Charity leads the youth programmes at her church. Because of her role in doing this, she is invited to lead a session for children in their neighbourhood. Whilst she is there, a child in the session is attacked by another child, and her arm is broken. Another volunteer takes the attacking child outside and physically beats him, leaving him with cuts and bruises. 

Charity is blamed for this incident. The children hadn’t been under her control, there had not been enough adults in the session to prevent the attack from happening, and the volunteers had not been aware of how to care for children’s responsibility, or even if they required discipline. 

The parents of both children ask both Charity and her church for compensation and an apology. 

The church says that Charity was doing this activity in a personal capacity, and that it had nothing to do with them. Charity says that she was only doing the activity because the church had said that it wanted to provide additional support in the community, and that she had told the pastor. The pastor says that he had not understood that this was an official project of the church. 

Spend a couple of minutes thinking about who you think is responsible. 

Where our work ends 

One of the challenges we had as youth organisations, often working with many volunteers, and women leaders who were enthusiastic about taking action in our communities. One of the things we realised was that it could quickly become unclear whether those projects were part of the main project, organisation, or their own personal initiative. 

Why does this matter, if they are doing good things, and reaching more people? It matters, because if something goes wrong, it is unclear who is responsible, and it matters because this is your organisation’s reputation. 

In the case of Charity, imagine if one of the parents had sued her or the church for endangering and harming their child when in her care. Imagine if either child had required hospitalisation and expensive interventions to recover from their injuries. Who would be expected to pay?

We must remember that protecting young women and girls means having clear lines of responsibility. 

  • If Charity is held responsible and the church refuses to take responsibility, then Charity’s own reputation is destroyed. She is unlikely to return to her role at the church, as she would feel abandoned by them. That is a loss to the church. However, the community would be unlikely to welcome Charity back in this role, if she did want to return, as she would be seen as being an irresponsible youth worker who had put children in danger and led them into harm. 
  • If the church is held responsible for Charity’s activity going wrong when it was not officially part of their programming, would this mean that the church was responsible for any activity that an official church staff member or volunteer did in the community, even in a personal capacity? What about ‘good’ activities undertaken by others attending the church, who feel inspired to help others in the community by the pastor’s encouragement to ‘love their neighbour’?

Know your edges

This all shows that your organisation or youth club has to be clear about your work, how an activity becomes officially part of your organisation, and who is responsible for ensuring young women, girls, and youth workers’ safety in these new activities.

Some organisations involved in Project GROW have clear guidelines for staff – they are known in this community as the leader of their project (or in another official role). People trust them because of that, and in their mind, the project leader and the project are the same things. This means that whatever the project leader says, the community will always think that anything she does is part of the project and that if something goes wrong they will always blame the organisation. 

Your position on this must be clearly listed in your child protection policy. 

Reflection Questions:

  • Are you clear about exactly what projects your organisation runs and are part of your work?
  • Do you think some activities are being undertaken that are actually ‘blurry’? They could be considered youth club activities, but are they personal initiatives?
  • What procedures could you put in place to ensure that new activities are formally approved (or not) so that everyone involved with the organisation can be very clear about what is an official project or not?
  • Do you need a policy to prevent team members from launching personal initiatives if they could be misunderstood as official activities?
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