Statement – June 25 2021

CEO responds to Independent Child Safeguarding Review

I sincerely thank Keeping Children Safe for their work on the Independent Child Safeguarding Review (ICSR). SOS Children's Villages commissioned the review to better understand past safeguarding failures and to learn and act on where we need to improve. It is an incredibly valuable report, and we will act on all its recommendations.  

Today, we publicly recommit ourselves to ensuring a safe environment in all our programmes across the globe. SOS Children's Villages is the primary caregiver for more than 65,000 children and young people, and we reach a further 347,000 children, young people and adults through our support to families. Our work aims to break the cycle of child neglect, abuse and abandonment, and the safety and wellbeing of children is fundamental to achieving this goal.  

Children and young people need adults that can be trusted, but there have been cases where we did not live up to the standards we set for ourselves, where we did not fulfil our promise to keep children safe, as articulated in the SOS Care Promise.  

To each and every person affected, I offer my heartfelt apology: Words alone cannot repair the damage caused to you by those you trusted. I am deeply sorry, and I pledge to do everything I can to address all past wrongs and ensure they do not happen again. 

I pledge that we will listen to those who have experienced harm in our programmes and support them in their healing. We will investigate all allegations of wrongdoing, ensuring no person with a conflict of interest is involved, and holding accountable those responsible. 

The ICSR has complemented our ongoing efforts to strengthen safeguarding throughout our organization. Our past progress is captured in our Child Safeguarding Journey and our Child Safeguarding Annual Reports. The introduction of our Child Protection Policy in 2008, the Code of Conduct in 2011, and other policies and procedures were positive steps but not enough.  

As previously announced, we are taking an honest look at past failings. Safeguarding must be a fundamental aspect of how we work, and who we are.  

The next step to make that happen is our wide-ranging Safeguarding Action Plan. Through it, we commit to supporting those harmed and to fulfil our promise to keep children safe. We will do this not just by improving our policies and systems specifically related to child safeguarding, but also by addressing power imbalances and broader organisational culture matters, with the aim of ensuring everyone is accountable for doing their part to create a safe environment for all.  

In addition, the holistic approach of the action plan reflects that safeguarding is entwined with overall programme quality. This requires ensuring every child is in a suitable type of care, and that all children and young people we support have access to mental health support, education, health care and a clear plan of action for their individual development. Good programme quality means that our staff have all the training they need to provide an environment where children can grow to become their strongest selves, and so we commit to additional training for child and youth care practitioners, enabling them to deal with challenging situations.  

Our Safeguarding Action plan has eight key actions:  

  • Ensuring an independent commission examines cases of failings, including child abuse, corruption, and breaches of regulations 

  • Establishing an ombudsperson system to represent the rights of children, young people and others affected by abuse 

  • Funding individualised support for those who have experienced abuse 

  • Providing extra support for our programmes in high-risk countries 

  • Expanding our 'Protective Behaviours' empowerment programme for children and young people 

  • Strengthening the incident management system 

  • Updating and embedding our Code of Conduct into everything we do 

  • Fully implementing our existing policy on the Prevention of Sexual Harassment, Exploitation and Abuse. 

Since I joined SOS Children's Villages in January 2021 as CEO, I have spoken to so many passionate colleagues, people who are incredibly dedicated to our mission and who go ‘above and beyond’ for the safety and wellbeing of children every single day. What unites us all is a desire that no child should grow up alone – every child needs someone who is there for them unconditionally. 

Creating the environment of safety, where each child's wellbeing can be ensured, remains our organization's highest priority and must be ingrained in absolutely everything we do. By transparently acknowledging where we have failed and sharing publically today the ICSR report, SOS Children's Villages is taking a step forward. 

 

Ingrid Maria Johansen 

CEO, SOS Children's Villages International 

 

The Independent Child Safeguarding Review, the Child Safeguarding Action Plan and further information on child safeguarding can be found  here.