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Safeguarding Risks: Getting started

There’s an Irish tale about a man who gets hopelessly lost on the country roads. He stops to ask a farmer: ’How do I get to Dublin?’, ‘Well, I wouldn’t start from here.’ the farmer replies…

Safeguarding within NGOs and charities is high on the agenda of governments, the Charity Commission and the public, with all expecting evidence of major improvements – and quickly. But where should organisations start? Safeguarding, like all duty of care functions, isn’t as simple as instituting a single policy, mechanism or practice and given the number of areas that need to be considered it’s easy to get overwhelmed at the start.

So where to start?

We recommend that you do two things now to get on top of your immediate risks and evidence action while you begin the cultural change necessary to mainstream safeguarding in your organisation.

The first is simple: be proactive. If you want, and need, to be ahead of safeguarding risks then this means looking for and uncovering signs of risk. We hear a lot of organisations talking about reporting and enhancing their reporting mechanisms – but reporting and follow-up means the harm has been done. It means that the organisation hasn’t protected people from harm but has a way of responding to it.

While reporting and response are important, if you want to get ahead of safeguarding risks it will mean investigating and uncovering signs of risk and acting upon them in a proportionate and efficient way, rather than waiting until they arise and the damage has been done. This damage could be to individuals, to the organisation’s reputation and to donor confidence. Getting ahead of safeguarding risk is known, in professional investigative terms, as discovery.


"If you want to get ahead of safeguarding risks it will mean investigating and uncovering signs of risk and acting on them in a proportionate and efficient professional terms, discovery."


You can take proactive risk investigation now without undermining the slower strategic change. In fact done correctly it will set you up for that change: by evidencing the scale of the problem you face and by showing patterns of behaviour where safeguarding misconduct arise so you know where to focus cultural change. It will also give staff confidence that safeguarding measures are worth investing in.

The second is beginning the wider cultural change that safeguarding systems need by engaging, rather than instructing, your staff. It’s easy to whip up a policy, make an announcement that you’re taking safeguarding seriously, or hand out a strategy developed in splendid isolation. But like many other organisation-wide changes, you need your staff to understand the reasons for change and for them to feel they own responsibility for that change.

Successful business change only works if it has one vital element: staff have been involved in designing the change. Safeguarding is no different. A range of perspectives is needed from staff with different experience, backgrounds and views. So, before you get that strategy pen out, get your stakeholder group together and listen. Only then can you start the strategic safeguarding shift confident that it will land in your organisation.

With these two moves you will have simultaneously gripped the current issue and begun the journey for transformation. Suddenly, here doesn’t seem like the wrong place to start.

If you’d like to know more about how to get these approaches going in your organisation or to discuss wider safeguarding requirements contact: Or, join us on 23-24 May for an investigations course where you’ll learn how to implement these steps.

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