Thirtyone:eight are an independent Christian charity that helps individuals, organisations, charities, faith, and community groups to protect vulnerable people from abuse [1].

Their vision is a world where every child and adult can feel and be safe. To achieve this vision, they work together with a network of thousands of organisations across the UK, helping them to create safer places.

Thirtyone:eight’s safeguarding training and support cover the following areas:

  • DBS service
  • Policy support
  • Training
  • Consultancy
  • Audits and reviews
  • Risk assessments
  • Case reviews

They believe in creating an environment where policies and procedures are not just taking up space on the bookshelf. Policies will only ‘live and breathe’ if they are well-planted and maintained.

What is Needed to Implement Safeguarding Effectively?

No amount of good safeguarding policy and procedure will create safer practice if the culture and its supporting systems are inadequate.

A solely ‘solution-focused’ approach to the implementation of policies and procedures will miss opportunities to set the culture in stone. Developing culture is far harder than writing policy – it takes time, effort, and determination to succeed.

Trustees and senior leadership teams are responsible for beginning this process and sticking with it until results are seen. It must be driven by those who are committed to seeing a change where necessary.

Policy implementation is not just an output-driven task where a policy is written, approved, and disseminated. It is better measured in terms of the outcomes it achieves – such outputs may not always be quickly evident.

Rushing to draft and embed policies and procedures will fail if the groundwork is not prepared in advance.

Safer, Healthier, Culture and Systems

Thirtyone:eight has developed a safeguarding mapping system that can be embedded within an organisation to work towards creating a safer and healthier culture.

They have proposed 6 areas of focus:

  • Stories and commentary
  • Symbolism and messaging
  • Power dynamics
  • Structure and rules
  • Control systems
  • Customs and habits

This has been used to good effect in a range of settings where Thirtyone:eight has worked undertaking complex case reviews, culture reviews and lessons learned reviews.

They have encouraged full exploration of this framework as a backdrop for any organisation that is reviewing the effectiveness of its safeguarding policies. It was initially developed for use within faith-based contexts but is equally well adapted for any context or sector.

Stories and Commentary

Senior leaders need to take control of the narrative in their safeguarding procedures. The past events and experiences that people talk about when referring to the setting or organisation and how it operates, should all be positive.

However, organisations should be open to learning from past mistakes and difficult events. They should not be hidden; history and legacy are to be seen as a journey where both positive and negative aspects can be discussed openly as means of growing together.

Senior leaders should demonstrate a commitment to change and improve their organisation. They should create opportunities to hear different perspectives and lived experiences at the organisation.

Voices from outside the organisation should also be heard, and learning built on a firm foundation of humility, having listened to as many opinions and perspectives as possible. Especially, from victims and survivors where harm and abuse have occurred.

Symbolism and Messaging

The visual identity of an organisation and what messages it conveys in relation to its values, culture, mission, and vision, is crucial to actively promote safeguarding.

It should be clear that the organisation is committed to safer practice and the maintenance of a safer place for all. All opportunities are to be taken for concerns to be raised and for difficult conversations to be held where necessary.

A safer, healthier organisation is aware of how every person must play their part to create a safer place. This should be supported by visible publications, corporate-level learning, training for workers and the way teams are recruited and supported. An inclusive approach should deliberately reach beyond its comfort zone.

Safeguarding is actively promoted as integral to the purpose and vision of the organisation and a negative, tick-box, bureaucratic approach is challenged appropriately.

Consistent messaging concerning safeguarding should be evident across all areas of activity. It should be communicated in a way that is supported appropriately through evidence-based exploration and due attention to the role of other organisations and agencies.

Power Dynamics

Organisations should ask themselves where the formal and informal power lies. What is the role of leadership in decision-making? How empowering and inclusive is the environment?

Power and its place within the organisation should be understood. It should be openly discussed, shared, and given away by those that have it to those that do not (or who have less). Leaders and people of influence should hold themselves to account for how they use their power and be prepared to be appropriately and constructively challenged.

In a safer, healthier organisation, the relationship between power and vulnerability is understood and mitigating measures are active in reducing the likelihood of abuses of power. It understands that power can create vulnerability in others and that it is used best when it is demonstrated with vulnerability, humility, and servanthood.

Those in positions of leadership should both nurture those in their care and are themselves nurtured and supported through appropriate mechanisms that encourage healthy accountability and minimise the risk of any misuse or abuse of power.

Leaders in safer, healthier organisations should model humility and integrity and are supported to be self-reflective and self-regulating in any areas that may disrupt the appropriate use of power in any given relationship of trust. The role of leaders is to guide and empower others through their application of ongoing learning.

Structure and Rules

To elevate safeguarding policies in an organisation, senior leaders should review the written and unwritten structures, reporting lines and accountabilities that exist within the setting or organisation.

Structures within safer, healthier organisations should be clearly designed in a way that provides an Customs and Habitsopportunity for inclusion, diversity, and the maintenance of cultures in which values, beliefs, attitudes and practices are transparent and productive. Those structures should be clearly communicated so that responsibilities are reasonable and transparently applied.

Those in positions of leadership, management and influence should be open to challenge, scrutiny, accountability, and outside support where necessary. The organisation should resist practices that create unrealistic expectations of its staff and volunteers, and should actively challenge cultures and constructs that create pedestals for its leaders.

The emotional health of staff and volunteers should be valued and nurtured within its structures. The need for development is not seen as a personal or professional weakness but understood as a part of the journey of growth for all regardless of position.

The ways in which the organisation operates should be consistent and appropriately applied to prevent the development of unofficial or ‘shadow’ cultures and practices that are counter to the stated ethos and expectations.

Control Systems

Everyone in a position of responsibility should be clear about the policy position, practices, and procedures of the organisation, being empowered to operate with integrity without confusion or contradiction.

Expectations need to be made clear and be appropriately communicated within a supportive environment that welcomes feedback and constructive challenge and scrutiny. The responsibilities of governance and leadership are understood and the relationship between them is subject to continual review.

Where difficulties arise and the systems employed have not produced the results intended, the safer, healthier organisation is open to the input of independent, external advisors to assist in their learning lessons for future improvement.

A safer, healthier organisation resists the development of dogmatic and dictatorial approaches to leadership, management, and influence. Control and influence are carefully monitored to ensure the difference between appropriate control systems and coercive behaviours are managed to avoid difficulties arising.

Organisations that encourage respectful challenge, questions and the raising of concerns benefit from a diversity of views and experiences being shared. A universal agreement may not always be possible and where there is disagreement, this needs to be managed carefully in ways that continue to show respect, valuing people with different views to our own.

Customs and Habits

The way that expectations, ethos, and principles are communicated should be open and transparent so that all understand and can be clear about how this relates to their own position, attitudes, and beliefs.

Messages that are communicated through leaders and others of influence are consistent with their own demonstratable practice – i.e., ‘they talk the talk and walk the walk’.

Constantly reviewing the culture of an organisation helps to ensure the integrity of the organisation and its core attitudes and beliefs. Awareness of how customs, habits and use of language may be perceived and received by others is an important factor in how a safer, healthier organisation is able to serve others effectively and inclusively through its activities.

Planting Culture in Fertile Ground

Overall, thirtyone:eight want to enforce that culture is the fertile ground in which to grow a safer, healthier environment. If the ground is not enriched with positive nutrients and maintained to prevent the growth of weeds and toxins, implementation efforts will not achieve maximum success.

[1] Thirtyone:eight

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Thirtyone:eight are a faith-based charity that strive to assist organisations in creating a safer and more inclusive culture in their workplace. This case study explores thirtyone:eight’s guiding principles for organisations to follow when looking to improve their safeguarding strategy.

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