The Learning Post: insights from UK Aid Direct and UK Aid Match

Safeguarding: top tips and best practice

Episode Summary

In this episode, we speak to Laura Spilsbury, Operations Manager and Safeguarding Lead for UK Aid Match and UK Aid Direct, about some key learnings and good examples of safeguarding practice from across the UK Aid Match and UK Aid Direct portfolio.

Episode Transcription

Chinedu Okonkwo (00:09): Welcome to The Learning Post, a podcast dedicated to sharing insights from UK Direct and UK Aid Match Funds. My name is Chinedu Okonkwo and I'm a Grants Officer with UK Aid Match and UK Aid Direct, as well as your host for this episode.

Chinedu Okonkwo (00:24):
In this episode, we speak to Laura Spilsbury, Operations Manager and Safeguarding Lead at UK Aid Direct and UK Aid Match, about some key elements of FCDO safeguarding policies and good examples from across the portfolio. Thanks for joining us today, Laura. My first question is what are some key aspects of FCDO safeguarding policies, and what is the expectation on UK Aid Match and UK Aid Direct grant holders?

Laura Spilsbury (00:54):
Ultimately, FCDO want to ensure that anyone they partner with, including grant holders, have in place effective measures that enable their organisations to prevent and respond to safeguarding incidents, particularly those related to sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment. FCDO expects grant holders to meet its enhanced safeguarding standards, and these standards cover six pillars, which include safeguarding, whistle blowing, human resources, code of conduct, risk management, and governance and accountability.

Laura Spilsbury (01:28):
I won't go into the standards or the pillars in too much detail. They're widely available on the website. However, to touch on what we expect from grant holders, it's to ensure that, first and foremost, they meet the minimum safeguarding standards. This is something that we assess at due diligence stage and prior to grant setup. Crucially, it's then about ensuring that they have in place at project level strong safeguarding measures that will help to prevent a safeguarding incident from occurring in the first place. So, safe recruitment measures, thorough project and organizational risk management, a strong code of conduct, to name a few strong safeguarding measures.

Laura Spilsbury (02:10):
It's then also about ensuring that staff understand safeguarding and the organisation's and project's approach to safeguarding. So, providing regular and thorough training to staff that goes beyond simply talking them through the safeguarding policy, but also focuses on what the organisation's approach and the project's approach is around safeguarding. Grant holders also need to make sure the individuals, communities, and stakeholders they work with also understand their approach to safeguarding.

Laura Spilsbury (02:41):
It's important to recognise here that safeguarding is a Western term, a Western concept, so grant holders need to think about how you translate this in a meaningful way. They need to make sure they're engaging at regular intervals and ensuring that, should they have a concern whilst engaging in the project or within the organisation, that they know how to report that concern and that, ultimately, they feel comfortable doing so because they know that it'll be acted on in an appropriate way.

Laura Spilsbury (03:14):
Finally, I think grant holders should be creating a culture within their organisation, which champions safeguarding, ensures it's at the forefront of staff and stakeholders' minds, and that individuals, feel comfortable raising concerns, knowing that it will be dealt with in an appropriate manner. They're the things that we are expecting from grant holders.

Chinedu Okonkwo (03:39):
What are some of the common challenges you see grant holders run into, and do you have any tips for overcoming these challenges?

Laura Spilsbury (03:46):
No grant holder is immune from a safeguarding incident occurring, and FCDO won't penalise grant holders for incidents that occur. I think it's really important to note this, a lot can be learned from the lessons that grant holders have noted following incidents, particularly in terms of those common gaps or weaknesses that have been identified. I think it's helpful to note a few of these.

Laura Spilsbury (04:13):
We sometimes see grant holders reporting incidents a few months after they have happened. They should be reported straight away as soon as they become aware of them. There can be a variety of reasons for the delay. However, common reasons are that reporting mechanisms in place are weak. So, perhaps an individual doesn't know how to raise a concern, and then doesn't do so until after it has happened.

Laura Spilsbury (04:41):
It's really important to acknowledge the power dynamics that exist in the work that we do. So, it could be the dynamics between someone and their manager, or it could be the power dynamics between a beneficiary and field staff member. If there is a delay in reporting, it may be because of the power dynamics and a weaker safeguarding culture, which means individuals haven't felt comfortable coming forward and raising a concern.

Laura Spilsbury (05:09):
It's really important that a strong culture is championed from the trustee and senior leadership level down to project level staff, and that everyone understands how to report a concern and knows that it'll be dealt with in an appropriate manner. Grant holders should be considering the type of reporting mechanisms they have in place and whether they're accessible for all. It's no good just having a suggestion box where people are required to write down their concern if you are working with primarily beneficiaries who are highly illiterate, or having a mobile phone hotline as your primary reporting mechanism if you're working with beneficiaries many of whom don't have access to a mobile phone. They should ensure that there are a variety of mechanisms to report concerns.

Laura Spilsbury (06:04):
At times, incidents have occurred due to poor project design, as well, or failure to consider key safeguarding risks before implementation. Prior to designing a project, it's really important that thought is given to potential safeguarding risks and appropriate mitigation actions put in place.

Laura Spilsbury (06:27):
At the project design stage, grant holders should include field level staff and the wider team, potentially even their stakeholders, so that all feel engaged in ensuring that the project is designed in a way to prevent and respond to safeguarding incidents. And from that point, it's then about proactive management of safeguarding risks at the project level. The project level risk register should be regularly reviewed, and it should always include the key safeguarding risks.

Laura Spilsbury (06:58):
To be honest there, there are lots of challenges that grant holders face, but hopefully that gives a bit of a flavour of some of the key ones.

Chinedu Okonkwo (07:07):
Are there any examples of innovative thinking around safeguarding that you would like to highlight?

Laura Spilsbury (07:13):
We have some fantastic examples of management of safeguarding across both the UK Aid Direct and UK Aid Match portfolio. We've especially seen this during COVID-19, where there's undoubtedly been an increased risk around safeguarding, particularly during periods of lockdown or when grant holders haven't been able to deliver their projects in the same way or engage with their beneficiaries.

Laura Spilsbury (07:42):
One of our grant holders, who work with vulnerable women and girls, recognised the increased risk around gender-based violence during lockdown, so they created infomercials, which were played on the radio, encouraging community members to be vigilant around gender-based and domestic violence. They also mapped out the key services that were available so that, if one of their beneficiaries did come forward and say that they've been a victim of, say, domestic violence, they would obviously make sure that they safeguarded that individual, but they would already have the services mapped out that they could refer them to, so that they could react quite quickly.

Laura Spilsbury (08:25):
Another grant holder, whose project supports children with disabilities and their carers, created safeguarding resources, which included a video, which was loaded onto tablets that they gave out to their beneficiaries. That was to ensure that their safeguarding approach was accessible to the parents of children with complex disabilities. Some of it was about ensuring that they understood the reporting mechanisms, but also that they could spot any concerns or signs that there may be something not quite right, and that they knew how to raise that.

Laura Spilsbury (09:07):
One of our grant holders, who has been delivering a project supporting youth living in refugee hosting communities, they created posters with safeguarding information and the reporter mechanisms available. They were translated into local languages and displayed in areas where the youth they were working with gathered. So, it could be at water points, or it could be at offices or health centres, just to make sure that their safeguarding message was as accessible as possible in getting out to where the youth might be.

Laura Spilsbury (09:44):
We've got lots of examples, and we've got more of these examples available on the UK Aid Direct website. I definitely recommend grant holders go and take a look. We've done two additions of case studies around practical safeguarding measures. In terms of our UK Aid Match grant holders, we've had some really fantastic examples featured in some of our discussion series and other webinars. I definitely recommend that grant holders go to the UK Aid Direct and UK Aid Match website to see what others are doing across the portfolio in terms of preventing, or being in a position to prevent and respond to, safeguarding incidents.

Chinedu Okonkwo (10:25):
Thanks for your time, Laura. To find more examples of good safeguarding practice, head over to the learning and resource section on the UK Aid Direct website at, and don't forget to subscribe to The Learning Post, so you don't miss any future episodes. Thank you for listening.