What Can We Do to Protect Clients and Staff? Tips for Getting Started with Safeguarding and Protection

Photo: IRC/A. Oberstadt

Humanitarian crises that cause forced migration and displacement often result in people being in less secure and unfamiliar environments. They may be separated from protective family systems and may struggle to meet basic needs. It is common for people to feel things like overwhelm, worry, sadness, confusion, and anger.  All of these factors lead to conditions where people may be dependent or partially dependent on systems, agencies, or other individuals to meet their needs, increasing the risk of abuse, exploitation, or harassment. When it comes to preserving safety for both clients and staff, there are many terms you might hear. This blog post reviews two key terms, safeguarding and protection, that relate to service providers’ roles in ensuring the safety of clients and staff.

What is Safeguarding?

Safeguarding refers to actions that seek to increase client and staff safety in the context of work-related interactions. It includes the actions that agencies and workers take to:

  • ensure that clients and potential clients are safe from abuse, exploitation and harassment from workers, volunteers, donors, or others they encounter in the context of programs and services;
  • identify, report, and address cases of suspected abuse, exploitation, and harassment in an appropriate and timely manner; and
  • protect workers from abuse, exploitation, and harassment from colleagues, clients, or others they encounter in their work.

Examples of Safeguarding Concerns

  • A staff member pursuing or engaging in a romantic relationship with a client
  • A staff member requesting payment from a client for services which should be free
  • A client sexually harassing a staff member

In short, safeguarding sets out deliberate actions to ensure the safety and dignity of clients receiving services, and of the workers delivering them.

What is Protection?

Protection denotes actions that seek to increase the safety and security of clients. The key difference between safeguarding and protection is that safeguarding refers to preserving staff and client safety in the context of the work-related interactions, while protection includes preserving client safety in other contexts, including interpersonal and domestic violence, child abuse and neglect concerns, and trafficking concerns.

Examples of Protection Concerns

  • A client being involved in a physically or emotionally abusive relationship with another member of the client population
  • A minor client disclosing that an adult at local public school has touched them inappropriately
  • An elderly and disabled client being coerced by a relative to turn over their disability insurance checks to the relative

How Do They Fit Together?

Safeguarding and protection often overlap with each other, given that any type of abuse, exploitation, or harassment of a client can be both a safeguarding and protection issue, depending on who is the perpetrator of the incident.

How Can I Promote Safeguarding and Protection in My Work?

Below are a few steps that agencies and individuals can take to increase protective factors and reduce risk factors as they relate to safeguarding and protection. Recommended resources are also provided.

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