by Jim Armstrong, Echoes International General Director

‘Do not hinder them’ – a rebuke from the Saviour to His disciples as they prevented children being brought to Him. With the best of intentions, the disciples were effectively becoming a barrier to those eager to meet the Lord. Children were, and still are, important to Him. Why? Well, as He went on to explain, ‘…the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these’ (Mt. 19:14). We live in a world blighted by sin and failure. The only answer to this terminal problem is the gospel revealing the Light of the World – the Saviour, our blessed Lord Jesus Christ.

We come across many things in the world that are reminders of the Fall and the brokenness of the human soul. Tragically, these include the abuse of children or the vulnerable by individuals who take advantage of their trusting nature. As we live in this tarnished world, we all need to be aware of these dangers to children and adults at risk, taking any steps we can to help prevent them from being harmed. This principle is integral to the heart of mission, whether serving overseas or within our home communities, as we seek to model the behaviour and teachings of our Lord (Mt. 28:20).

A Sobering Reminder

Unfortunately, across the UK between early 2015 and January 2020, of all known instances of abuse taking place, 11% (443 instances) were committed within a religious organisation or setting. Of 726 suspects, 10% were employed by, or linked to, a religious context. An IICSA report1 concluded that there is still significant under-reporting of events and indicated the organisations involved were guilty of ‘blatant hypocrisy and moral failings’. A similar phrase was used to describe the Oxfam scandal reaching headlines in early 2018 as problems within the charity were publicly exposed, causing reputational damage and media concern. After these events, the Charity Commission wrote to all registered charities, asking a basic question, ‘What are you doing to demonstrate you are taking Safeguarding seriously in your organisation?’

Our Response

The Trustees of Echoes International (EI) reviewed our practices and approach, and since then we have sought to take actions that are designed to:

  • protect the vulnerable – children and adults at risk2
  • protect those involved and associated with the charity
  • better protect the reputation and testimony of Echoes International.

In implementing these actions we are better able to answer the Charity Commission’s questions than before. It has been a catalyst to address omissions in our previous approach and helped prepare us to better deal with any safeguarding situations when or if they should arise. The following summarises

we seek to model the behaviour and teachings of our Lord

Echoes International’s Safeguarding Approach3

Recruitment
Actions – All trustees, volunteers and mission partners are required to meet our recruitment requirements before being associated with the charity.
Benefits – References and police checks are completed before association with EI.

Supporting
Actions – EI is determined only to be associated with individuals and organisations that take safeguarding equally seriously. Annual training is in place for trustees and staff, and for mission partners on commencement of service which is revisited every three years. All beneficiaries receiving gifts from, and through, EI have signed a commitment to the charity that they take safeguarding seriously and have practices in place to demonstrate this. Safeguarding is regularly discussed with all associated with the charity, either in debriefs or visits.
Benefits – Ongoing activities are in place to support safeguarding being part of our culture and our everyday practice, not just a policy that sits on a shelf.

‘I have just completed the training course. I found it very informative and most interesting and useful. Thank you for putting this at our reach.’ – mission partner

‘So glad that Echoes is stepping up on this because many we work with simply don’t.’ – mission partner

‘Thank you for setting out your position on safeguarding; it is reassuring that EI take these matters as seriously as they need to be.’ – sending church

Sharing
Actions – Safeguarding is discussed at each trustee meeting and regular meetings are held with the safeguarding trustee. A safeguarding register is kept. All staff and trustees are aware of appropriate response procedures, should a concern be raised, so that these are responded to immediately.
Benefits – EI operates a no-secrets policy. All issues are handled properly, recorded and signposted to the relevant level where required.

Investigating
Actions – Any concerns are reviewed and discussed with trustees regularly. Any allegations will be properly reviewed and discussed with the trustees within a set timescale. Any events, past or current, will be dealt with and flagged to the appropriate authority.
Benefits – Safeguarding is dealt with transparently across EI with mission partners, staff and trustees. The relevant authorities, both domestic and overseas, will be advised appropriately by the safeguarding lead within the charity.

Reflecting
Actions – We review our policy after every event as well as annually. External legal advice is sought on our policy and framework every three years. Each year we self-audit our policy and approach using 31:8’s self-audit tool.4
Benefits – We seek to ensure our policy and procedural framework are up to date and work as planned.5

More Than a Policy

This journey has started to address the safeguarding culture within EI. It is probably fair to say that in 2018 our initial approach was a to-do list to comply with the Charity Commission’s request. We have since moved on to recognise that safeguarding threads through almost every aspect of organisational life.

The Apostle Paul’s exhortation to the church in Philippi was to ‘…conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ’ (Phil. 1:27). We strive to meet this exhortation and endeavour to equip and support staff, trustees, mission partners and volunteers as they respond to this personal challenge.

As we seek to win others for Christ in a broken world, a child or vulnerable person should feel and be most safe wherever Christ is honoured and the gospel preached. Safeguarding the vulnerable is not only a responsibility but has significant missional opportunities. Where a life is not as valued as it should be or where individuals are commonly exploited by those in power, modelling these values and making sure our actions align with the words we speak in our daily lives and service can speak volumes.

Jesus said: ‘And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. If anyone causes one of these little ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come’ (Mt. 18:5-7). His words are chilling when applied to any incident where a child or vulnerable person is harmed in a place associated with the gospel.

Continuous Development

Organisations working internationally are rightfully now under as much scrutiny as those in the UK. As we seek to honour the gospel and the reputation of Echoes International, we are still developing our approach to safeguarding. It’s a journey we are happy to travel and we seek your prayer support as we continue.

Over the past 149 years thousands of brothers and sisters have served the Lord in many countries worldwide. We rejoice in what God has done since 1872, transforming lives in many different people groups and places. We look expectantly for this to continue as more are called to full-time cross-cultural service. Currently, more than 190 mission partners associated with EI are operating in 34 different countries. As we go, we need to be vigilant. People fail and succumb to sin and it’s important that we deal with these situations in a way that meets with Paul’s exhortation to conduct ourselves as those who follow the Saviour.

Our safeguarding policy can be obtained from the office and a summary is available on our website. www.echoesinternational.org.uk/safeguarding

1 These statistics are taken from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) report, published in early September 2021.
2 ‘Adult at Risk’ replaces the former term ‘vulnerable adults’ and is defined as any person aged 18 years or over and at risk of abuse or neglect because of their needs for care and or support (The Care Act 2014). This also encompasses the term ‘protected adult’ used in Scottish legislation.
3 Echoes International’s safeguarding approach from 2018.
4 W: thirtyoneeight.org
5 Our last policy update was January 2021. In addition to our safeguarding policy, a framework details the procedures followed across the charity.