The revelations of inappropriate conduct from staff at Oxfam and Save the Children have come as a shock to us all. The abhorrent behaviour of a few members of management have tarnished the UK's important contribution to those in crisis. And whilst the accusations fly about whether this is a widespread systemic problem or reason to reduce our aid budget to the world, it is worth bearing in mind what challenges charities face and what we do to protect the vulnerable people we work with.

Charities like ours, which work with vulnerable people, know that predators will target us as a way of getting to those they might abuse. Working or volunteering for a charity bestows an aura of trust and respectability. Abuse can be forced onto a victim, perpetrated through a veneer of trust which is false, but which makes the victim feel like the abuser is acting in their best interests. A ‘friendship’ or ‘loving relationship’ can mask abuse of the worst kind. 

While I wish it were not so, the reality is that all charities must live with and be vigilant towards this risk. Before any other support can be given to a young person, we must first guarantee their safety. So, this media storm gives us the chance to explain how we do that within Creative Youth Network.

We follow set policies and procedures; our safeguarding procedures are aligned with those of the Police and Social Services, with whom we work closely and meet regularly. But the most important element to safeguarding our young people is the culture of the organisation. Staff and volunteers must feel comfortable reporting any behaviour they think is risky. This is about regular training, modelling appropriate behaviour to younger staff and volunteers and having a clear whistleblowing policy. There is no place for complacency, if there is any level of concern we must fully act on it. Whistleblowing policy will sit forgotten on a shelf unless managers, directors and trustees are seen as supportive of anyone who might blow the whistle on dangerous behaviour. 

At the same time, the culture allows staff to challenge each other. Young people might see a member of staff as ‘saving’ them from a difficult situation in their lives, blurring the boundaries of the relationship in the young person’s eyes. It’s vital that staff members recognise the signs and make sure that boundaries are clear. Staff are regularly trained to know what to do in this situation and have regular supervision with line managers. We also run resilience training for young people where we discuss how to keep safe both off and online.

Creative Youth Network has been targeted in the past and our systems have been robust enough to prevent any abuse. But, of course, we must remain vigilant. We have a clear range of procedures to highlight potential problems and a legal duty to report any safeguarding issues to Social Services and the Charity Commission. 

In the words of The International Development Committee, we're meant to be the good guys. We're meant to be the ones that help people see the abuse of which they are a victim, and help them create a situation where they are no longer abused. Keeping vulnerable people safe needs to be a constant part of our daily roles, not a policy that is drafted and then left on the shelf. It is about training, policy, security checks, making sure staff know what to do. But it is also about culture and transparency.