Our Head of High Risk Services, Chris Lawton, discusses the challenge of designing safeguarding training for our Hostile Environment Courses.

Some years ago I was working in Kathmandu on preparedness for a major earthquake. I threw out questions and hoovered up data and responses from many sectors. I asked how many children would be left without any parents or family, unsupported, without shelter, food or water.

I remember the numbers were big. It struck me that the kids would be, I think, the most vulnerable. Protection networks, societal and familial, can be destroyed in an instant. Men, women and children can become dependent on aid, desperate for it. Informed and balanced consent – nigh impossible. Yet it is in exactly in this sphere that effective reporting and judiciously applied aid can have the greatest effect.

So how do we protect from harm in such situations – both for those who require support and those who deliver it?

Safeguarding. This is the mitigation to this vulnerability.

Piloting a safeguarding component into our hostile environment course for HMG Stabilisation Unit would never be simple. But as I discussed with their leadership, we realised we must simply start. The consequences of waiting any longer mean that the holistic and cultural change that is required to build an effective safeguarding structure will never happen. As a result overseas and aid organisations will remain vulnerable to the negligence and abuse of the positions of power in which they should be able to trust their teams to do the right thing.

I am so glad we did. The learning that emerges from a focused session is powerful. It covers actions that an individual can take, what an organisation can do and asks questions to which there are rarely clear answers and heightens awareness of that which may not be known or seen. It calls upon honesty, integrity and value driven professional and personal behaviour – supported by organisational will and a culture of interest and exploration – actively looking for questions to ask – and demanding the highest levels of conduct. At best this is supported by clear red lines and swift, proportional, action by management.

Our clients are practitioners. Many have incredible examples of the bravest and most difficult of safeguarding actions – including self recognition and policing, as well as those who have seen safeguarding failings at their chilling worst. From these everyone on our courses can learn a lot.

There is one area on which I can be very clear. Safeguarding is in place to prevent harm, for all who live and work in fragile and unstable areas. The principles that can be discovered, however, will be equally applicable to any environment. I think from now on, this will become an integral part of our training proposition.