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Thirtyone:eight and the University of Chester have released the findings from their ‘unique’ research into the challenges involved in safeguarding young people in international Christian work.

The Sending and serving safely report was launched at an online event on Wednesday 25th February 2021 and attended by over 160 representatives from charities and faith-based organisations working internationally. The research team said it ‘contained evidence of good practice’. However, they also found a number of challenges for those 'implementing good safeguarding practice’ in a context of different cultures.

The exploratory study used a questionnaire to discover the experiences of agencies supporting people in the United Kingdom engaged in international Christian work, as well as the experiences of the individuals themselves engaged in this work. It found that although there was much evidence of good practice, the findings highlighted distinct differences between the policy and processes in place versus the challenging reality of implementing these in practices on the ground.

Participants in the study included representatives from 39 organisations and agencies working in an international context. 

The researchers found that 70% of agencies and organisations said they had a written child safeguarding policy that include a section for those going overseas who will be contacting children and young people; 74% said they provided ongoing child safeguarding support when individuals were overseas; and 86% said they prepared individuals to address child safeguarding concerns that could arise overseas.

This is compared with the data from individuals which showed that: 44% of individuals surveyed said they underwent recruitment processes; 31% said they were provided with child safeguarding training; and 47% felt the organisation helped them to prepare for any child safeguarding concerns that could arise. 

Importantly the researchers found that 42% of individuals surveyed reported that they had encountered child safeguarding issues that they had not been prepared for.

Dr Lisa Oakley and Professor Moira Lafferty from the University of Chester who conducted the study said:

“It is pleasing to see positive examples of good practice in the data, and it is important that we continue to work together to address areas that the research identified as needing further consideration. With little previous research in this area, we hope the findings will enable the further development of safeguarding policy in international Christian work and provide a foundation for organisations to work together to develop best practice.” 

The report contains six recommendations for improving practice and support based on the findings of the research which include:  

  1. Faith settings and other sending organisations should ensure they are safely recruiting all those they are sending. 

  2. Cultural competence in safeguarding and child protection should be specifically addressed as part of an individual’s preparation for international Christian work including when and how to report concerns. 

  3. Specific training which sufficiently prepares individuals for international Christian work with children and young people should be developed. 

  4. 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. 

  5. 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. 

  6. An awareness campaign aimed at sending organisations reminding them of the importance of safer recruitment and safer working practices should be developed. 

Claudia Bell, Head of Learning and Influence at Thirtyone:eight, said:

“At Thirtyone:eight we are passionate about supporting all those working with vulnerable people. The international Christian context is both a unique and challenging situation. Through this report we give some clear recommendations which we hope will be a valuable resource for anyone preparing to travel abroad to work with children, and for the organisations and agencies that send and support them.” 

Sarah Champion MP, Chair of the International Development Select Committee, commented on the research. She said:

“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. 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.”

You can view and download a copy of the research report here.

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