Working to support vulnerable children overseas comes with risk and it is important that a charity has the governance practices to mitigate and manage these risks.
To help a charity consider its governance for supporting vulnerable children overseas, we have two case studies that show how other charities have approached governance for their activities.
Case study 1 - Developing policies to protect vulnerable individuals
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) advises that 'orphanages should be an option of last resort for children, who are generally better off living with their families and communities' and that 'the Australian Government discourages short-term, unskilled volunteering in orphanages'. The ACNC encourages any registered charities working with, or considering work with vulnerable children overseas, to familiarise themselves with the Australian Government’s advice regarding orphanages and volunteering and the best way to support vulnerable children.
The following case study should not be taken as an endorsement of charities managing orphanages in Australia or overseas. It is provided as the ACNC knows that some charities do support orphanages and it is critical that their governance is of the highest standard to protect vulnerable children.
Charity A was registered with the ACNC in 2021 with its main activity being to fundraise to support an orphanage in Thailand.
Before establishing a formal agreement with the orphanage for regular funding, Charity A checked that the orphanage had suitable governance policies and processes to protect its vulnerable beneficiaries and to manage its finances responsibly.
Charity A found that the orphanage was well governed. It had reasonable policies and procedures to protect children in its care and had reasonable financial management processes to ensure its funds were used for its charitable purpose.
In establishing the formal agreement for regular funding, Charity A made sure it would receive a regular report detailing the use of the funds it provided to support the children at the orphanage.
After several months of providing funds, the charity was to send several of its Responsible People and volunteers to visit the orphanage to see the impact of its funding.
In preparing for the visit, Charity A realised that it would need its own policies to manage the risks associated with a visit to the orphanage. The charity wrote a policy that established guidelines for interactions with vulnerable children and outlined screening processes it would carry out for visitors. It also included procedures to safeguard its own Responsible People and volunteers from any risks that could compromise their safety.
Charity A used publicly available resources to help write its policy. It identified risks associated with ‘voluntourism’ and took extra steps to ensure that its regular funding and any visits to the orphanage in Thailand did not unintentionally exploit the vulnerable children.
Charity A's board worked with the orphanage to strengthen its policies, and develop new practices, that ensured children are not trafficked or removed from family, and the orphanage is having a positive effect in the local community.
Case study 2 - Taking reasonable steps when providing funds overseas
Charity B provides education for disadvantaged children in Indonesia. It is a small charity and raises about $20,000 each year for a partner organisation in Indonesia that runs the education project to support disadvantaged children.
Charity B was established after its founding members travelled to Indonesia and saw the disadvantage faced by the local communities they visited. On their trip, the founding members met the director of the partner organisation and were impressed by the work it was doing to support children in the local community.
We reviewed Charity B and asked it to demonstrate the reasonable steps it had taken to ensure there is appropriate governance and oversight for the funds it sends overseas.
Because Charity B was not delivering the project, it relied on the overseas partner to have appropriate policies and processes for its use of the funds. Charity B’s arrangement with the overseas partner was mainly based on trust that it was using the funds for the right purposes. It had not taken reasonable steps itself to ensure there were appropriate standards of governance and oversight for the way the partner organisation was using its funds.
In response to our review, Charity B made some changes to its arrangements with its partner organisation in Indonesia. It looked at its obligations under the External Conduct Standards and established an agreement with its partner organisation to:
- regularly review the policies for safeguarding people and for financial management
- receive regular project reports with evidence of how the partner organisation was using the funds
- review plans for upcoming projects that it had planned to fund.
The changes allowed Charity B to strengthen the relationship with the partner organisation in Indonesia and ensure it was doing the right things to comply with obligations in Australia and protect the beneficiaries of its charitable purpose in Indonesia.