Abuse, violence, and harm are not always visible. As an organization that works for and with children, young people and other members, so that all children around the world can exercise their rights, we have a responsibility to ensure no child or young person is harmed or placed at risk of harm as a result of their association with us. Safeguarding is the term we use to describe the responsibilities and activities we undertake to prevent or stop children and young people from being abused or ill-treated. Through our gender-responsive Safeguarding Policy, we hold ourselves accountable and responsible for promoting a safe environment for children and young people that respects, recognizes, and responds to the specific safeguarding and protection risks they experience. We recognize that when children and youth of different genders and identities understand their rights to safety and we empower our employees and associates with the support and reliable processes to report and respond to safeguarding concerns, everyone is safer.
Action to protect children
Children are at the heart of everything that Plan International Canada does, which is why we ensure our safeguarding measures are informed by and involve our children and young people. We actively work to ensure children and young people understand our safeguarding processes and how they can report any incidents or suspected incidents.
We take proactive steps to prevent anyone who might be a risk to children or young people from becoming involved with us. We do this by implementing screening measures such as requesting that all job applicants provide a police background check and a vulnerable sector screen or equivalent. Our screening process may also require candidates to provide certificates of good conduct, reference checks, and verification that applicants are not listed in national registries of child offenders. We require that all organizations that work with Plan International Canada implement the same detailed screening procedures for all personnel (paid and unpaid) that will encounter or have access to personal information of Plan International Canada Children and Young People.
Our associates including our employees are empowered through training with the skills to prevent, report, and respond to safeguarding concerns. During our training, we place a focus on the specific needs of girls, boys, and children of all gender identities. Associates receive a copy of our Plan International Canada Safeguarding Children and Young People Policy and Procedures and Code of Conduct, which they are required to sign before they are permitted to travel or to work with children or youth in Canada.
New Plan International Canada employees must read and sign our safeguarding policy as well as successfully complete our mandatory safeguarding training. The training consists of an orientation to safeguarding issues and the individual’s responsibility with respect to Child and Youth Safeguarding.
We have a safeguarding team that works to make safeguarding an integral part of all that we do. The team is the key contact for all safeguarding questions. They plan, review, and verify the application of the policy.
Reporting and responding
Children and young people are safer when we empower employees and associates with reliable procedures for reporting safeguarding concerns. We treat seriously, with sensitivity and confidentiality, all safeguarding concerns. When employees, volunteers, or associates have reasonable grounds to suspect that a child or a young person has been harmed or is placed at risk of harm, they have a responsibility to report their concerns.
We take immediate actions to collect, investigate, and, if necessary, to protect the child, the youth, the witness, and the reporter. When anyone affiliated with Plan International Canada commits an act that goes against our Safeguarding Policy, we take stringent measures that ensure and prioritize the safety of children and young persons. These measures may include disciplinary actions, which can consist of termination of employment or engagement. In some instances, we may make a referral to authorities for criminal investigation and prosecution.
We have a formal Whistleblowing Policy that protects any associate who raises concerns in good faith and without malice, even if investigations find the concern to be unsubstantiated. This measure enables us to create and maintain an environment that ensures people feel comfortable speaking up. Our independent reporting service, Safecall, empowers staff, volunteers, contractors, and anyone affiliated with Plan International Canada to report their concerns anywhere in the world.
Gender responsive safeguarding
Gender responsive safeguarding is an approach to safeguarding that takes full account of gender in considering the specific safeguarding needs of girls, boys as well as children and youth of all gender identities. By adopting a gender responsive approach to safeguarding, Plan International Canada recognizes that youth and children with differing genders and other identities face unique and specific risks. We commit to responding to these specific safeguarding risks by fostering empowerment, inclusion and by taking appropriate measures to address gender bias as well as other forms of discrimination and violence which may arise as a result.
We ensure that all child sponsors, on initial contact, receive in writing an explanation of our Safeguarding Policy and procedures, as relevant to them. Sponsorship is a wonderful opportunity to share our work through the eyes of a child and their family. However, it is important that participating in sponsorship does not put children and young people at risk.
We take proactive steps to prevent children and young people from being harmed or placed at the risk of harm as a result of their association with us. Employees are trained to look for indications that a donor may pose a threat to a child’s well-being at the sign-up stage and any point throughout the sponsorship. All communications (verbal, written or visual) from donors to sponsored children are screened by individuals who are specially trained for this task. No questionable letter or picture is sent to a sponsored child without first reviewing it with our Safeguarding team.
Plan International Canada reserves the right to request that a sponsor undergo a police check at any point. We also reserve the right to decline a new sponsorship or bring an existing sponsorship to a close, and in making this decision we err on the side of caution in the best interests of children.
Any conversation or item that raises concern is brought forward to the Plan International Canada Focal Point, who decides whether there is a need to contact the donor. If a phone call with the donor does not satisfy the concern, the matter is then handled according to reporting procedures. Where a safeguarding allegation or concern is made against a sponsor, the sponsorship shall be suspended pending the completion of the investigation.
Preventing sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse
Sexual Harassment, Exploitation and Abuse (SHEA) are amongst the most damaging forms of harm and violence. As an organization, Plan International Canada is committed to creating a safe and inclusive culture that allows children, program participants, employees, associates and visitors to thrive. We recognize that sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse impacts everyone, even our programme participants over the age of 24. Through our PSHEA policy, which works in conjunction with our safeguarding policy, we explicitly acknowledge our duty of care to all those we work with, including our programme participants over 24. We recognize that when we have policies in place that explicitly work to address the drivers of gender inequality and unequal power relations that can lead to sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse, everyone is safer.
Through our work, we strive to build a survivor-centred culture in which programme participants and victims/survivors feel confident and safe to discuss or report any Safeguarding Concerns. We do this by ensuring the safety, rights, needs, wishes and empowerment of our programme participants and any potential victim/survivor guide our efforts.
We empower and support children, program participants, employees, associates and visitors to understand and exercise their rights. Victim/survivors in safeguarding or SHEA cases receive support such as medical care, psychosocial support and measures to ensure safety and protection as soon as they raise a concern, and without consideration of the potential outcome of the investigation. Experienced and qualified professionals trained on sensitive investigations and a victim/survivor-centred approach undertake our investigations of suspected breaches. We refer all reports constituting criminal offences to the relevant authorities, considering the wishes of an adult victim/survivor, the best interest assessment of a child victim/survivor and the safety of all parties.
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