Any training which is developed should include information around the indicators of abuse, policies and procedures (especially around referral), a consideration of cultural differences and awareness of safeguarding in the host country, together with local legislation, and advice on safeguarding workers. Training should be developed that specifically meets the needs of local churches or smaller organisations who may support people on a more infrequent or informal basis.

Faith settings and other sending organisations who support individuals in International Christian work should provide an opportunity for all workers to debrief on their experiences.

Organisations should ensure that a formal debrief opportunity is offered for all those returning from International Christian work no matter how long they have been away and within an appropriate timescale. This should always include the opportunity to raise any safeguarding concerns. Debriefs should be conducted by someone who is appropriately equipped to do so, so that any issues can be properly identified and addressed. Resources should be developed to provide smaller organisations with the relevant tools to do this effectively.

A range of specific tools and resources should be developed and made accessible to support smaller faith settings and sending organisations (such as individual churches) to help them recruit safely, support and equip individuals who engage with international Christian work through them.

The research identified that smaller organisations who support individuals to engage in International Christian work on an infrequent basis or who may not have the infrastructure, resource or budget to invest in creating the appropriate level of support from scratch, would benefit from having access to a range of tools and resources that allow them to easily and affordably implement the necessary policy and procedures to effectively safeguard their workers and those they are working with.

An awareness campaign aimed at sending organisations reminding them of the importance of safer recruitment and safer working practices should be developed to make this a common feature of all International Christian Work.

It would appear, from the research, that a campaign which highlights and reminds organisations of the importance of safer recruitment and safer working practices could be a helpful first step in seeing positive change in this area. The importance of background checks as well as some form of support in helping people decide of ICW is right for them. This should make clear the role that supporting organisations like churches can play, when they may not be the ‘sending’ organisation, but who may be supporting the individual in understanding their motives for engaging in ICW.

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