In National Safeguarding Awareness Week (16-22 November) Jane Kingston gives an overview of safeguarding, explains how advocacy supports people going through safeguarding processes and what to do if you suspect someone is at risk and unable to protect themselves.
What is safeguarding
Abuse comes in several forms - sexual, financial, emotional, physical, domestic, discriminatory, institutional, modern slavery and neglect. As a UK citizen we all have the legal right to life without torture or degrading treatment (Article 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998). If a crime has been committed in some circumstances the police will be invited to investigate however in reality the state rarely intervenes for the majority of people who experience abuse. The reason for this is that we have laws to protect our privacy (Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998) as well as our right to make unwise decisions and live our lives the way we choose (Mental Capacity Act 2005). But not all people have the mental capacity to protect themselves when they face abuse and that is where safeguarding is necessary for some people who are in vulnerable situations.
Safeguarding is a term we use frequently in the Health and Social Care sector because we often work with people who are unable to protect themselves. The local authority has a duty to protect particular people who have care and support needs and are considered at risk of abuse, and unable to protect themselves.
Advocacy and safeguarding
If a person has support needs, is at risk of abuse and unable to protect themselves then the local authority has a duty to carry out enquiries and decide actions to safeguard them. The enquiries - known as Section 42 enquiries - involve investigating the allegation of abuse, speaking with all parties including the person at risk, and agreeing a plan to stop the abuse and place the person in safety with support around them.
All Local Authorities have signed up to the 'Making Safeguarding Personal' agenda. To ensure the person at risk is central to the process an Independent Advocate can support them through each step of the way to check they understand what is happening and that their views and wishes are expressed in any recommendations. The plan to protect must be agreed in consultation with the person at risk.
We know from hearing tragic stories in the news that communication is key to stopping abuse. Each Local Authority area has a duty to take a strategic approach to safeguarding its residents and brings partners together at a Safeguarding Adults Board, where they can communicate. The boards focus on prevention of abuse and will review when cases end in serious injury or death to learn lessons and improve future practice.
More widely available support
With the introduction of the Care Act 2014 the role of advocacy within safeguarding was strengthened. The Health and Social Care sector welcomed significant changes that came into force four years ago. The new legislation made it easier to access support for more people in vulnerable situations.
Advocacy for safeguarding in the past relied on waiting for official mental capacity assessments to check if the person qualified for a representative. Now the person leading the safeguarding case can informally assess to a much lower threshold. This means more people have access to advocacy under the Care Act.
More choice and control
The Care Act 2014 introduced a new advocate role to support people who are going through a safeguarding process. The Care Act 2014 made it a legal duty for all Local Authorities to provide an Independent Advocate for anyone who has 'substantial difficulty to engage' or is otherwise unsupported by someone “appropriate”. This means that where a person is struggling to understand what is happening, cannot retain all the information, struggles to weigh up and use the information available to them and cannot then communicate their views and wishes, an Independent Advocate is appointed to provide support. This Independent Advocate under the Care Act is trained in the relevant legislation and process in order to best support the person to understand and take part in the safeguarding process.
The person can decide if they want to be supported or represented in the safeguarding process. They can say if the person alongside them is 'appropriate' and choose whether to accept an Independent Advocate.
Everyone who meets the criteria (has care needs, is at risk and cannot protect themselves and has no other appropriate support) is entitled to an Independent Advocate under the Care Act from the Local Authority’s commissioned advocacy provider.
If you are reading this and suspect someone is at risk and unable to protect themselves then it is important to contact the Local Authority safeguarding team. If you think they are in immediate danger then do not delay in contacting the police. Letting the person know you are taking this action is really important in order to include them in the process. You can ask their consent to share information about them with others. When sharing information with the safeguarding team it is important to share facts rather than opinions. This may become a formal investigation and needs to be explored based on what happened and what the person disclosed to you, not your suspicions or theories. It’s always best to write down what the person told you in their own words. You will also want to share any views the person shared with you about what they want to happen, so that they are truly integral to the enquiry outcomes.
How we support in Connected Voice Advocacy
We know that some people are more vulnerable due to Covid 19 restrictions and lockdown limits to remain in the home. During the pandemic we have seen an increase in referrals for support from people experiencing abuse in their homes or neighbourhoods. The recent increase in racial tension locally has impacted on our Hate Crime service which received double the referral numbers on this time last year. We provide the Independent Advocate role in Gateshead for approximately 140 people a year who meet the criteria. This isn’t the only way we support our service-users. Our advocates working across all our projects have the potential to witness or hear disclosures of abuse. We support our service users to understand how to keep themselves safe and, where necessary, we raise alerts to the Local Authority to support them. Having a trusted advocate to talk to has helped people disclose incidents across all of our projects. We explain the official enquiry process and demystify the steps along the way. We ensure that the person is involved where they want to be and that information is shared with them. Being a victim of any form of abuse can leave people feeling disempowered and advocates ensure that the person is back in control of the enquiry process. By having an advocate in the safeguarding process our service users feel supported and have the information they need.
Please get in touch if you think an advocate can help you or someone you know.