Webinar: ‘How to make sure that our assistance does not cause harm’

The BEARR Trust webinar on safeguarding held on 1 December 2021
Report by Nicola Ramsden

Almost 30 people took part in BEARR’s first webinar about safeguarding, including representatives of civil society organisations in the region. ‘Safeguarding’ was a new concept for some participants. A poll taken at the beginning of the webinar showed that around two-thirds of the participants were familiar with the term ‘safeguarding’, and around half had a safeguarding policy in their organisation.

The webinar was moderated by BEARR trustee Ross Gill, who had introduced a safeguarding policy for The BEARR Trust earlier in 2021. Ross explained that the purpose of the webinar was to start a discussion on how to implement safeguarding policies that worked in real life, not just on paper. BEARR wanted to work with our partners to increase awareness of what safeguarding meant, why it mattered, to identify challenges, and to develop good practice. BEARR was also interested in finding out what further support might be helpful for our partners and grantees.

The BEARR Trust’s regulator, the Charity Commission for England and Wales, required us to make safeguarding a key governance priority in order to protect people with whom we have contact from abuse or mistreatment of any kind. The UK government has defined safeguarding as: “Preventing and responding to harm caused by sexual exploitation, abuse, harassment or bullying. The aim is to minimise the impact and likelihood of these actions towards both the people we are trying to help, and also the people working for [our organisations].”

Ross explained that BEARR must also make sure that our partners, and organisations who receive grants from us, have their own safeguarding procedures in place. To do this, BEARR planned to carry out due diligence on our grantees, to share information about safeguarding practices with them, and to review their practices through our monitoring and evaluation of the projects they carry out. We planned to set out the key responsibilities for safeguarding in our grant agreements in the future.

Anna Raskina, director of St Petersburg-based children’s charity Ulitsa Mira, explained how the safety of children is built into the organisation’s daily work. Because Ulitsa Mira helps children who are suffering from neglect and abuse, it is vital that the children can trust their helpers and therefore making them feel safe is essential. Staff are trained to assess children and their home situation in a gentle and help-orientated manner, in contrast to the law-orientated and punitive approach associated with state agencies. Staff are trained to be aware of danger signs, and Ulitsa Mira has clear rules on prevention and action. The most difficult situation to deal with, however, is when it is clear that a child should be removed from immediate risks in an abusive home. Only the state had the power to do this, and yet state shelters can also expose a child to the risk of abuse there.

Tanya Buynovskaya, director of UK-based charity HealthProm, explained how HealthProm has implemented safeguarding policies to comply with the requirements of donors including the UK government. Since 1984, HealthProm has been working in many of the countries that BEARR works in, as well as in Afghanistan. It also works with migrants from those countries into the UK.

Over the years, HealthProm has extended its original policy for child protection to include three more policies covering vulnerable adults, ethics and code of conduct, and whistleblowing. The principles underlying these policies are ‘Recognise and Respond’.

All staff, consultants and volunteers at HealthProm, even those without direct beneficiary contact, must have a criminal records check (known as DBS in the UK – Disclosure and Barring Service) every three years.

One of HealthProm’s consultants, a social worker, also serves as Safeguarding Officer and is responsible for training and keeping the organisation up to date in good safeguarding practices. HealthProm supports local partners, who are expected to follow their own national guidelines on safeguarding and to operate according to international standards.

Tanya emphasised the importance of transparency and accountability for helping the safeguarding policies to work in practice. All policies are published on HealthProm’s website and are available on the organisation’s office system, and regular reports are made to the board of trustees and to donors.

Q&A session

Ross Gill asked both speakers what advice they would give to a local community group looking to implement safeguarding practices for the first time. Both Tanya Buynovskaya and Anna Raskina recommended starting by understanding and following any national legal regulations. Tanya recommended carrying out checks for criminal records of staff / volunteers if that was possible. Anna emphasised the importance of staff training from an early stage, to raise awareness. She added that there was no equivalent of a DBS check in Russia, and her organisation relied on the mutual knowledge and trust of fellow professionals who had worked together for many years.

The speakers were asked who should be involved in designing a safeguarding policy. Tanya Buynovskaya said that staff, trustees and volunteers should be involved: it was practically difficult to involve beneficiaries. It was a time-consuming process that nevertheless happened because the board prioritised it, and the Safeguarding Officer championed it and made sure that experience on the ground was reflected. Anna Raskina agreed that people with direct knowledge of the people they sought to protect should be involved in designing a safeguarding policy. In the case of Ulitsa Mira, these would be professional psychologists and social workers.

The speakers were also asked whether the degree of safeguarding that could be offered was dependent on local social and cultural circumstances that might dictate who was regarded as vulnerable and in need of protection. Anna Raskina answered this with reference to homophobia in Russia, acknowledging that recourse to protection was harder in that climate. However, her organisation would carry out the same risk assessment for anyone. Tanya Buynovskaya answered with reference to HealthProm’s work with women in Afghanistan, which was carried out on the basis that fundamental human rights applied to all people equally. The organisation felt it had a responsibility to demonstrate what it believed in.

A poll at the end of the webinar showed that almost half of the participants would welcome more support on safeguarding practices, and over one third were not sure. The BEARR Trust will continue to share information on the subject, and we welcome any further comments and queries from our partners.

You can access the presentations which were shared in the webinar here:

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