In one of our Facebook groups for volunteers, concerns have been raised about our handling of incidents during volunteer placements.
Above all, the safety of our staff and volunteers and the people we work with is our priority, and we have a zero-tolerance approach to sexual assault and issues related to safeguarding.
We are aware of the incidents raised in this group, and we’d like to provide reassurances that these incidents were treated with the utmost importance when they were reported to our global team. Concerning the two safeguarding allegations in South Africa in 2017, as soon as our global team became aware of these allegations, we carried out thorough investigations, which were guided by our rigorous safeguarding policies, a survivor-centered approach that aims to ensure our response puts their needs and wishes first, and our safety and security protocols. Psychological support was offered to those individuals who were directly affected at the time and after their placement. We reported to police, regulator bodies and institutional partners in line with all legal and regulatory frameworks.
In response to incidents that occured on International Citizen Service placements in South Africa 2017, all reported allegations were thoroughly and appropriately investigated, reported and concluded in line with FCDO (then DFID) and Charity Commission standards. Part of this process involved the contracting of an international risk management specialist to assess these incidents. The evaluator was appointed by the lead agency for ICS, not Restless Development. This independent assessment found that Restless Development’s systems to respond were effective.
These assurances aside, we know there were problems during these volunteer cycles and we are sorry to the volunteers who have been impacted by this. In some cases these problems were caused by issues with some staff and volunteers. Our investigations found a small number of staff and volunteers failed to meet the standards we set and the strict processes we follow, and as a result disciplinary action was taken, which included dismissals.
We are also aware that improvements needed to be made to aspects of the programme quality itself, including support from host families and our work in partnership with schools – volunteer feedback was essential to address these problems and directly led to a detailed action plan that included many recommendations to address the issues that they had raised.
Following the incidents involving volunteers in South Africa in 2017, a specific South Africa Security Action plan was developed and implemented, including but not limited to: additional training for volunteers, field staff and host homes on themes of sexual assault, risk mitigation, incident prevention and management; an increase frequency of regular volunteer welfare checks; and, a review of national volunteer recruitment, selection and vetting processes which were strengthened and included criminal record checks.
Volunteer Listening & Experience
In 2018, we learned that some volunteers felt that we had not adequately supported them during these problems and incidents. In the months that followed we reopened investigations into these incidents and met volunteers from our South Africa cycles to offer further support to try to address the issues they raised. We launched an agency-wide volunteer experience review and Listening Exercise for all young people involved in our programmes. These investigations and listening exercises led to us making changes to improve our policies and procedures.
We conducted a four-country listening exercise with former volunteers to learn about their end to end experience as volunteers with Restless Development and to seek their expertise on how we can continually improve our programmes and the volunteer experience. This exercise was expanded to all of our offices, presented to all of our Global Directors for action, and led to a holistic overhaul of our volunteer support systems. Last year global volunteer satisfaction and feedback reflected the improvements made to our volunteer experience.
Above all, despite the actions taken above, we believe that any number of incidents, allegations or people who do not thrive in their experience is one too many, and we are sorry to any volunteer who had a negative experience with us. We have been committed to learning and improving our support to volunteers and continue to do so.
It’s really important that we are made aware of any new complaints and concerns, and repeat our call for volunteers to get in touch so that we can listen to any concerns, look into this further, or review existing investigations, if required. If any volunteers, past or present, have any concerns or feedback please email firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you would like to share a complaint please follow the steps outlined on our Whistleblowing page.
Safeguarding Review & Continuous Improvement
To review our safeguarding systems more broadly, we commissioned an external, independent review of our safeguarding systems and culture. The review found that we are meeting our safeguarding responsibilities in regard to strategic leadership, governance, staff development, volunteer training, safe recruitment and crucially in handling safeguarding concerns that are raised.
In addition to this review, we were subsequently assessed by an external evaluator against the DFID (now FCDO) 2018 Enhanced Due Diligence for Safeguarding. This process found that Restless Development takes a proactive approach to continual learning and development on safeguarding, has detailed organisational safeguarding policies and procedures to manage this risk, and that over the previous decade had fully investigated and taken appropriate action on safeguarding incidents and allegations.
We have since taken further steps to improve our safety and safeguarding work. Key actions and decisions taken include:
- Training of Board & Staff. All of our staff are required to be trained in our safeguarding approach annually; our Restless Leadership Team monitors completion rates quarterly to ensure global accountability across all locations and all staff. On our global board, two of our trustees including our Board Chair have been trained to the advanced safeguarding level. In addition to the standard safeguarding training for all staff, over 11% of our global staff have been trained to the advanced level as safeguarding officers.
- New Roles Created for Safeguarding & Safety. We have created and staffed a new full time, senior role exclusively focused on safeguarding in our global operations, as well as multiple national safeguarding roles in our hubs. This builds on existing staffing in safety, security, volunteer support, and staff wellbeing to protect and to support those with whom we work.
- Dedicated Leadership Commitment. In every major leadership space, we hold ourselves to account on safeguarding performance. All national and global leadership teams, as well as our governance boards, are regularly reported to on performance of our system, frequency of incidents, and compliance with our policies and regulatory bodies.
- Internal Audit & Internal Reviews. Testing of safeguarding standards, controls and culture is a core part of our internal audit programmes and of all internal reviews that we conduct on our offices annually as part of our quality assurance function.
If any volunteers, past or present, have any concerns or feedback please email email@example.com, or if you would like to share a complaint please follow the steps outlined on our Whistleblowing page.