Save the Children can resume funding bids following sexual abuse scandal

By Karen McVeigh

The charity Save the Children can resume bids for government funding after it withdrew from the process two years ago over a sexual misconduct scandal.

The charity, one of the largest British recipients of government funding, receiving £139m in 2017, had taken “significant steps” to improve safeguarding and now meets government standards, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office confirmed on Thursday.

The charity said it had made safeguarding a main feature of staff training, introducing a “new set of behaviours” for leaders, and increased the size of its safeguarding HR team. It had also signed up to the government’s misconduct disclosure scheme, which aims to stop sexual abusers moving from one aid group to another, by allowing employers to share misconduct data.

In March, the Charity Commission said Save the Children had let down staff and the public over its handling of alleged sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour by senior managers, including former chief executive Justin Forsyth, and Brendan Cox, former policy director and the widow of murdered MP Jo Cox.

The commission began its review in 2018 when a series of allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation hit Britain’s aid sector.

In response to the crisis, the government held a safeguarding summit, proposing a series of reforms to tackle abuse in the sector. They included working with Interpol to improve criminal record checks of aid workers, funding a new aid worker registration scheme, and backing tougher checks for staff misconduct.

But in July this year, safeguarding experts told MPs from the International Development Committee that sexual abuse and exploitation was still widespread in the aid industry.

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said on Thursday: “We take a zero-tolerance approach to sexual abuse, harassment and exploitation, and we are taking action to stamp it out of the aid sector to protect the most vulnerable people.”

Watkins said: “Save the Children has accepted and acted on all the Charity Commission’s recommendations. We will continue to strive for a working culture built on kindness, respect and fairness.”

Asmita Naik, co-author of research published in 2002 that exposed sexual abuse by aid workers in west Africa, said: “The real story is the government didn’t do anything. Save the Children UK voluntarily stopped applying for grants for a short while in response to a global scandal. Now it’s decided to apply again and is welcomed with open arms.”