For charities, 2018 will be remembered not just for the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, but also for the sharp focus on safeguarding. The issues that emerged earlier this year, including in the international aid sector, are a stark reminder to us all, and one that few sector leaders will ever forget.
The public rightly expects charities to adhere to the highest possible standards, and media coverage suggesting that charities have not lived up to those standards has dented public trust in the sector. In a recent survey, 45 per cent of respondents said their trust in charities had decreased in the previous 12 months, compared with 33 per cent in 2016.
It’s hard not to have an emotional reaction to this loss of trust in who we are and what we do.
We don’t choose to work for charities for the fame, the money or the glory. We do it because we want to make the world a better, safer place.
But we mustn’t fall into the trap of thinking we are "angels". We have to fight the urge to say "of course we deserve your trust! We’re a charity!" In other words, we must never be complacent.
Charities are made up of the people who work and volunteer for us. And wherever you have humans there is scope for human error, for slipping from our values.
There will always be bad apples, but with the right framework in place you can protect the barrel as a whole – and that’s where we need to focus our efforts.
At Barnardo’s we review our policies every year to keep up with changes to regulation and in the world around us. For example, we recently introduced guidance for staff on using social media.
We are also introducing a new, independent whistleblowing hotline to make absolutely sure all staff and volunteers feel confident they can come forward and speak confidentially.
And we have a key strand of work focused on equality, diversity and inclusion enshrined in our corporate strategy, including a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying, harassment and discrimination.
But you can have the most fantastic policies in the world, but they won’t mean anything if you don’t address culture. This means making sure everyone involved in the charity lives and breathes our values and has the knowledge and confidence to speak out.
And this starts at the very top.
Every Friday I get an update on safeguarding from across the charity, which is the very first thing I read. I personally need to know exactly what’s going on. It’s my job to ask questions and satisfy myself that we’re doing absolutely everything we can to keep everyone as safe as possible.
We also have clear governance and accountability, with a designated safeguarding trustee and a sub-group of trustees who provide specific oversight.
We offer support to smaller charities in the sector to help them implement safeguarding arrangements.
You can never completely eliminate all risk. But having robust and comprehensive safeguarding measures in place goes a long way.
The events of this year hurt the sector. But there is an opportunity here too. This is a chance for the sector as a whole – and for government, regulators and other partners – to raise our game and demonstrate clearly that we are worthy of public trust and support for the vital work we do in bringing hope and love to communities across the UK.
Javed Khan is chief executive of Barnardo's