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Save the Children accepts Charity Commission report and apologises

Save the Children UK has accepted in full the findings of a Charity Commission report published today on its response to complaints against two former senior executives.

The Commission announced a statutory inquiry nearly two years ago into Save the Children UK’s response to complaints made in 2012 and 2015 against Justin Forsyth, its former CEO; and in 2015 against Brendan Cox, a former policy and advocacy director.

The Commission found that the charity mismanaged the complaints about Justin Forsyth’s behaviour. Its report highlights a failure to carry out formal investigations into the complaints, which were resolved instead through personal apologies. The Commission has said the complaints against Justin Forsyth should have been reported to Save the Children UK’s full board when they arose. It has also criticised the charity for not identifying him in a report made to the regulator at the time.

The inquiry states that ‘the allegations were not brushed under the carpet’ but notes that trust in the processes for handling complaints was ‘undermined by a failure to fully implement them properly and consistently’. The complaints against Brendan Cox were formally investigated in a manner the Commission describes as prompt and responsible. But he resigned before a disciplinary hearing could be held.

Kevin Watkins, who became CEO in 2016, having previously served on the Board, said: “I unreservedly apologise to the women affected by the behaviour of these two senior executives. The harm they suffered was compounded by a failure to respond appropriately to complaints and then by our defensive handling of media inquiries about the cases.

“Our staff are passionate about our work for children. They have a right to expect the highest standards of support and protection. I’m determined to work with them to build an organisational culture that reflects our values."

Charles Steel, the interim chair, added: “The trustees and leadership fully accept these findings and we are profoundly sorry that we let the women and our organisation down. The inquiry makes clear that every part of our organisation must be held to account for our duty of care to staff and for living up to our values. While we are making progress in improving our culture, we have more work to do, and this will continue to be a critical priority for our organisation.

“We must repay the trust of our staff and supporters. Only with that trust can we fulfil our mission to help the children who need us most.”

The Commission said the charity was unduly defensive in responses to media coverage in 2018 which did not give ‘sufficient consideration to the impact’ on the women who had made complaints.

However, the inquiry recognised Save the Children UK’s ‘positive and responsible attitude towards admitting past mistakes’ and noted ‘significant progress’ made since 2015, particularly since the charity commissioned an independent review of office culture in 2018. The review, carried out by Dr Suzanne Shale, found that the charity had become more respectful and supportive but made a series of recommendations for further action.

In 2019, the charity appointed a full-time team and senior director to lead changes to the charity’s culture. Save the Children UK strengthened reporting and whistleblowing policies which allow staff to raise concerns anonymously and committed itself to independently investigating any future allegations against executives or trustees.

The charity has also brought in new HR leadership and safeguarding expertise; and improved board diversity.

A second review by Dr Shale last December independently assessed the charity’s progress. It said Save the Children UK was ‘open, honest and humble about the charity’s imperfections and limitations, whilst still pursuing high ambitions to learn and improve’. It noted the charity had accomplished many of its initial goals in a drive to change the working culture of the organisation and was effectively involving staff in the changes, but needed to ensure it sustained progress.

Notes to editors:

·         The report of the Charity Commission’s inquiry into Save the Children UK is published today.

·         The Commission announced in April 2018 it had opened a statutory inquiry into the charity’s handling of allegations against two former executives and its subsequent actions.

·         Justin Forsyth was appointed CEO in 2010. He was accused of inappropriate conduct towards a member of staff in 2012 and apologised. In early 2015, two other women complained that he had made inappropriate comments. These complaints also prompted apologies. The first complainant then lodged a formal grievance over the organisation’s handling of the cases and a whistleblowing report was made by another staff member about the management of the cases. Justin Forsyth’s resignation was accepted by the Board of Trustees in late 2015.

·         A further complaint of inappropriate behaviour was made against Brendan Cox, the charity’s then policy and advocacy director, in 2015. An investigation was conducted and a disciplinary panel set up, but Brendan Cox resigned before it could hear the case. Save the Children UK took legal advice and decided against proceeding with the case in his absence.

·         Kevin Watkins became CEO in 2016 after previously serving as a trustee of Save the Children UK. Following media reports in 2018 about sexual misconduct in the aid sector, the charity commissioned an independent review of the charity’s working culture by Dr Suzanne Shale, an independent expert on workplace ethics.

·         The independent review was published in full here. Dr Shale made five recommendations: 1) Save the Children UK should work collaboratively with staff to strengthen its culture; 2) Its strategy should include a comprehensive plan to reduce workplace incivility and give employees the practical and emotional support they need; 3) It should achieve a more ethnically and socially diverse workforce and Board of Trustees; 4) It should review arrangements for whistleblowing; and 5) It should ensure its HR department was effective.

·         An independent progress report in December, also published in full here, praised the organisation’s response to date but said there was still more work to do.

·         The Inquiry found that:

o   The charity failed to follow its own processes consistently when staff made allegations of inappropriate conduct against the charity’s CEO in 2012 and 2015.

o   The decision to deal with those complaints informally, rather than to investigate them fully, ran counter to the charity’s own disciplinary procedures.

o   The whole trustee body was not made aware of important issues as early as it should have been.

o   The trustee body was not informed of allegations made against the charity’s CEO in 2012, and did not receive a copy of the full findings of an external report on corporate culture in 2015.

o   The charity failed to identify the chief executive as the subject of harassment complaints when it made a serious incident report to the regulator in 2015.

For more information, contact Sean Ryan on s.ryan@savethechildren.org.uk or 07831 350233 / 020 7012 6841

To read the Charity Commission report, click here

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