The COVID-19 pandemic has left many organisations facing difficult safeguarding dilemmas. We know that the need for vital services has increased with many facing escalating risks to their welfare as a result of the crisis. With by daily reports detailing the increase in domestic violence, poor mental health any food poverty, the impulse to ‘do more’ is incredibly strong. As organisations consider how they can adapt their services during lockdown, it is important that urge to ‘do more’ is tempered by the necessity to also ‘do no harm’.
Following the huge success of The Big Night In, Comic Relief is now able to offer emergency funding to many of those in greatest need. We are also offering more flexibility to existing partners so they can reshape their services to enable them to continue to support the individuals and communities that need their help. Although the pressure to respond quickly is ever-present, we are clear that our commitment to keeping people safe must not be compromised. Safeguarding remains central to everything we do and we have produced a simple Tip Sheet for our partners(opens in new window) to help them think through the risks as they adapt their services.
Safe organisations require safe people and it is essential that staff and volunteers are adequately supported in this complex and ever-changing environment. Maintaining existing good practice around safe recruitment practices is essential as perpetrators can take advantage of crisis situations to gain access to vulnerable groups. Although staff responsibilities may shift and change, it is essential that staff are not being asked to take on roles they are not qualified to do and that appropriate supervision and support is in place. This is even more important given the emotional impact of the crisis and the risk of vicarious trauma for those on the frontline.
One of the most common changes that we have seen is partners adapting their work so that they can deliver services remotely, often moving services online. While this has the potential to lead to new and innovative ways of working which may last long after the crisis has ended, it also brings additional risks. Clear protocols will need to be in place to ensure that professional boundaries are maintained and oversight should be built in. The lockdown means that the options for beneficiaries to raise concerns is more limited and organisations need to consider how to adapt their reporting procedures to ensure that are safe and accessible when working remotely.
It’s worth noting that, at a time when safeguarding risks are so high, many organisations are reporting a drop in the number of safeguarding reports they are receiving. So much has been achieved around safeguarding in the last few years, it is important that this is not lost during the current crisis and that the commitment to keeping people safe remains as strong as ever.