To mark National Safeguarding Week 2021, we are going to reflect on how BuDS keeps those we help safe from abuse.
Sadly, disabled people are often vulnerable to all forms of abuse including crimes such as hate and ‘mate’ crimes, physical and emotional abuse, and being targeted for financial scams. Because of this potential vulnerability, BuDS has a responsibility to ensure that anyone we help is not at additional risk from our volunteers. After all, if someone did have such motivation, volunteering to work with disabled people would provide an ideal environment for this to happen.
We do this through exceptionally thorough procedures. All our staff and volunteers have a face-to face interview. Once accepted, we require two references, which if necessary are followed up for further clarification. All staff and volunteers also undergo an enhanced DBS check. Only trained and trusted staff and Trustees conduct the DBS check, and we look out for any suspicious responses or reactions by the potential volunteer or employee. All documents are checked by two people to prevent any sort of collusion or evasion of procedures.
As a disability charity, we recognise that some disabled people may have carried out activities in their past which may appear on a DBS Certificate. Unlike most organisations, this isn’t an automatic bar to joining us. We carry out a detailed individual safeguarding risk assessment, including meeting the person, to discuss the circumstances of the offence and how it may impact on their role within BuDS. We might also follow up with other agencies or ask for additional information. If we feel that vulnerable people would not be at risk from the potential volunteer or staff member, we will allow them to join us. We might introduce special safeguarding measures for that person, such as higher levels of supervision or monitoring, with their knowledge and consent.
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, BuDS has worked entirely online. This poses additional safeguarding challenges. It could be very easy for people to be abused online without anyone being aware of this happening. To help overcome this, we have introduced new online working procedures including requiring the use only of our own secure IT systems and monitoring all online activity. We’ve made it clear to everyone that, if they are contacted outside of a BuDS channel, that is itself a breach of safeguarding which should be reported. Because of our open, collaborative, working style, ‘closed’ relationships which might be more open to abuse are actively discouraged.
BuDS believes that safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility. To help reinforce this, we do regular mandatory safeguarding training with all staff and volunteers, without exception. We make the point very clearly that if anyone has any concerns that they or someone else may be being abused, either in person or online, or are aware that other people may be, they should report this to one of our three Safeguarding Officers. The training also reinforces to everyone the range of behaviour which qualifies as abusive or suspicious.
If the Safeguarding Officers receive information about a safeguarding issue, the matter is always investigated, however unlikely the story might seem. We recognise that it is the most trusted individuals within BuDS who have the best opportunities to abuse, so we have a ‘no exceptions’ policy for investigations. The individual is supported to share their story and where appropriate referrals to official bodies are made, or the individual is signposted to other sources of help. Sometimes this may take several meetings as the individual may not be able to communicate what has happened in one session, and safeguarding support may last for several months. We make sure we are available for anyone if they need help and support for as long as it takes.
Safeguarding within BuDS is a multi-layered process and begins at the start of an individual’s time with us as either a member of staff or a volunteer. Good practice is reinforced through training and procedures. Most importantly, our safeguarding team’s doors are always open for people to report instances or suspicions of abuse to themselves or others. We recognise that only through constant vigilance can we keep everyone safe.