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Dealing with suspensions

Temporarily suspending someone from Scouting can be fraught with emotion and difficulty, but suspension can also be an important process to create time and space to deal with challenging situations. There are several reasons why someone may need to be suspended, and there are different rules for adults and young people, so it worth reading the guidance on the managers’ pages of the website as well as reading the relevant rules in POR. There is a really comprehensive guide also available. Here I shall focus on the suspension of adults from involvement in Scouting.

The suspension of an adult is a serious step to take and it is important to get the process right. Suspension is not a sanction or punishment - it is a process whereby we can temporarily remove someone from Scouting and assists to ensure, as stated in POR rule 15.2, “that any investigation or inquiry proceeds in as fair and objective manner as possible by preventing situations arising which could give rise to further concerns/allegations or which could potentially cause further compromise.”

Whenever dealing with this kind of challenging situation it is important that everyone involved remembers, and acts out our values: care, respect, integrity, belief and cooperation.

Being clear

It can be very tricky, when taking the decision to suspend, to get the form of words right to ensure the individual being suspended understands what has happened that has led to the suspension. It’s often the case that we cannot explain everything in great detail to the individual who is being suspended as it may create an even more difficult situation. This can be especially true in the cases where there are safeguarding concerns but the safeguarding team will always advise on the processes to be followed and what can be said to the individual being suspended. In all safeguarding situations follow the safeguarding processes and procedures.

When suspending someone we have to explain what has led to the suspension, but not necessarily all the detail. In fact, it’s unlikely that you will have all the detail because remember, a suspension is something that is applied to give time and space to undertake appropriate inquiries/ investigation to establish the facts.

Whilst it is important to talk to the person who is being suspended it is equally important to set things out in writing to ensure there is no ambiguity. There are some template letters on the managers pages of scouts.org.uk so do take a look there.

Who can suspend

Only certain roles have the authority to suspend an adult and there is always a second approval required. For example, if someone in a group was to be suspended the District Commissioner has the authority to suspend and the County Commissioner (or equivalent) has the authority to approve the suspension.

To avoid ambiguity we suspend a person’s involvement in Scouting – not individual roles. So if someone has three roles (maybe a Group Trustee, an ADC and a Scout Active Support role) the suspension applies to all roles, even if the reason for suspension if very clearly and specifically related to something about just one of those roles. If the individual has different roles in different Districts or a District and County role, careful communication with relevant Commissioners will be needed.

Whilst under suspension an individual must be offered the opportunity to have an independent Scouting colleague as a liaison person. They don’t get to choose who it is – but clearly it needs to be someone who can maintain a professional relationship with the individual and is not connected to the situation in any way. There is some additional guidance on this in the managers’ area of the website.

Suspensions sometimes turn into complaints, and vice-versa

When an individual is suspended sometimes, and especially if they do not like the way the suspension was applied or feel that they have been deliberately or maliciously targeted, they may make a complaint. This can add a significant degree of complexity.

I have dealt with a situation where I have suspended someone, and then the person has complained about a colleague in the Scout Group. It can be difficult to work out what to do and in these cases there is no single right answer. Sometimes it may be immediately obvious that the complaint is vexatious and therefore we do not act on it; other times you may feel that the complaint does warrant review. But then the challenge to consider is do you look at the complaint in parallel to the suspension process or wait for the outcome at the end of suspension as there may be relevant information that comes to light during investigations?

The best advice I can offer is to speak to your line manager and your peers to take soundings and advice. Whatever you decide in these (thankfully rare) situations, make sure you keep the processes well defined – you have someone under suspension and there is a complaint that needs dealing with and it is important not to conflate the two.

On the flip side, sometimes complaints can result in the need for a suspension. This is most often when an adult dispute which is being managed through the complaints process remains unresolved for an extended period. In order to prevent a damaging atmosphere arising you may need to suspend both parties. Also, in some complaints you may uncover things that you were not aware of at the outset which result in you having to take a decision to suspend the individual. But remember, we don’t just suspend someone because a complaint has been made. Complaints and suspensions are two different processes.

Ending a period of suspension

When it comes to ending a period of suspension there is a very clear process to follow, it’s written in POR rule 15.3. I have seen this deviated from and it creates significant difficulties. Make sure you and the Appointments Advisory Committee (AAC) considering the end of suspension are clear on the process and roles. It is not for the AAC to undertake a further investigation – any investigation should be completed with recommendations to the relevant Commissioner and AAC. (nb. individual people who might be members of the AAC may be asked to support an investigation on behalf of the relevant Commissioner, but this is not a formal role of the AAC. Should a member of the AAC be involved in an investigation they should not be involved in the decision making process later down the line).

The AAC, along with the appropriate Commissioner, and in the presence of all the facts agree a recommendation in relation to the individual under suspension. They then seek approval for the recommended course of action from authority who approved the suspension at the outset.

The recommendation will be to re-instate the person; modify the appointment in some way or revoke the appointment. If the person has multiple roles, then you will need to be clear whether any modifications, if there are any, apply to all roles or just one.

Some important points to remember

  • Suspension is an act intended to create time and space so that appropriate inquiries/ investigations can take place. It does not imply guilt or a pre-determined outcome.
  • There are specific reasons when suspension may be applied – be clear on the reason and ensure the suspended person understands
  • Speak to the person being suspended and ensure you follow up in writing so there is no ambiguity
  • Only certain roles have authority to suspend, and there is always a second approval.
  • Suspension is not a sanction or punishment and must not be applied as one.
  • Appointments Advisory Committees have an important role to play when ending a period of suspension, but they do not enact suspensions or undertake investigations
  • Remember, and remind people of our values: care, respect, integrity, belief and cooperation.

As with my other article on complaints, do let me know if you have any comments on my reflections, or if there are areas of our policies, procedures and processes related to suspensions that you think we could improve.




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