SOS Children
Austria – May 5 2021

SOS Children’s Villages International announces rapid improvements in safeguarding and governance measures

SOS Children’s Villages International confirms with great regret cases of failings in child safeguarding and is immediately introducing new measures to support victims, prevent further harm and improve existing systems, to consistently ensure quality care for all children in our programs.

SOS Children’s Villages International this week in concert with its highest supervisory body, the International Senate, has instructed that an independent Special Commission be established to address past and contemporary cases of failings, including child abuse, corruption, misuse of funds, and breaches of UN guidelines and regulations that protect children’s and employees’ human rights. 

The organization acknowledges that failings, which had occurred over time and, in specific instances, had been hidden from view. In those cases, victims, witnesses and whistle-blowers who did share their experiences were not believed by the federation’s leadership, and no action to change circumstances was initiated. If the cases were investigated, either internally or by an external assessor, auditor or a safeguarding specialist, the report compiled was ignored or, in some instances, recommendations were not actioned. However, it is clear that in many instances when cases were reported, they were investigated, and actions and recommendations were followed through efficiently. 

Why now and what made this happen? 

The International Senate demanded these actions as a result of two externally-prepared reports commissioned from within the SOS Children’s Villages federation. Combined, these reports show cases of systematic failings and misuse of power by leadership over time. The International Senate seeks to commence a process of real accountability for the actions of leaders in the past across the federation, understand the failures identified in these specific cases, as well as others that may come to light, and address how they can be prevented from happening again. 

The organization hopes that, supported by donors, partners and governments in the countries in which it works, as well as competent authorities and regulators, the Independent Special Commission and the Senate can right the wrongs of the past. It aims to do this at speed, in order that the vast majority of its employees – who do incredible work in challenging circumstances and are a force for good – can do their work unhindered by the wrongdoings of some colleagues and leaders who failed them and the children in their care. 

The highest levels of the federation are committed to driving all necessary changes. Marking her fourth month as CEO of SOS Children’s Villages International, Ingrid Johansen said: 

“The safety and wellbeing of children and young people in our programs is our primary concern; it’s why we exist. We are deeply saddened that there have been cases within the organization where some amongst us did not fulfill our promise to keep children safe. On behalf of the federation, I apologize to the children and young people who have been subject to harm. There have been cases where we did not follow the correct procedures, where we did not take sufficient action against perpetrators, where our national and international leaders did not listen to children or our own staff members. I apologize that we did not always live up to the standards we expect for ourselves. Children and young people need adults that can be trusted. I regret greatly that there have been times where we broke that trust.” 

“The International Senate has set out our duties and we will not shirk from them. We have a duty to act upon allegations and hold those responsible for these failings accountable. We are determined that we will repair harm where we can, heal wounds both physical and emotional, and above all, ensure that every single place in which we work will be safe and caring. 

“We will not rest until we and the independent Special Commission are confident that the light of the truth has shone on all wrongdoing. Alongside the Ombudsperson, we will believe the courageous individuals who have come forward. With the budget to support victims and survivors, we can then act with real urgency to support those who have suffered, through care, counseling, wellbeing programs, and if we are able, hold perpetrators to account with the help of competent authorities."

“The SOS Children’s Villages federation looks to our donors to support us in this journey. We ask our public partners and governments to help us move rapidly in the right direction – as they have helped others before. With them by our side we can be confident that we can learn from this legacy, and make sure that failures will not, cannot happen again.” 

SOS Children’s Villages International is taking the following actions to ensure the safety and protection of children, young people and staff moving forward: 

The Independent Special Commission: 

The commission will investigate what was behind the systematic failures, while in other instances the organization’s policies and processes were appropriately followed through and important changes achieved. The Independent Special Commission will be established during May 2021 under the leadership of an external and experienced chair. The organization plans to publish the names of the members of the Independent Special Commission, its terms of reference, and reporting procedures on the SOS Children’s Villages international website. There is also a national commission in Austria as the country of origin of SOS Children’s Villages. 

Appointment of an Ombudsperson: 

The International Senate also mandated the rapid creation during May 2021 of a child safeguarding Ombudsperson system throughout our global organization to represent the rights of children, young people and other affected persons. Building on the successful model practiced by our member associations in Austria and Germany, it will support victims/survivors and anybody seeking resolution of concerns. The organization plans to publish the terms of reference for the Ombudsperson on the SOS Children’s Villages International website. The means by which those who wish to seek support will be made available across the federation and will be clearly posted in the organization’s channels, which span some 137 countries and territories. 

Support for affected children, young people and adults: 

Funding from existing reserves has been made available for direct individual support to all children, young persons and other persons affected by abuse in SOS Children’s Villages programs to ensure affected persons can heal, have closure and have the capacity to become self-reliant. This includes medical, mental health, psychosocial and legal support as well as support to improve their individual living situations. 

SOS Children’s Villages International remains dedicated to ensuring the highest level of protection for children entrusted in our care. Please refer to our most recent Child Safeguarding Annual Report to learn more about our commitment. 

The safety and security of the children and young people in our care is paramount. The goal of our work – that children grow up feeling safe, loved and supported – requires an environment of zero tolerance for safeguarding violations, and we remain committed to ensuring the highest possible standards of safeguarding practice and procedures are upheld. 

If you wish to report a breach to child safeguarding or other misconduct at any SOS Children’s Villages location or in any program, please report it directly to SOS Children’s Villages International here.

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