All adults deserve to be treated with respect, and not experience abuse or neglect during their daily lives. However, some adults have care needs that prevent them from being able to look after themselves and protect themselves from experiencing abuse.
For this reason, it is important that everyone who works in certain settings, such as care homes and hospitals, understands how to safeguard vulnerable adults, and what they need to do to prevent these people from coming to harm.
In this article, we will explore safeguarding vulnerable adults and answer ten frequently asked questions about the process.
Everyone has the right to live a happy life that is free from harm. While many adults can achieve this independently, some require help from others to do so. Safeguarding is the act of ‘protecting an adult’s right to live in safety, free from abuse and neglect’ and refers to any actions taken to achieve this. This includes taking steps to:
The Care Act 2014 is the main piece of legislation that sets out the requirements for adult safeguarding. It places a duty on organisations to prevent, detect and report the abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults in their care.
It details six principles that should be followed during all adult safeguarding work:
The Care Act guidance states that a vulnerable adult is anyone 18 or over who:
Be aware that some adults are more vulnerable than others due to factors that make them more dependent on care and support systems, such as age, illness, disability and mental capacity.
Abuse can be broadly defined as any act, or lack thereof, that causes a vulnerable person harm or distress. This could be one single act or a series of repeated acts, and can be done willfully or unintentionally.
Adults who are at risk can be abused by anyone who has contact with them at any time. This includes:
Abusers are often people in a position of power or trust, who take advantage of their position to target vulnerable adults. Be aware that abuse is not always malicious, and can take place because carers are unable to cope with the support demands placed on them.
Abuse can take place in any setting, including anywhere the vulnerable adult lives, works, socialises or receives care. It can also take place online or by phone, where increased anonymity makes it easier for abusers to develop fake identities and protect themselves from being discovered. For more information on digital safeguarding, consider reading the Online Digital Safeguarding article.
All vulnerable adults are at risk of experiencing abuse, but some factors increase the risk of this occurring. These include:
Certain situations can also increase the risk of someone being abused. For example, if a person is isolated at home and does not regularly see any other people, it can be easy for an abuser to hide their actions.
Some people lack the mental capacity to be able to make informed decisions about their own welfare and safety. Specifically, they may lack the ability to:
This may be the case if someone has dementia, a severe learning disability, a brain injury or is unconscious. The Mental Capacity Act 2005 is designed to protect these people and ensure that they are able to receive the care they require in spite of their mental capacity. It states that:
Be aware that adults can have the capacity to make some decisions but not others. For example, a person may be able to decide on what clothes to wear, but not how to deal with a complex family matter.
Abuse and neglect can take a significant number of forms, the most prominent of which being:
Physical abuse includes assault, hitting, kicking, slapping, punching, pushing, misuse of medication, restraint and inappropriate physical sanctions.
Psychological abuse includes emotional abuse, threats of harm or abandonment, deprivation of contact, humiliation, blaming, controlling, intimidation, coercion, harassment, verbal abuse, bullying, isolation, unreasonable and unjustified withdrawal of services or support networks, and withdrawing or limiting access to medication or assistive equipment.
Sexual abuse includes rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexual activities to which the adult has not consented or was pressured into consenting to. This includes non-contact sexual acts such as indecent exposure, online abuse and pornographic activities.
Neglect and acts of omission include:
Self-neglect covers a wide range of behaviour that shows a failure of someone to care for their personal hygiene, health or surroundings. Human rights legislation limits what support services can do to affect the way someone lives their own life, but cases of self-neglect should still be reported because these services can provide constructive help and further support if permitted.
Financial or material abuse includes theft, fraud and exploitation, pressuring someone about their financial arrangements (such as wills, property, inheritance and financial transactions) and the misuse or stealing of property, possessions or benefits.
Discriminatory abuse includes unequal treatment, harassment or any other abuse perpetrated due to a person’s ‘protected characteristics’ as defined by the Equality Act 2010. These characteristics are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
Organisational abuse includes neglect and poor care within an institution or care setting, including that which takes place in a person’s own home. This can be a one-off incident or ongoing ill-treatment and usually occurs as a result of the structure, policies, processes and practices of an organisation.
Modern slavery includes slavery, human trafficking, forced labour and domestic servitude. Traffickers and slave masters make use of whatever they can to coerce, deceive and force individuals into a life of abuse and inhumane treatment.
Trafficking specifically is the movement of people by means such as force, fraud, coercion or deception with the aim of exploiting them. This exploitation can include forced prostitution, labour, begging, criminality, marriage and organ removal. This is different from smuggling because, unlike trafficking, individuals who have been smuggled are free once they reach their destination country.
Domestic abuse is defined by the Government as ‘any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.’ This definition encompasses all types of abuse, including all those mentioned previously, honour-based violence, female genital mutilation and forced marriage.
When working with service users who may have been a victim of some form of domestic abuse or domestic violence, the issue must be approached appropriately and with respect. This includes not commenting on a relationship or encouraging someone to leave their partner.
There are several signs of abuse that someone working with vulnerable adults should look out for. These include:
Financial abuse is very common, making it important to understand the specific signs that indicate financial abuse is taking place. These include:
Modern slavery shares many of its signs with other forms of abuse. However, there are some specific signs that may indicate that a person is being trafficked or used as a slave. These include:
Do you want to learn more about modern slavery? Consider taking our Modern Slavery Awareness Training Course.