Working or volunteering overseas
OSCR's (independent regulator and registrar for Scotland's charities) statement on working with partners overseas, in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK is clear:
Charities working overseas often work with the poorest and most vulnerable people. Charities can be working with people who are simply trying to survive following devastating man-made or natural disasters. Charity trustees should be aware of the fact that some individuals may exploit weaknesses in a charity's safeguarding practices, particularly in the face of immense pressure to deliver aid and save lives.
Charities that work with partner organisations in Scotland, elsewhere in the UK or overseas should ensure that:
- Those organisations have appropriate safeguarding policies in place for the nature of the work and the area they operate in
- These policies are properly implemented in practice and regularly reviewed
- When giving grants to overseas organisations appropriate due diligence checks are made on the recipient body.
Charity trustees also need to be aware that vulnerable beneficiaries overseas can face different or additional risks of abuse or exploitation and safeguarding policies and procedures should take account of any additional factors that are necessary in the circumstances.
Remember, the PVG scheme applies where charities send individuals to other countries to do regulated work.
In terms of international safeguarding issues, OSCR has no direct regulatory remit over charities' overseas partners or not-for-profit organisations. OSCR states:
Where a charity registered in Scotland supports, or works closely with overseas partners, we will hold the charity to account over the suitability and management of that relationship, including its supervision of safeguarding risks.
Click on the headings below for more information.
Any mission trip in which church members are involved should have clear lines of accountability.
Mission trips may be organised by local churches themselves or by churches in partnership with other churches, organisations such as international mission agencies, or NGOs. If another agency is involved then there should be a partnership agreement, in writing, between the two organisations. This partnership agreement should, among other things, spell out which organisation’s safeguarding policy is operational for the mission trip.
There should be a named person to contact in the event of any safeguarding concerns arising and an agreed process for reporting concerns to the statutory authorities.
Participants should be recruited by the organisation responsible in line with its safeguarding policy and good practice in safer recruitment.
Church of Scotland workers should familiarise themselves with the Safeguarding Handbook in its entirety.
Has there been preparation for the visit including application forms, waivers, references, insurance, criminal record checks and other paperwork as and where appropriate?
Churches and teams need to remember where legal responsibilities lie if anything goes wrong: with the sending organisation and with the receiving organisation or individual.
Discuss and agree expectations. What are the expectations of the various parties? Share information regarding the giftings/abilities of visitors. Pass on any important information that the visitors or hosts may need to know.
Set an itinerary. Perhaps one month before the arrival of the visitor/team, agree and distribute an itinerary for the visit.
Have a risk assessment for the activities. The visiting person/organisation should undertake the risk assessment which should be shared with all parties.
Risks could include:
- Travel methods (tickets booked, licences in place etc)
- Travel requirements (medical matters, appropriate documentation to hand)
- Climate/weather (appropriate clothing/supplies)
- Crime/security (precautions against theft/harm)
- Residential (suitability of venue, checks to ensure personal safety of all parties)
- Loss of information (what to do if documents etc go missing)
- Emergencies (procedures in place how to deal with any emergency)
Many organisations run child sponsorship programmes, some of which have been operating successfully for many years. The benefit for the sponsor is that they can see very practically how they are helping to make a difference in the life of the child or children they support. Very often the sponsored child will send letters and photographs, and friendships develop.
Although sponsorship programmes are focused on child welfare and poverty reduction, the underlying priority must always be to safeguard the children involved, particularly as the children can be a target for people wanting to abuse children.
In order to ensure harmful relationships aren’t allowed to develop, the following safeguards should be put in place by the organisation and they must be prepared to decline sponsorship for any reason, including safeguarding concerns.
It is good practice for child sponsorship programmes to:
- Ensure organisations have a sound safeguarding policy as a basis for safeguarding the children involved in any child sponsorship programmes and have a formal procedure for all direct contact with the sponsored child
- Consult with external bodies, including the police, if there are serious doubts about an individual sponsor - for example, if they are in prison
- Any correspondence between the sponsor and the person sponsored should be sent via the organisation to ensure it does not contain the sponsor’s contact details and to check for inappropriate written or visual material that might raise safeguarding concerns or contain political/religious comment that may cause offence or be illegal
- Ensure sponsors agree not to share any information about the person they have sponsored over the internet. Enabling sponsors to remain in contact after the sponsorship has ended should be facilitated by the organisation and only if the sponsored person and/or their parents/carers agree.
Hosting teams from abroad
When churches are hosting teams from abroad the same principles apply.
The receiving church needs to have a partnership agreement with the sending church/agency and there should be clear lines of accountability and communication between the two.
The hosting agency needs to be involved in the planning and preparation for the visit and can help in creating an itinerary that is practical and meets the local needs.
The congregational Safeguarding Coordinator can help the mission team leader decide what needs to go in the code of conduct for team members and in drawing up the risk assessment for the trip.
The host church can be involved in orientation training for the team on their arrival as well as helping with practicalities around transport and accommodation.
Please discuss appropriate criminal records checks with the safeguarding service prior to entering into a hosting arrangement and in sufficient time for checks to be undertaken.
It’s important that mission workers and volunteers are respectful towards local people and agencies, acknowledging cultural differences and deferring to local leaders’ knowledge of, and relationships with, the local community.
Although there may be differences in cultural practice, the abuse of vulnerable people is never acceptable. Practices such as female genital mutilation, domestic violence or abuse of children in the context of beliefs about witchcraft and spirit possession can never be justified.
Church members on a mission trip are ultimately accountable to the organisation that has sent them and are expected to conform to the same standards of child safety and good practice as in the UK.
From a safeguarding point of view, overseas mission is high risk and unsupervised contact between mission volunteers and children or adults at risk would not usually be safe or appropriate. Issues around contact with children or vulnerable adults need to be thought through in advance of the mission trip and, where the context involves close contact, such as helping at an orphanage or school, mission team members and local leaders need to work closely together. In this context, roles, responsibilities and boundaries between local leaders and team members need to be agreed in advance and written into the Code of Conduct signed by team members.
Planning and preparation
Planning and preparation are vital for any mission trip and thinking about safeguarding should be an integral part of this planning process.
Mission workers/volunteers should be recruited through a safe recruitment process and PVG or DBS checks and/or self-disclosures should be sought where appropriate (PVG and DBS when someone is undertaking regulated work - the Safeguarding Service can help determine what is regulated work).
It is advisable to ensure that participating individuals have been known to the Church for at least six months and references should be taken up.
There should be a written Code of Conduct, to which workers/volunteers give their signed consent during the induction process and preparation/induction should include safeguarding training. Every presbytery has a Presbytery Safeguarding Contact who is responsible for organising safeguarding training for volunteers and paid workers in the congregation. If staff from the National Office requires safeguarding training, please contact the Safeguarding Service for further information.
Prior to the trip, a provisional itinerary should be drawn up. The itinerary may be subject to change due to local circumstances and conditions, but it will give everyone an idea of what to expect.
Responding to concerns
Each mission trip needs to have a designated safeguarding contact who is the point of contact between the mission team and the home base. There also needs to be a contact point at the home base for emergencies.
Whilst safeguarding concerns are usually reported directly to the statutory safeguarding authorities here in the UK, this may not always be a viable or safe option when on a mission trip. If the concern relates to someone in the local community, good practice would be for the mission team’s safeguarding contact to discuss this with the local responsible person or agency (unless they are implicated or the report will create a greater risk to the child or vulnerable adult). Depending on what local services are available it may be possible to involve local welfare services or police.
If there are concerns about local leaders or agencies then the safeguarding contact should discuss this with the home base (their own line manager and the safeguarding service) with a view to escalating the concerns to the appropriate person. This may include initiating whistleblowing procedures.
If allegations or concerns are made about a team member, these need to be immediately reported to the home base. Dependant on the seriousness of the concerns and other factors to do with context and location, the team member may be relocated for the duration of the trip or, in some instances, immediately repatriated. Consideration will need to be given about how best to follow up the concerns after this.