Unit 3: Reporting, responding and investigations


3.6 Investigation principles

When undertaking investigations, an Investigations Plan should set out the following steps:

  1. Background of the concern.
  2. Objectives of the investigation.
  3. Allegations made and the corresponding breaches in organisational policies and Code of Conduct.
  4. Agreed roles and responsibilities.
  5. Principles of the investigation.
  6. Investigation risk assessment (e.g., safety, security, wellbeing).
  7. Any obstacles to the investigation (e.g., legal, practical constraints).
  8. Potential list of witnesses and evidence collated and still to be collated.

When undertaking investigations, it’s important to ensure the principles of investigation are upheld at all times. They include the following:


All parties have a right to confidentiality. In some instances, it will not be possible to guarantee confidentiality, for example, where referral is made to national authorities by the survivor or the survivor’s family. Information will only be shared on a ‘need to know’ basis, the parameters of which should be established at the planning stage.

The identity of those involved should only be disclosed on an authorised basis where referral to national authorities is indicated. Within the disciplinary process, it is not necessary or desirable to reveal the identity of the complainant, survivor or other witnesses.

Records should be stored securely to avoid accidental or unauthorised disclosure of information. Complainants/survivors/witnesses may want to remain anonymous during the investigations and as such their identities should not be revealed to perpetrators or to other witnesses. Such complaints should be provided the same importance as other complaints where survivors have been identified.


Complaints are treated with respect and in a fair and equitable manner. All those involved in the investigation must have received investigation training and have the knowledge and skills to fulfil their responsibilities. Only trained investigators should investigate allegations of SEAH.


Investigations must be conducted in a diligent and rigorous manner to ensure that all relevant evidence is obtained and evaluated (including evidence that either supports or refutes the complaint).

Objectivity and impartiality

Evidence to support and refute the allegation should be gathered and reported in an unbiased and independent manner. It is essential that investigators have no personal or professional interest in the people implicated.

Planning and review

This ensures that investigations are planned, systematic and completed according to agreed timeframes.

Respect for all concerned

Including the survivor and the Subject of the Complaint. All those concerned have the right to be treated with respect and dignity and to be kept informed of the progress of the investigation.


It is in everyone’s interest that investigations are conducted as quickly as possible without compromising quality. A number of factors (communication systems, travel, distance, etc.) will influence what is a reasonable timeframe. As a general rule, investigations should be completed as soon as possible (i.e., final report submitted) within 30–45 days of receipt of a complaint.

Working in partnership with other interested parties

In some cases, other contracted NGOs might be implicated in the complaint. In such instances, consideration needs to be given to conducting a joint investigation if staff at both organisations are implicated, in the interests of sharing relevant information and preventing the need for repeated interviews.

Increasingly donors and regulatory bodies are becoming more involved in survivors, and may decide to refer to national authorities where they are already involved. For mandatory reporting issues involving children, determine the best interest of the child when making mandatory reporting decisions

Needs of survivors, witnesses and the Subjects of the Complaint

The needs of survivors and witnesses are paramount in the investigation process and must be constantly addressed and prioritised over other considerations. While the organisation may not be able to guarantee safety, it is essential that a survivor/witness plan is developed and reviewed. The survivor/witness must be advised as to the limits of the organisation’s capacity to protect them when ‘informed consent’ is sought.

Welfare needs would include referrals to healthcare providers and psycho-social support. It’s important to note that this is the responsibility of the organisation and therefore the investigating team should check that these needs have been met.

Medical intervention should be arranged to promote the witness’ health and wellbeing, for example, to treat injuries or sexually transmitted infections. Where there is a report of sexual abuse within the previous 72 hours, the survivor should be referred immediately if medical treatment for HIV post-exposure or emergency contraception is to be effective.

Psycho-social support should be provided to witnesses to deal with fear, guilt, shame, etc. via access to support groups and/or crisis counselling. Referrals should also be made to legal or judicial systems if the survivor should wish to do so, upon which the organisation should hand over evidence as required to those investigating criminal offences.

Want to find out more?

For further information on investigation training, follow the link below:

CHS Investigator PSEA training and qualification training scheme

Activity 3.3 The principles of investigation

Choose three of the principles described above and note in your learning journal how you would apply them when managing safeguarding concerns.

This might be a topic you need to discuss with others in your organisation.

Are there principles you could do more to strengthen?

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