The role of appropriate adult is not given enough recognition
either inside or outside social services. It is seen as low
priority, is organised differently from area to area and is often
not adequately organised.
Yet this role, established to support vulnerable people who have
been arrested, is carefully outlined in the Police and Criminal
Evidence Act 1984, is considered important by the courts and has a
vital advocacy function for disadvantaged members of society.
It could be that the low status of appropriate adults is down to
the perception that there are not very many and that they are not
often used. Research found that only one in 100 mentally disordered
people in custody saw an appropriate adult.
But the importance of the role cannot be overstated as far as the
legal system in England and Wales is concerned. Various convictions
have been quashed on appeal because of the absence or behaviour of
an appropriate adult.
Not that many police interviews involve an appropriate adult. But
this is not just due to the number of requests made by the police.
How proactive are social services departments in this area, and how
many have a policy for the role and provision of appropriate
If social services are involved, there tends to be two approaches.
Often the duty desk will supply one of the team to take on this
role, usually unqualified and sometimes without any training, in
the hope they can manage. Or approved social workers may be used,
although they are often saved for more complex mental health
Social services help desks should develop a screening system to
clarify whether an appropriate adult is necessary and who is the
most appropriate person to be involved. It may be that a well
trained worker or a more experienced ASW may be required.
Monitoring is essential. How many agencies have a senior manager
responsible for this, or record and review activity?
The appropriate adult should be supported. They should also receive
training on regulations and police custody procedures and any
difficulties with communication or comprehension that different
mental illnesses or learning difficulties might cause.
The role of appropriate adult is an important one for the police,
the detained person and for society. It deserves an appropriate
system in place.
Leslie Carr is an approved social worker at West Sussex