Guidelines for partner operators

Volunteering directly with vulnerable children

These guidelines cover volunteer trips promoted on Responsible Travel that involve working with vulnerable children in any of the following settings:  children's homes; youth centres (including drop-in centres); residential facilities; trafficking shelters; women and children violence refuges and other similar settings.

We only promote on Responsible Travel those volunteer projects from partner organisations that commit to the following promises:

Qualifications, skills & experience:

  • Volunteers must have appropriate qualifications, skills, experience and understanding of vulnerable childcare and have provided proof of these in the form of certification and references which the partner organisation has taken up. Suitable qualification areas include: social work, psychology, counselling, medical health, appropriate educational qualifications etc.

  • The organisation will 'skills match' all volunteers working with vulnerable children to specific, clearly defined roles using specific selection criteria.

Placement length:

The volunteer placements must be for a minimum time period of 4 weeks. The partner organisation does not take on volunteers to work with vulnerable children if they are unable to commit at least 4 weeks of their time.


All volunteers (British) are DBS checked (or national equivalent e.g. police checks in the US).

Codes & policies:

Our ('s) partner organisation has clear and comprehensive child protection policies in place which all volunteers must agree to (policies must be published e.g. website and presented as part of the Responsible Travel membership process). In addition, the organisation has clear reporting mechanisms for violence, abuse or any other form of child protection concern (including internal reporting systems and anonymous reporting to the appropriate authority i.e. UNICEF if government mechanisms are not possible). The organisation must also have clear media, photography and publishing guidelines in place which protect the use of children's images and personal information (again, guidelines must be presented as part of the Responsible Travel membership process) Images or personal information of vulnerable children should not be published (including through social media without written permission of the child's legal guardian). All policies, guidelines and codes must be shared with, and agreed to by volunteers before their placement.

Other roles (not alongside children):

Volunteers agree to consider volunteering in other areas such as supporting locally employed full time permanent/professional staff in training and development of programmes, admin, construction. Care will be taken to understand the volunteers' skills transferability in the context.

Training & preparation:

We require that our partner organisation provide the volunteers with the following information prior to travelling:
  • details of who they will be working with and supported by
  • where they will be working
  • what they will be doing
  • what they cannot do
  • details of the setting, including children's ages, number of children and staff/children ratio (as advised by the relevant country Government)
  • copies of policies, codes and processes should a problem arise
  • contextual information detailing the social and cultural environment
  • copies of the centre's legal registration and legal status
  • the abuse and complaint reporting process, both internally and externally (to police / government / regulatory authority)
  • An on the ground orientation upon arrival by a project leader

The setting (whether a partner organisation operating with mutual agreement or run by the same organisation):

Our ('s) partner organisation has undertaken thorough due diligence and are satisfied that:
  • the organisation is properly registered and operating under local law
  • there are no staff (field or senior management) who have been arrested or convicted of a crime related to child abuse, neglect, harm or any other form of child related criminality
  • the children within the setting have arrived through credible government or NGO agencies with the organisation having clear intake procedures and case management files of new children
  • the school age children have access to suitable education
  • efforts are made to return the children to a family setting where possible. This includes effective family tracing, family connection services, family reintegration and future plans, services or referral to foster care and other alternative care options for children that cannot be placed in biological family
  • preparation is made for life after the setting
  • adequate child protection policies are in place and are regularly reviewed
  • the setting is properly and transparently funded
  • the setting has a formal system of recruiting volunteers
  • the centre does not allow spontaneous visitors and volunteers who have not undergone safety checks
  • there are adequate processes in place to support volunteers
  • local staff to children ratios and volunteer to local staff ratios are adequate. Centres should follow the standards established by the relevant national authority (where standards do not exist, follow the standards of the UNICEF country office)
*We do not promote last minute (4 weeks or less) volunteering opportunities due to the need for an adequate preparation and application period.

**We only promote holiday itineraries and trips that include a day / short visit to an - orphanage / children’s home / community or family setting / youth or drop-in centre - as part of a wider itinerary, if the children are not present or involved in the visit.
It is simply irresponsible for short term and/or untrained international volunteers to work in orphanages
There is enough proof that the constant engagement with a stream of strangers is hugely damaging to children.
As a Responsible Travel member we fully support this difficult decision - Responsible Travel promotes responsible travel - the placement of unskilled volunteers in poorly managed child care centres is not responsible - it's that simple.
- Sallie Grayson, People & Places
People who want to volunteer and support vulnerable children should focus their efforts on helping poor families and communities so that these families and communities are better able to keep their children safe at home.
- Rebecca Smith, Child Without Appropriate Care Advisor, Save the Children should be commended for taking leadership in this area by removing orphanage volunteering from their offerings and putting clear guidelines in place. We hope others will take note and follow suit.
- Daniela Papi,
Photo credits: [Page banner: Frontierofficial / Rhiannon Walker]