human development, social justice and sustainable social systems


What is safeguarding?

Safeguarding is the duty of organisations, particularly those in the humanitarian, development and social sector like Caritas, to ensure their staff, operations and programmes do not cause any harm to anyone, especially to children and vulnerable adults. This also includes the responsibility of not exposing them to the risk of harm or abuse, including of a sexual nature. Organisations also have a responsibility to safeguard their own staff from the same.

Furthermore, organisations must ensure mechanisms are in place to report concerns without fear of repercussion, and to respond appropriately when harm does occur. Caritas has invested substantial resources in strengthening safeguarding standards around the world. Policies and procedures are made available on this page, and we summarise some of the main safeguarding aspects that every Caritas organisation should consider.

The objective of these documents is to ensure your Caritas becomes absolutely safe.

Caritas Internationalis developed an introductory e-learning course ‘Introduction to Safeguarding’ that is available on Baobab. This  course takes around one hour to complete, and it can be used both to introduce staff to the topic or as refresher course.

Code of Conduct and Code of Ethics

Two important documents for every Caritas are the Code of Ethics and the Code of Conduct.

Caritas Internationalis adopted its current Code of Ethics in 2014. It describes the values and principles to which all national Caritas organisations and staff and volunteers are expected to adhere. Caritas organisations are expected to adopt this Code of Ethics or to develop their own as long as both are consistent. This Code should be included in the human resource policies and all staff and volunteers, as well as board members, consultants and service providers should abide by it.

The Code of Conduct was also adopted in 2014. It lays out the attitude and behaviour that all Caritas staff are expected to model. The Code of Conduct derives from the Code of Ethics. Both documents are closely interlinked. Caritas directors need to ensure all staff know and understand the Code of Conduct and commit to upholding it.

The Code of Conduct should be reviewed and updated regularly.

The Caritas Internationalis Code of Ethics & Code of Conduct for Staff is available on Baobab.

Safeguarding policy

Every Caritas organisation is required to adopt a safeguarding policy. This policy should describe how the organisation expects its staff and volunteers to protect children and vulnerable adults from all forms of exploitation and abuse. Caritas Internationalis developed such a policy in 2018. The Caritas Children and Vulnerable Adults Safeguarding Policy applies to all the member organisations of the confederation.

  • The Caritas Internationalis Children and Vulnerable Adults Safeguarding Policy is available on Baobab.

Caritas organisations can either adopt the policy of Caritas Internationalis or develop their own policy that is better adapted and translated to their local context, provided it covers all key elements of the safeguarding policy of Caritas Internationalis.

It is important that all people working for Caritas understand the safeguarding policy of their organisation and abide by it. Every person working for Caritas must therefore receive a short training on the safeguarding principles laid out in the policy, and sign the policy to show that they agree to act in accordance with it at all times.

Caritas organisations are also required to adopt policies against harassment, in order to provide a work environment that is professional and free from intimidation, hostility, humiliation, bullying and mobbing. Caritas Internationalis adopted an Anti‐Harassment Policy in 2018. As is the case with the Caritas Internationalis safeguarding policy, Caritas member organisations can either adopt the anti-harassment policy of Caritas Internationalis or develop their own, as long as they are coherent.

  • The Caritas Internationalis Anti-Harassment Policy is available on Baobab.
Safe recruitment

All people working on behalf of Caritas and its programmes, as staff, volunteers or board members are expected to commit to upholding the safeguarding policy and the Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct of the organisation. Safeguarding begins as early as the recruitment process. All possible steps should be taken to ensure that we only hire persons who are suitable for representing Caritas, and who will not pose any threat to children nor to people in vulnerable situations.

Every Caritas organisation is required to carry out background checks on their staff and volunteers, including the management and governance. Caritas Internationalis has produced a reference check form, a safe recruitment checklist and a self-declaration form that members can use when recruiting new staff.

  • The Caritas Internationalis Reference Check Form is available on Baobab.
  • The Caritas Internationalis Safe Recruitment Checklist is available on Baobab.
  • The Caritas Internationalis Self Declaration Form is available on Baobab.

Some Caritas staff or members of the governing bodies are not recruited but rather appointed by authorities within the Catholic Church. In this case, safe recruitment can be ensured by using the Caritas Internationalis Church Authority Declaration when members of the clergy are among the nominees. The Church Authority Declaration is available on Baobab.

SCHR Misconduct Disclosure Scheme

In recent years, cases came to light in which some individuals who had to leave an organisation after having breached safeguarding standards moved to another organisation in the same sector without the new employer being aware of the individual’s past.

To prevent this from happening in the future, Caritas Internationalis has been one of the founders of the Inter‐Agency Misconduct Disclosure Scheme, which was launched in 2019. It is an initiative of the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response (SCHR) and addresses the specific problem of known sexual abusers moving between different humanitarian and development agencies. This scheme complements the work that Caritas organisations already do as part of their safe recruitment processes. It consists of two main commitments:

  • A commitment to systematically check with previous employers if the potential new hire has had any issues relating to sexual exploitation and abuse.
  • A commitment to systematically respond when other organisations check their potential new hires who used to work for Caritas.

The Inter‐Agency Misconduct Disclosure Scheme identifies individuals who are being investigated or have had disciplinary measures taken against them and should therefore not be recruited in similar roles, with risks to vulnerable children and adults. By participating in this scheme, Caritas contributes to preventing and addressing the consequences of sexual harassment and sexual exploitation and abuse in the humanitarian and development sector.

This scheme ensures that all organisations that sign up to it work to a common minimum exchange of relevant sensitive information, while respecting data protection and national employment laws.

It is important to note that since all Caritas are independent organisations, each Caritas needs to sign up to the scheme individually (both national and diocesan Caritas). As of June 2021, 16 Caritas are implementing the scheme, and others are in the process of operationalising it.

Feedback and complaints-handling mechanism

A feedback and complaints-handling mechanism is a formal system through which a person can submit positive or negative information about their experience with a Caritas programme. This information is collected to improve the work of Caritas. A feedback and complaints-handling mechanism helps to identify all improper, unethical or inappropriate behaviour so that it can be challenged and addressed. It provides clear procedures for reporting.

Caritas Internationalis adopted a policy and procedure for handling complaints in 2018. It covers both safeguarding issues and financial misconduct. It does not replace individual complaints-handling mechanisms that member organisations already have in place, but it can serve as a reference to strengthen those so that they meet recommended standards. Every Caritas is responsible for handling the complaints received and is expected to develop and adopt its own feedback and complaints-handling mechanism.

  • The Caritas Internationalis Complaints Handling Mechanism Policy and Procedure is available on Baobab.
  • Several European Caritas organisations, including the Caritas Europa secretariat, make their feedback and complaints-handling mechanisms available on their websites. You can find those here.

Every safeguarding breach should be investigated and dealt with.

Communicating the commitment to safeguarding

The organisation’s commitment to safeguarding should not only be known internally within a specific Caritas, but it should also be communicated to the general public, in particular to the communities Caritas engages with, at home or abroad.

The people that Caritas provides a service for, such as people experiencing poverty, homeless people, migrants and asylum seekers or elderly people, as well as their wider communities, need to be aware that the organisation is committed to keeping everyone safe. They should therefore be aware that Caritas staff and volunteers are required to respect a Code of Conduct. They should also know there is a reporting mechanism for misconduct and that there are channels through which they can submit a complaint if the Code of Conduct is breached.

It is important that this information is accessible to persons with different needs, especially for children, people who might not speak the language or have difficulty reading, and people with disabilities. Strategies might include developing child-friendly versions of the Code of Conduct and reporting procedures, translating key documents into local languages or dialects and using illustrations or videos to communicate key messages. It is also important to make sure that all materials are accessible to people with disabilities, for example by using large print versions and good colour contrasting for people with visual impairments or closed captioning for people with hearing impairments.

Caritas organisations can communicate the commitment to safeguarding through in-person information sessions, on the website and by displaying posters with its Code of Conduct in spaces used by the communities in which Caritas works.

Caritas Internationalis Management Standard on safeguarding

All national Caritas organisations have to apply a set of standards, the Caritas Internationalis Management Standards (CI MS). They are the official tool of Caritas Internationalis for organisational assessment and organisational development. Each standard describes several required policies, procedures and practices. Until the end of 2020, four standards were in place:

  • Laws and ethical codes;
  • Governance and organisation;
  • Programme and finance accountability;
  • Stakeholder involvement.

In early 2021, Caritas Internationalis introduced a cross-cutting fifth management standard on safeguarding. It covers a range of areas, including ethics and staff conduct, complaints procedure, risk management and safeguarding policy.

Many Caritas members have already participated in an assessment to establish compliance with the CI MS, and some have developed improvement plans to address gaps identified in case it was found compliance was not reached.

The decision to use the CI MS as the mechanism through which member organisations assess their compliance with safeguarding reflects the recognition of Caritas Internationalis that safeguarding is cross-cutting to all areas of work and, as such, it should not be assessed separately, but rather within the framework of the organisation as a whole.

  • A summary of the Caritas Internationalis Management Standard on safeguarding (as well as of the revised CI MS) and all relevant documents are available on Baobab.
  • An online course of about 50 minutes about the Caritas Internationalis Management Standard on safeguarding is available on Baobab.
  • An online course of about 2 hours about the CI MS is available on Baobab.
  • Caritas Internationalis e-learning course ‘Introduction to Safeguarding’ is available on Baobab.
  • Caritas Internationalis developed a training on safeguarding in 11 modules. It is available in English on Baobab.
  • A comparative document describing four different programme quality approaches (protection mainstreaming; accountability; safeguarding; inclusion) is available on Baobab. For each approach, it explains the overlap with the other approaches, summarises key international standards and provides practical examples.
  • Here you can find five short videos dealing with safeguarding breaches. These videos can be used for training purposes and should always be used with the accompanying discussion guide. The videos are in English with subtitles in several languages.

ask an expert

Charel Krieps
Humanitarian Officer
Tel: +32 (0)2 204 03 82