As the reins change hands at Cafod, with Chris Bain (pictured) departing as director later this year, it’s a moment for the development agency to take stock. But that was overshadowed by some unfortunate coverage last week, when Cafod received a slap on the wrist from a regulator.
At first, it looked pretty bad. The Guardian report said that Cafod had been “suspended from an international scheme which aims to protect aid beneficiaries from sexual exploitation and abuse”. The Humanitarian Quality Assurance Initiative (HQAI), which sets minimum standards for the aid sector, had told Cafod its safeguarding procedures were inadequate. The agency would not be certified until it had fixed the problem, which had to do with its complaints system.
This was all the more worrying because Cafod was one of the charities damaged by revelations about sexual misconduct: two employees have been removed since 2016, one for allegations dating from his time at a previous employer.
HQAI gave a severe-sounding verdict, saying that Cafod was not doing enough to let people know how to hold them accountable. “Cafod does not work systematically with partners to ensure communities are made aware of the expected behaviour of humanitarian staff regarding the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse.”
But a different picture then started to emerge. HQAI itself, apparently embarrassed by the coverage, clarified that the suspension, rather than being some kind of dramatic intervention, was “common practice”. And the specific issue on which Cafod failed was one which aid agencies frequently get wrong. (HQAI might also have mentioned that Cafod will always find these communications standards harder to meet, because they work with so many different groups.) HQAI said that Cafod had showed “transparency” and shouldn’t be singled out for “negative criticism”.
The next director will face challenges – being faithful to the Church and at the same time well-attuned to the aid world – which never go away. Nor, as this week revealed, does the challenge of communication.
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