Safeguarding children and vunerable adults in charities: Trustee duties explained

The Charity Commission, the independent regulator of charities in England and Wales, has published its Strategy for dealing with safeguarding children and vulnerable adults’ issues in charities.


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The strategy sets out trustees’ safeguarding responsibilities in their charity and this includes taking steps to protect children and vulnerable adults from harm, it reminds trustees what they should do to prevent problems from arising in the first place and how they should respond to allegations and incidents of abuse when they do arise in their charities.

This follows from the publication of the Commission’s new Risk Framework and Risk Application Guidance. These documents sets out the Commission’s general regulatory approach, how it assesses risk, and identifies three regulatory areas requiring a clear strategic response; one of which is safeguarding in charities.

The Safeguarding Strategy makes clear that trustees must develop and implement systems to safeguard children and vulnerable adults and monitor these procedures on a regular basis to ensure they are working in practice.

The strategy also explains the regulator’s own role in this area. The Commission is not responsible for safeguarding matters or for dealing with incidents of actual abuse – this is a role for other agencies. And many agencies, including the police, social services and other regulators such as the Care Quality Commission have responsibilities in this area. The Commission’s own regulatory role is focused instead on the conduct of trustees and the steps they take to protect the charity and its beneficiaries now and in the future.

The strategy describes the Commission’s approach in dealing with safeguarding issues in relation to charities. It explains how the Charity Commission:

  • Works with the sector and other agencies to prevent safeguarding concerns arising in the first place
  • Responds to allegations or reports of abuse of children and vulnerable adults within a charity
  • Deals with concerns about someone who is currently acting as a charity trustee, employee, volunteer or contractor and their suitability to hold that position

It sets out its 4 strand approach: awareness and prevention; oversight and supervision; co-operation and intervention.

The Commission also recently published a strategy for dealing with fraud, financial crime and financial abuse in charities and will shortly republish its Counter-terrorism strategy – originally published in 2008 – which is being updated to reflect changes to CONTEST (the UK’s Counter-terrorism strategy).

The Safeguarding Strategy is aimed at trustees of charities, as well as at other agencies responsible for safeguarding issues. The regulator hopes agencies dealing with safeguarding issues in charities will refer to the strategy when deciding whether to alert the Commission to problems in charities.

Sam Younger, Chief Executive of the Charity Commission said:

“The abuse of children and vulnerable adults is a criminal offence and therefore a matter for the police. But when it happens in a charity, this abuse also risks undermining public trust and confidence in all charities. We will intervene where appropriate in serious cases and where there has been serious non-compliance by the trustees.


“From our experience of engaging with charities, it is clear that many trustees are not sufficiently aware of their safeguarding role and responsibilities and some have not put effective safeguarding policies and procedures into place. Trustees of charities which work with children and vulnerable adults have a duty of care to their charity which includes taking the necessary steps to safeguard and take responsibility for those children and vulnerable adults. So it is vital that they develop, implement and monitor effective safeguarding policies and procedures to protect them.


“We urge trustees to familiarise themselves with this safeguarding strategy and ensure they are taking appropriate steps in their charity.”

Simon Massey, Head of Safe Network added:

“It’s vital for trustees of charities to ensure that they take the necessary steps to protect their service users from any form of abuse and, if there are concerns they are reported to the relevant organisations to follow up.


“With this Strategy, trustees will be clear that they have primary responsibility for safeguarding in their charity and what this entails.


“The Safe Network can provide additional advice and guidance in relation to safeguarding children and young people – this includes policy and procedural templates and a self-assessment safeguarding standards’ resource.”


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