Protecting children
is the most important
thing we do

Many of you will have been shocked by the widely reported behaviour of some former Oxfam staff members in Haiti. Like you, and like people across Oxfam, our sector and the UK public, I am utterly appalled by this behaviour.

The issues raised by the Haiti episode fit a broader pattern. Our societies have a systemic problem associated with male abuse of power. Sexual harassment and sexual violence are symptoms of a wider disease that has invaded our institutions – from schools, churches, broadcasters to political parties. Now the spotlight is on the aid sector.

The vulnerability of the people we serve places a special duty of protection on us. Through our work with Rohingya and Syrian refugees, conflict-affected communities in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and people driven to the brink of starvation by drought in the Horn of Africa, we are dealing with some of our planet’s most vulnerable people. These are people, predominantly women and children, who have been uprooted, impoverished and, in many cases, traumatised. It is beyond contempt that some predatory individuals seek to exploit their vulnerability by abusing the power that comes with the role of gatekeeper to life-saving relief.

Save the Children treats the protection of children as a paramount concern. Unfortunately, there are rare occasions when people attempt to use our organisation to take advantage of the imbalance of power created by a crisis. That’s why we have the strongest possible procedures in place to ensure these people are either prevented from joining through background checks, or rooted out through reporting and protection systems.

Cases involving children are reported to the authorities, unless this would expose them to further harm. We also have systems in place to ensure serious allegations of misconduct are reported to relevant donors and the Charity Commission. We record these cases in our annual – and public – transparency and accountability report, along with a clear explanation of the steps we are taking to protect the children, adults, and staff members in our care.

I am determined to ensure that a culture of respect and effective protection exists in Save the Children – both at home and in our programmes. Over the past couple of years, we have greatly strengthened our internal procedures. Today,

  • All Save the Children staff members, regardless of where they work, must declare that they will adhere to our child safeguarding policy and sign our code of conduct – both of which are championed by senior staff across the organisation. All staff members must complete mandatory child safeguarding training (which must be refreshed after two years). And all employees are subject to a criminal records background check (which must be refreshed after three years).
  • We also run a 24-hour Integrity Line for staff members who wish to report any safeguarding concerns anonymously. This is hosted by Crimestoppers, and we maintain a team of Child Safeguarding Focal Points to handle concerns. Focal Points are trained by the NSPCC, and receive internal case supervision before starting work. Our whistleblowing policy also gives staff members direct access to a designated member of the Board of Trustees.
  • All staff members must undertake mandatory Respect in the Workplace training, and we run gender equality training that is supplemented by an active network of gender equality champions.
  • We carry out regular, proactive work with the children and communities we work with on safeguarding and how to report any violations. We have put in place sector-leading guidelines about the management of images and media content. All of this is overseen by our dedicated child safeguarding team.

However, more must be done to ensure that not only are these standards replicated, but that we work together to root out the abuse of power. Yesterday, I wrote to the Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt setting out how Save the Children would like to support the Department for International Development (DFID) – and our colleagues across the sector – to ensure the children and vulnerable people in our care are safe.

These proposals include:

  • The creation of a Global Centre of Excellence for Child Safeguarding in Emergencies. This Centre would create rapidly deployable response teams, with the expertise needed to respond to warning signs of sexual exploitation and other forms of abuse. It would bring together the best research institutes, NGOs and DFID to tackle this problem.
  • The introduction of mandatory humanitarian passports, which would ensure humanitarian workers are able to deploy rapidly but only if they carry all the necessary safeguarding accreditations. This system would prevent the deployment of those who had previously been reported to authorities.
  • A new effort to ensure that Interpol strengthen the global criminal records checking system – this could be much more effective, and we hope the UK Government will lead the charge to ensure it is improved.
  • New regulatory standards that ensure all humanitarian agencies have a legal obligation to report any dismissals.

As an organisation, and as a sector, we have a moral responsibility to protect the vulnerable children and adults we come into contact with through our programmes. We also have a responsibility to the UK public and to our donors to ensure that we meet the highest standards, not just in financial reporting, but in the behaviour we expect of our staff.

As Penny Mordaunt said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme over the weekend, the humanitarian sector, and the UK NGOs within it, are overwhelmingly staffed by committed professionals, who have dedicated their lives to helping the most vulnerable and to challenging the imbalance of power between peoples, nations and genders. At Save the Children, we are still reeling from the death of our colleagues in Afghanistan – four young men who were educating women and girls in one of the toughest places on earth.

I am so proud that I work for an organisation that is first on the scene in times of crisis, and that is prepared to take such enormous risks to help those in need. It is thanks in large part of the generosity of UK Aid and the British public that we are able to do so. I hope from the bottom of my heart that, by strengthening our resolve and binding us together, this weekend’s revelations will ensure transformational change.

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Comments

  • Christine Morgan-Rushforth

    Please make this statement widely available to the media.
    My friend who has over the years regularly supported Oxfam, was devasted yesterday to think that he may have assisted in this despicable behaviour to those
    who are most vulnerable, by his financial assistance.
    It leaves a sense that you have been tricked yourself and uncertain as to whether
    it is appropriate to support Oxfam.

  • Soni Pradhan

    Thanks for posting the blog for guiding us to come into action to be more responsible and accountable towards the community we work in.

  • Liz Blair

    Reading this blog and the additional information sent to me has gone a long way address my concerns and reassure me that Save the Children are taking safeguarding of the vulnerable very seriously, as well as dealing with the minority of people within the organisation or associated with it, who have not upheld the high ideals of Save the Children.

  • Hi Liz, thanks for your comment and support at this time.We really do appreciate it.

  • Jack Haskew

    Your credibility is seriously undermined by this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-43134265#

    I am SO SICK of “root and branch” reviews, while the six-figure fat cats safely climb the ladder to their next cushy job, and no one pulls them off their perch.

    It’s too late for “root and branch”. You had the chance, STC, and you blew it. I’m sure Justin is a great guy. He’s also a serial harasser.

    Kevin, it’s time to do the right thing: fire your HR department, AND your legal team, and having done so, fall on your sword.

    This is CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE in the NGO world.

    Because guess who pays? It won’t be Forsyth. It’s be the children.

  • Hi Jack, we appreciate you taking the time to read our blog and for your comment. Behaviour throughout the organisation is a central priority. We are redoubling our efforts to define a set of leadership behaviours that will be embedded across all our areas of work, our processes and systems, and are working with colleagues across the movement to agree a shared set of standards that we can all adhere to. We are also reviewing our internal processes to ensure we are doing all we can to protect our staff, our beneficiaries and the sector as a whole.

  • Dominic Eaves

    Not a bad response – and better than others.
    But not quite far enough.
    Allegations have been made about pedophiles infiltrating Save The Children’s ranks. What are you doing about these, which is far more sinister, than criticising a bunch of ill-judged texts to adult colleagues?
    There are mechanisms to prevent it and you need to be pro-active. Having a 24-hour snitch line is all very worthy, but by the time an allegation is reported the damage is likely to have been done – and to some of the most vulnerable children on the planet.
    Am interested in hearing your response. Future donations to Save The Children hinge on it.

  • Hi Dominic, thanks for taking the time to read our blog and for giving us the opportunity to address your concerns.It is a fact that paedophiles target all industries where they may have access to children and this includes the INGO sector. We know that the children we work with in areas of conflict, poverty and disaster are especially vulnerable to abuse. As a child rights organisation, we campaign for better monitoring and accountability in these situations. We believe the aid sector must also be accountable and send a clear message that abuses will never be tolerated. Over the past year we have appointed extra staff to enforce child safeguarding measures and train staff in how to report any problems. We also run programmes with the children and families we reach through our work to ensure they know how to identify and report any violations. We want to send a clear message to sexual predators who may target our industry that we are committed to identifying them and pursuing all avenues of justice to hold them to account. This is an issue that affects the whole aid sector. Tackling underreporting and identifying perpetrators – including any among the staff of NGOs – is a critical step to ensuring we can best protect the children we work to support. We believe more can and should be done to strengthen reporting and accountability.

  • Benedita Whitehouse

    Shared at my facebook page

  • Thanks for sharing Benedita.