When we think of safeguarding, we tend to think first of children, but there are also vulnerable people over the age of 18 who can be at risk of neglect or abuse.
This can take many forms, from physical and psychological to financial. It can be hard to pinpoint, as the victim might try to hide what they are going through because of embarrassment or fear.
What does safeguarding mean?
According to the government’s Office of the Public Guardian safeguarding policy:
“Safeguarding is about protecting certain people who may be in vulnerable circumstances. These people may be at risk of abuse or neglect due to the actions (or lack of action) of another person.”
Who is responsible for safeguarding vulnerable adults?
The Care Act 2014 in England and the Social Services and Wellbeing Act 2014 in Wales provide frameworks and clear responsibilities for adult social services run by local authorities, working in partnership with organisations such as the NHS.
Local authorities have a key responsibility for safeguarding vulnerable adults and a duty to promote wellbeing in the community. Public services are expected to work together to identify adults who are at risk and put measures in place to keep them safe.
This can include arranging independent advocates to represent and support the subject of a safeguarding enquiry, setting up a Safeguarding Adult Review and working with partners to protect adults at risk.
In cases where the abuse is against the law, the police should be contacted.
What forms might the abuse take?
The range of abuse can include:
- Sexual abuse – from inappropriate touching to being forced to watch or take part in sexual acts
- Physical abuse – from being denied food to being restrained or other kinds of physical violence
- Psychological abuse – including verbal and emotional abuse, threats, restrictions on freedoms of movement or cyberbullying
- Domestic abuse – controlling, threatening and coercive behaviour as well as violence
- Discriminatory abuse – relating to age, race, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, disability or religion
- Financial abuse – from stealing money and property to coercion to part with money and internet scams
- Neglect – such as not providing sufficient food or required medicines, leaving a vulnerable adult in dirty or wet clothes
- Modern slavery
Who is particularly at risk?
People who are isolated without much outside contact; those dependent on carers; those with Alzheimer’s, dementia or mental health issues, or who struggle to communicate.
Those at risk may not be aware of their rights or may try to hide the abuse or neglect. Look out for signs that they need help. These can be unexplained changes in their physical appearance, from bruising or signs that suggest they are not getting the food or medicine they require, or in their behaviour, such as becoming withdrawn or depressed, changes in their finances or belongings or paperwork going missing.
Where does the abuse take place and by whom?
It can be in the home or in an institution such as a care home, day centre or hospital. The person carrying out the abuse might be a stranger, professional, neighbour or family member, but usually its someone the person knows, who is in a position of trust or authority.
In a few cases, the abuse or neglect is unintentional and carried out because of another person’s inability to care for someone – this is known as “passive abuse”.
What help is available?
If you are or know of an individual who is encountering abuse or neglect, you should talk to professionals or someone who can contact the authorities for you.
Those who can help include social workers, GPs and the local authority’s adult safeguarding staff. The police should be involved if a crime has been committed and the emergency services should also be contacted for any serious medical issues.
Help for older people can be found on the Action on Elder Abuse website or by calling 0808 808 8141.
The Care Quality Commission monitors, inspects and regulates health and social care services: 03000 616161.
Help on Modern Slavery issues: visit: https://www.modernslaveryhelpline.org/ or call 08000 121 700.
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