Councils must look at new working practices in their effort to develop their increased role in safeguarding vulnerable adults, writes Penny Furness-Smith
(Click here for Mark Hunter’s overview of policy and thinking on adult protection)
There is a growing awareness that high quality social care for adults is about more than residential, nursing or domiciliary care. It also involves safer communities, health, well-being, coherent public transport policies, public health, housing and preventive services, as will be discussed next month at a conference jointly organised by Community Care and the Association of Directors & Adult Social Services (see box).
Adult social care services have, in the words of the first Adass president Anne Williams, come into the light of day at the same time as personalisation has become a watchword for the new relationships being forged between citizen and state.
That makes the road ahead long. What makes it bumpier for directors of adult social services is the growing awareness of the responsibilities we have for safeguarding and protecting vulnerable adults in whatever setting. It is reckoned that failure to take reasonable steps to safeguard individuals from abuse or life-threatening events is in breach of articles two and three of the European Convention on Human Rights.
According to one authority: “It is important that adult protection is triggered when someone is believed to be at risk of harm/abuse and not only at the point where there is demonstrable evidence of harm.”
All public agencies, then, have an obligation under the human rights laws to be proactive in safeguarding.
Questions still have to be asked whether our departments have the money, adequate indicators, active commitment from all other partners along with highly trained staff in sufficient numbers to do the job. As the co-chair of the Adass workforce development network put it recently in a letter to The Times, “unless we get the right workforce working the right way in the right conditions all the social care policy pronouncements in the world will be completely meaningless”.
This is despite the proven dedication of our frontline workers, the extra benefits arising from the Safeguarding Vulnerable Adults Group Act 2006 and the publication in the same year of directors’ responsibilities requiring us to promote individual and community well-being. These have considerably helped us begin to clarify our organisational focus, our roles and responsibilities within the wider statutory and voluntary sector world within a newly emerging national framework of standards.
Some 18 months ago the only just-launched Adass gave evidence to the House of Commons joint committee on human rights while publishing its own seven-point plan for future engagement. That included a call for legislation to strengthen our safeguarding role – a call which has been debated in the Department of Health, although not, so far, acted upon.
Duty to share
Adass will continue to pursue the objectives of the seven-point plan. It seeks powers to enter domestic properties, duties to share information between the statutory agencies and regulators, for public bodies to co-operate in safeguarding, and to act on or investigate complaints. It also seeks a clarification of the duties and powers of other local authority departments and health agencies across geographical and organisational boundaries. All are vitally necessary if we are genuinely committed to making the world safer for vulnerable adults.
There’s still a long way to go: No Secrets is still being refreshed amid debates about the respective roles of regulation local authority contract scrutiny, and the impact of personalisation on the safeguarding agenda.
But nobody should underestimate the importance of the task or the benefits on offer for us all in taking forward this complicated but fascinating new agenda.
Penny Furness-Smith is joint national lead for safeguarding, Association of Directors of Adult Social Services and will be speaking at the Community Care/Adass conference.
Published in the 7 August edition of Community Care under the heading Improving Safeguarding