Whether you are starting a new telephone befriending service or reviewing an existing service it is important to regularly assess the risk to all parties involved.
While the risks in delivering a remote service are likely to be different to those of a service delivered in-person, a charity’s obligation to assess and manage them is exactly the same.
This can seem daunting at first, but in reality you can use the same risk assessment process you would use for any other service, but with these additional considerations:
Protection of personal data
With any digital service, protection of personal data will be one of the main areas that differ from an in-person service. As part of your risk assessment you need to consider what personal information you are willing to share between befriender and befriendee, taking into account the risks to both parties. For a telephone only service this will include assessing whether to accept the risk involved in sharing phone numbers, or whether to use a 3rd party service (like Meetupcall) that can hide the numbers.
Boundaries need to be explicit and clear and communicated (preferably in writing) to both parties. If you are designing and operating a telephone-only service then both parties must be aware they can not meet in person and they must be clear on what information they can share with one another. The goal is not to limit creativity or interactions, just to establish some clear constraints to enable you to manage risk.
For the wellbeing and safeguarding of both parties it is important you establish how will you monitor the service on an ongoing basis. How frequently will you check-in with each party? For newer befriending matches this may need to be more frequently than for established ones. You will also need to consider how you will identify and respond to issues such as no-shows from either party.
Escalation and emergency contact
If there is an issue then both parties need to be informed as to where they can go for support, and befrienders will need to know what to do in case of an emergency. It is likely calls will take place outside of normal office hours and at weekends, so this needs to be taken into consideration.
It is vital that you have adequate recruitment and assessment procedures for your befrienders. This should include conducting interviews, obtaining references and conducting appropriate background checks where necessary. The level of assessment and the threshold for acceptance is likely to be dependent on the decisions made above; if you have chosen to share phone numbers for example your risk assessment may determine you need a greater level of background checks.
Hopefully some of these pointers are useful, but as with any service it is important you conduct and document your own risk assessment with the goal of finding the right balance between safety and efficacy of you service.