Adult protection must be underpinned by statute to end its status as the poor relation of child protection and domestic violence, the conference was told.
Daniel Blake, policy development manager at Action on Elder Abuse, said cases of abuse of vulnerable adults received less intervention than those of domestic violence, even though most abuse occurred in the home.
He said the multi-agency arrangements for adult protection were failing and a lack of engagement from health and police was a concern.
Blake said the issue had been tackled inconsistently since the introduction in 2000 of the No Secrets guidance, from which councils can deviate, unlike the statutory provisions governing child protection.
Anne Williams, vice-president of the Association of Directors of Social Services, said the priority given to child protection over adult protection was exemplified in the training. Social services and the police had a two-week joint course for child protection, but adult protection took just three days, she said.
“Child protection has had loads of resources put into it but no resources have been put into local authorities or their partners for adult protection,” she told the conference.
She said the split between adults’ and children’s services risked diluting expertise in tackling abuse. She pointed out that her council, Salford, was looking at having one safeguarding unit to tackle adult protection, child protection and domestic violence.
She added: “We are in danger if we think about them separately.”
Both Blake and Williams said abuse in care homes was also a significant problem, accounting for 25 per cent of calls to Action on Elder Abuse’s helpline, even though just 4.5 per cent of older people live in residential care.
Blake added: “There is a crisis of abuse in our care home sector. Until the sector acknowledges the scale and size of the roblem, we will never move forward.”