Safeguarding and volunteer managers

Tom Burke is a freelance consultant as well as acting chief executive of a leading youth international development charity. He has extensive experience of leading safeguarding and child protection training for voluntary organisations working both with children, young people and vulnerable adults. He runs NCVO’s course on safeguarding for volunteer managers.

It can seem as if too often in recent weeks and months, the voluntary sector has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. While thousands of staff and volunteers we work with pride themselves on helping not harming, the past few months have seen a number of high-profile safeguarding scandals. Whistleblowing revelations have hit our sector alongside formal inquiries, summits and pressure for action.

As Karl Wilding has noted, the public is concerned that charities are not acting upon these concerns. Our key regulator, the Charity Commission, has issued alerts to charities and opened a series of legal inquiries into how individual charities are meeting their safeguarding duties.

As this practice has been brought to light, it raises questions about how every voluntary organisation can be assured their safeguarding is fit for purpose. How do we know that we are meeting our duty of care to staff, volunteers and those we seek to serve?

Difficulties for volunteer managers

For volunteer managers this is an especially difficult terrain. Many volunteers are themselves at risk of harm or are potential targets of predatory behaviours from those with an intent to harm. Likewise, the services and support our volunteers deliver often reach out to some of the most excluded and vulnerable people in society who themselves may be at risk of harm or have unmet needs.

Volunteer managers work with people of all ages. We aim to make volunteering opportunities inclusive for disabled people and others who face barriers to full inclusion in society; yet sadly they are likely to be targeted by those with an intent to harm or whose circumstances mean they themselves have unmet support needs.

We must therefore work within a legal framework which varies enormously and has evolved in a piecemeal fashion for different ages and people in different circumstances. Government policy has shifted and evolved. This patchwork of laws and policies have also broadened in recent years as they responded to the greater understanding of harm caused by radicalisation, sexual exploitation, intimate partner violence and other topics which were previously rarely discussed or examined.

Catching up and getting ahead

NCVO has a range of support and resources to help you review your work

I am also leading a Safeguarding for Volunteer Managers course that tries to cut through the complexity, explain the key concepts and raise understanding of holistic, integrated safeguarding practice. It explains the concepts of safeguarding for different ages and for different groups, how to proactively reduce the risk of harm to your organisation, your staff, volunteers and those we serve, and respond well when harm does occur. We will unpick how to meet our duty of care in an increasingly complex legal, policy and practice environment.

By better understanding the issues, you will be able to consider what you need to do to catch up and address areas of action, and get ahead of evolving expectations.

The next Safeguarding for Volunteer Managers courses take place on 20 April and 21 May.

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