Peter Wanless: The building blocks of safeguarding must be in place

Recent allegations against Oxfam show the importance of having proper safeguarding policies in place, says the chief executive of the NSPCC

Peter Wanless
Peter Wanless

Keeping children safe from sexual abuse is one of our key missions at the NSPCC. But preventing sexual abuse is not just a job for our charity – it is the responsibility of absolutely everyone.

Allegations of abuse at Oxfam, overseas and in its UK shops, demonstrate how vital this is to the protection of children and public confidence in an organisation. This is another moment for every charity, organisation or business where adults are in a position of trust over children to reflect and to get this right.

The building blocks of safeguarding must be in place. There must be proper vetting. That means taking proper references and carrying out Disclosure and Barring Service checks. If someone has been sacked from their role because of child protection concerns, they cannot be allowed to jump from job to job and repeat their harmful behaviour. A culture of zero tolerance of sexual abuse must be embedded in the organisation, led from the top at executive and trustee level.

The fundamental importance of safeguarding must be communicated clearly to all staff from the outset. Staff and children need to know how to recognise abuse and who they can go to with concerns or reports. Comprehensive training should be in place and the systems must be there to back that up. Where concerning behaviour is reported, it must always be followed up so that employees and victims feel listened to and confident that appropriate action will be taken.

It is unacceptable for whistleblowers to be undermined or face losing their jobs, and there need to be consequences if there’s evidence that this has happened.

And beyond each individual and each organisation, there is more the government can do. At present, only adults working in education, care and youth justice are deemed by the law to be in positions of trust.

That is clearly not good enough.

Whether children are volunteering in charity shops, playing sports or are part of a local religious group, the NSPCC’s Trust to Lead campaign is calling for them to be protected in law from adults in positions of trust over them.

Government has promised to make progress in this area, but it has yet to materialise.

As a society we now have a culture that is slowly moving towards a place where victims feel able to speak out about what they have experienced, instead of suffering in silence. But if sexual abuse is swept under the carpet by organisations – or individuals within those organisations – putting their reputation first, we fail those victims and risk setting child protection back by decades.

All organisations that work with children in any capacity must put children first, admit it if something has gone wrong and put steps in place to ensure it cannot happen again. Report it to the police. Take disciplinary action against the staff involved and ensure they cannot continue to be a risk to children.

Don’t just put the matter in a filing cabinet and move on.

And once victims have shown the courage to come forward, we cannot let them down. They must be properly supported. But this is not about reinventing the wheel. Support exists and the NSPCC can help to provide support and advice on safeguarding. A self-assessment tool and safeguarding guidance is easily accessible on our website. We’ve delivered training and advice to 732 organisations, including 164 charities since April last year alone, plus more in-depth work such as audits of safeguarding policies with 149 organisations.

At the NSPCC, we know that the effects of child abuse and mistreatment left unattended can last a lifetime. Young people need help and support to rebuild their lives, whoever they are and wherever they are in the world.

Peter Wanless is the chief executive of the NSPCC

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