Rob Jackson: Three tips for effective volunteer safeguarding

In the light of recent scandals, long-term solutions still need to be addressed, writes our columnist

Rob Jackson
Rob Jackson

It seems the hullabaloo of recent charity safeguarding scandals is quietening down. Oxfam, Save The Children and others have largely slipped from the mainstream media news cycle. The sector press continues to report on it, of course, but attention is rightly shifting to long-term actions to address the deficiencies that have come to light.

I have tackled issues around safeguarding in previous blog posts – particularly around the time of the Jimmy Savile scandal – and have written about the problems with relying on criminal record checks. In this article I want to highlight three tips to help you with your work on volunteer safeguarding.

Allocate adequate resources

Volunteering might be freely given, but it is not cost-free. Someone needs to have responsibility for screening volunteers so that clients are kept safe. They also need to protect volunteers from clients, paid staff, trustees and the public, all of whom might pose a risk. Time and money need to be allocated to screening people diligently and fairly, balancing the needs of all involved.

If your organisation does not have a strategic lead for volunteering, it’s time to revisit that position. If your organisation has such a post, then you need to check if they have the time and resources needed to do their work properly. This isn’t an issue of cost; it’s a demonstration of how seriously you invest in and value safeguarding.

Focus on the whole volunteer journey

All too often safeguarding is seen as something to be done when volunteers are being recruited and placed within an organisation. This is an important time to screen prospective volunteers and examine the risks they may be exposed to, but a focus on on-boarding is only part of the story.

What support and supervision arrangements are in place for volunteers? What structures are in place for volunteers to give feedback on their work? What procedures are in place for volunteers who work alone, often away from the office and perhaps at hours when paid staff might not be at work? How can clients give feedback to the organisation about their experience of volunteer support?

Look at safeguarding for all volunteers

Consider who your volunteers actually are. This might sound like pretty basic advice, but what about your trustees, celebrity supporters, patrons, presidents, members of major donor fundraising committees and so on? In many organisations these are all volunteers, but they are rarely subject to the policies that apply to more obvious volunteers. Three years on from Savile, too little has changed. Surely now it has to.

These are just three tips for you to consider. Many more actions are needed to keep your volunteers and clients safe. I commend to you the leadership the National Council for Voluntary Organisations is showing on this issue and the free resources it is making available. For example, read Karl Wilding’s three-part series on the NCVO blog "Oxfam and Haiti: What next for charities?" and Shaun Delaney’s helpful article about criminal record checks.

Rob Jackson is a volunteering consultant

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