The Samaritans have introduced new safeguarding measures after it was reported that volunteer workers met with callers for sex.
A leaked memo is said to have warned a ‘specific demographic’ of ‘middle-aged men’ volunteering as call handlers were having inappropriate physical relationships with female callers.
It described 44 ‘serious safeguarding incidents’ since 2017, according to The Telegraph.
In the document, bosses said many of the incidents ‘had only been brought to our attention via a third party’.
The charity operates a helpline for people experiencing mental distress or suicidal thoughts, and has strict rules on how volunteers can interact with callers.
Julie Bentley, the organisation’s chief executive, said the ‘very small number’ of incidents are being investigated by the charity’s Serious Safeguarding Panel and have been reported to the government-run charity watchdog.
She said: ‘Our 20,000 Samaritans volunteers enable us to provide vital emotional support to anyone who is struggling, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and in the four years from January 2017, volunteers on our telephone service answered over 13 million calls.
‘Running any national service on this scale means that, on extremely rare occasions, high standards are not always met and from the millions of calls answered, a very small number of safeguarding incidents were identified.
‘Our robust investigation procedures meant these incidents were handled swiftly and appropriate action taken.
‘Any safeguarding matter is one too many and as such we review our practices on an ongoing basis and have introduced further measures as part of our commitment to delivering a consistently high-quality experience for our callers.’
The new measures are said to have been tabled for introduction later this year and include monitoring of calls by other staff and volunteers.
One volunteer told The Telegraph: ‘I’ve been a volunteer for six years and I’ve never seen anything like this. I felt quite angry that someone could have done it.
‘Obviously we are speaking to vulnerable people day in and day out. It amazes you that someone could abuse that trust.
Speaking about reports of volunteers meeting callers in person, he added: ‘But if there’s one thing that’s a big no, it’s that. It’s massive. We’re really well trained but that’s the worst thing anyone can do.’
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