Statement – February 15 2018

Statement on child safeguarding and reporting

Universal child safeguarding policies, practices and reporting – SOS Children’s Villages acts swiftly to protect children within its federation and in partnership with the civil society sector.

SOS Children’s Villages operates in 135 countries and territories including societies devastated by war, political unrest, epidemics or natural disasters. The organisation employs 40,000 staff and at any one time will have close to 600,000 children and young people in its care who have lost parental care or are at risk of losing it.

As an unfortunate consequence of the trauma and violence they have often previously experienced, either at the hands of their families, previous care placements or communities, some children in our care can be more easily victimised by further violence. The alternative care we provide to 84,500 children worldwide is also unique in its model – it is night-and-day, long-term in nature, and this creates a close, family-like setting for the children. The bonds developed between child and caregiver allow for a vulnerable child to heal, to grow and to forge his/her own future in a stable, reliable and loving environment.

There is no doubt, however, that the intense proximity of our care combined with the challenging needs of the children and the difficult circumstances in which we operate means there is greater child safeguarding risk in our work. In 2016, we confirmed 21 cases of sexual abuse or coercion perpetrated by staff members across our federation. These were all cases in which a child or young person in our care was compelled to participate in or interact with a sexual activity in a variety of ways. 

When any allegation is received through our reporting mechanisms or whistleblowing channels, we investigate. When a complaint is verified, we act. If an allegation is of a criminal nature, we immediately refer cases to relevant competent authorities. We also inform governments and advise statutory donors according to both their requirements and our internal practices. The protection of the children and young people in our care is central to all that we do, and we do not hesitate to suspend staff right away and then terminate contracts when such terrible cases happen.  
But every case remains one case too many. We cannot rest until we have taken every possible measure to eliminate abuse.

In recognition of the inherent risks in our work, we chose to create our own reporting and record-keeping system for child safeguarding in 2008, building on our universal child safeguarding and reporting policies and procedures. In September 2017, following an assessment of current child safeguarding practices, SOS Children’s Villages became one of only four organisations in the child care sector globally to be granted Level 1 Certification by Keeping Children Safe (KCS), a well-respected international child safeguarding organisation that developed the International Child Safeguarding Standards.

During the last week, like many of our peers in the civil society sector, we have continued to ask ourselves how best to ensure that our policies and practices in prevention, response and reporting are comprehensive, well-implemented and transparent. We all must reach this goal without delay.
Within our federation, we have resolved specifically to accelerate the ongoing roll-out of new tools related to child safeguarding investigations, to enhance our ability to collect and report data in real-time by better leveraging technology, and to sharpen the language in our Code of Conduct related to sexual exploitation and harassment in alignment with a current update to our programme quality standards policy. Along with our NGO peers, we are also participating in rapidly-forming sector-wide efforts to develop common standards and systems related to improving safeguarding globally. As a board member of the International Civil Society Centre, SOS Children’s Villages International affirmed our commitments to this end in an announcement released on 26 February 2018.   
Notes to editors:
About the children and youth in SOS Children’s Villages’ care: At any one time, we will have over 84,500 children and young people to which SOS Children’s Villages is either a guardian or child care practitioner and to which it provides housing, education and healthcare. Additionally, over 500,000 children are supported by our family strengthening and emergency response programmes.
Sexual abuse or coercion statistics from 2016: SOS Children’s Villages had previously reported 37 cases of confirmed sexual abuse or coercion in 2016. Since this statistic was reported last week, the federation has executed a forensic-like audit of this data based on which a revision needed to be made. Cases that were not related to coercion, sexual assault or inappropriate behaviour by an SOS staff member but rather to a physical act by a child on a child had been accounted for by some member associations, and these cases have now been properly categorised in our records.

Reporting to national and statutory authorities: At all times, SOS Children’s Villages’ member associations operate in compliance with the national law. Following an internal or third-party investigation, if an allegation of a criminal nature is confirmed, it is the policy of SOS Children’s Villages to immediately report it to the appropriate national law enforcement authorities and provide support if an investigation is launched.

Keeping Children Safe (KCS) Level One Certification: Level 1 Certification means that the organisation has developed a child safeguarding framework that, when implemented, protects children from harm and if a child safeguarding incident should occur SOS Children’s Villages has the appropriate response mechanisms in place. Our Child Protection Policy implementation is monitored on annual basis through a survey adapted from a tool developed by KCS based on five criteria: the policy in practice, staff compliance, risk assessment and planning for child safeguarding, implementing, monitoring and review.

Reporting: Our child safeguarding policies are universal. Both children and adults are trained to report any concerns, safeguarding issues and corruption via a range of reporting mechanisms. To ensure accessibility and confidentiality of reporting – especially for children – an easy to use and secure whistleblowing channel was launched on SOS Children’s Villages International website. This channel can be used to report child safeguarding concerns. These are then managed by our specialist department for Care and Child Safeguarding. Children are also made aware of a dedicated child safeguarding focal person in their location.

Sector-wide initiatives in which we are participating: As a board member of the International Civil Society Centre and a member of Accountable Now, we are engaged in discussions with peer organisations as to how to improve child safeguarding practice and reporting globally. Initiatives currently under discussion range from developing and adhering to joint-reporting standards to donors and the public about our child safeguarding failures to prototyping vetting or accreditation systems for use in staff recruitment worldwide.
Media contact:
Bertil Videt
Head of Global Communications