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Dealing with safeguarding concerns as a CEO

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Dealing with safeguarding concerns

You need to start with a clear understanding of what to do when someone speaks up about a safeguarding worry. Before you look at this detailed guide about the distribution of roles, you should:

  • make sure you know the reporting procedures for your organisation
  • make sure that these are up to date with the current reporting requirements and expectations set by your local authority; these will be different for children and adults at risk
  • make sure you’re familiar with your responsibilities for reporting allegations and incidents to other bodies such as the Charity Commission or the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). If you need help with this you can use our page on reporting to regulators, which is part of our guide for designated safeguarding leads.
  • If you're working with children use this explanation of key legislation regarding reporting (from NSPCC Learning).

Safeguarding concerns can come from both inside and outside the organisation. They happen when people find the right way to speak up for them. That might come from:

  • someone speaking up using your safeguarding policy and procedures
  • someone speaking up using your whistleblowing policy or bullying and sexual harassment policy
  • someone notifying local authority social care or children’s services
  • someone notifying the police
  • someone notifying regulators or inspection bodies
  • helplines including the Charity Commission’s whistleblowing line, NHS, QCQ, NSPCC’s helpline or Childline
  • a notification from a disclosure and barring check.

Your role as CEO for any safeguarding case that comes through internal channels is to take a strategic view and work closely with the designated safeguarding lead who will manage the case.

Use the points below in addition to your own policies and procedures.

When you hear about the concern


  • Review whether you need to inform the chair of trustees, the lead trustee for safeguarding or the Charity Commission and also inform the designated safeguarding lead.

Designated safeguarding lead:

  • Review all the information.
  • Decide if any emergency action is needed.
  • Make a decision about what information needs to be provided to which agencies in a timely way.
  • Advise the CEO of the situation and inform them of any referrals made to statutory services.

Planning the next steps


  • Make sure your designated safeguarding lead has enough time, resources and support, providing cover for their other work if needed.
  • Set out a plan for them to report back on the case to you.
  • In a rare instance of a major or systemic concern, you may need to decide if the case is significant enough to need a subcommittee or working group.

Designated safeguarding lead:

  • Advise the CEO of your actions and any information which might need to be shared with the senior leadership or trustees.
  • Tell the CEO if you feel that the case may be significant enough to need a subcommittee or working group.
  • Coordinate that group and help it set out what kind of review it needs to do and then support its work.

Keeping things moving


  • Agree a plan with the chair and the lead trustee on how you’ll update them.
  • Continually make sure the designated safeguarding lead has the right support in place.
  • If necessary, work with trustees and your communications teams to manage media engagement.
  • Develop both internal and external communications plan for the case.

Designated safeguarding lead:

  • Make sure all records are clear, signed, dated, timed and stored securely. Let the person who raised the concern know that action is being taken.
  • Keep all information sharing on a ‘need to know’ basis only.
  • Attend any multi-agency meetings, complete any external reports required and update internal records throughout.

Next steps


  • Review the case with the designated safeguarding lead.
  • Report back to trustees on learning and changes to policy and procedures as a result of that learning.
  • Continue to respond to any media issues.

Designated safeguarding lead:

  • When the case is closed, review the records for learning points to raise with the CEO.
  • Share agreed learning points across the organisation.
  • Update policies and procedures when this is needed.
  • Understand what your role is in the communications plan.

On an external case, as CEO you might take a more operational role as well as providing the strategic lead.

If a concern or allegation was raised against your designated safeguarding lead, you need to make sure someone else carries out their usual role. Often, the CEO would take the operational role (their role above) and you would ask your chair or lead trustee for safeguarding to take the strategic lead. You should make sure the same provisions of time and emotional support are available to the person taking the place of the usual designated safeguarding lead.

Providing support

As CEO, you’re responsible for making sure your organisation recognises that it has responsibilities towards a trustee, staff member or volunteer that is the subject of a safeguarding allegation. You must continue to support a staff member or trustee even if they’re suspended. And you should consider the needs of a volunteer who has been asked to stop carrying out their role. This is most important when they are no longer in day-to-day contact with the charity.

The best solution is to appoint a ‘link person’ from the charity. This should be someone not involved in the investigation in any way. They can reduce stress and anxiety by keeping the individual up to date with the progress of the safeguarding investigation with information they’ve been authorised to share.

You can also help the subject of the investigation find welfare support services, like those provided by an existing employee assistance programme.

These include:

  • GP services
  • union representatives
  • Samaritans
  • other national charities like NSPCC
  • professional bodies or organisations
  • national domestic abuse helplines.

Safeguarding concerns about senior staff and trustees

Safeguarding concerns about your senior staff and trustees should be treated as seriously and impartially as any other allegations. It’s vital to have clear, robust whistleblowing and allegation management – and disciplinary policies and procedures in place for this.

If a case arises you must quickly establish:

  • how the chair of the board or lead trustee for safeguarding will support you
  • if you have a lead HR officer who can give you additional support
  • whether you want to seek additional short term external consultancy support.

After that, there are a number of questions to ask when dealing with any case, but these become increasingly important if a senior staff member or trustee is involved.

Choosing the investigation officer

  • Are they senior enough for the investigation?
  • Do they have the skills, knowledge and capacity to undertake the role including working with the local authority designated officer (LADO)?
  • Are you confident they can compile an independent and comprehensive report outlining their findings, conclusions and recommendations and present it to the board?
  • If you decide on using an external officer, are they suitable for the role? As a minimum, have you carried out disclosure and barring service checks?

Getting the right support in place for the investigation

  • Do you have enough budget to cover the costs of the investigation?
  • Can you provide dedicated support with note-taking and other administrative tasks?
  • Have you made it clear to other staff and volunteers that they must attend interviews if needed?
  • Have you got suitable confidential meeting areas for interviews, possibly outside your offices?
  • Have you set a timeframe for the investigation?
  • How will communications with you be managed?
  • Have you considered finding an advocate or other organisation to support people who want to speak up during the investigation?

Supporting the senior member of staff or trustee

  • Who will be the link person between the organisation and staff member or trustee that can support them independently and objectively during the investigation?
  • Are there any external agencies or organisations that could support them?
  • How will support continue after any investigation, including cases where the investigation found the claim was not upheld?
  • How will their feedback on the experience be captured and inform future work?

Wider aspects

  • How will you manage communication both internally and externally?
  • Who will you have available to assist you? (such as the communications team)
  • How will you keep the board updated?
  • How will you advise the Charity Commission of the case and the outcome of the investigation?
  • When it’s finished, how will you share learning from the investigation to the board, senior management, staff, volunteers and external bodies?

Last reviewed: 06 December 2018

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 06 December 2018

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