My practice

Tina Stevenson*, 24, has learning difficulties,
lives with her parents and attends one of our day services. A
couple of years ago, a member of staff found the gardener touching
Tina. This was the second time Tina had been touched
inappropriately at that day service. The gardener was suspended,
vulnerable adult procedure begun, police informed and Tina went
home on the day service transport as usual.

Unfortunately, Tina’s parents were not told that day what had
happened. Tina does not communicate much verbally, and so although
her parents realised she was upset, they did not know why until
police contacted them. Tina’s parents were understandably upset –
both about what had happened and also that they were not told
immediately. They wanted to be able to support Tina, but they were
also concerned that they might have done something that could
affect a subsequent prosecution. They were also angry that, as they
saw it, the service had again failed to protect their

Tina’s parents made a complaint, which was formally investigated at
Stage Two of the statutory social care complaints procedure. The
investigating officer found there had been no deliberate intention
to keep what had happened from Tina’s parents. Rather, staff hadn’t
really known what to do, and believed that as police were involved
there was no need to tell anyone else.

Tina’s parents wanted a change to the vulnerable adult procedure,
so that it clearly stated that parents should always be told
immediately of any incident of concern involving an adult with
learning difficulties. However, it would obviously not be
appropriate to state this so plainly in the procedure – some
service users may not want their parents told, or the concerns may
be about the parents or carers.

Things have moved on since this incident, and our vulnerable adult
policy has changed too. The policy now states that consideration
will always be given to informing carers or next of kin as soon as
possible after any incident of concern. Tina’s parents are still in
touch and their input into developing the policy has been valuable
and welcomed.

However, the complaint has also demonstrated a major weakness of
all policies and procedures: they can’t be tailored to the needs of
every service user and carer in every situation. Instead, a note
has been put on Tina’s file at the day service to stress the
importance of telling her parents about any incidents of concern –
unless there is any reason to believe that at any time in the
future Tina would not want this.

* Not her real name

Sarah Baalham is customer care manager, Suffolk Council

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