Safeguarding failings left disabled couple at mercy of abuser

Safeguarding failings by social work staff left a learning disabled couple at the mercy of a relative who used power of attorney to abuse them for six years, an investigation has found.

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Safeguarding failings by social work staff left a learning disabled couple at the mercy of a relative who used power of attorney to abuse them for six years, an investigation has found.

The couple, Mr and Mrs D, suffered financial and emotional abuse at the hands of Mr D’s brother that “could have been avoided or lessened” but for statutory services’ failure to intervene, found the report by the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland.

Though the watchdog praised council social work staff for working hard to support the Ds, it slammed poor information sharing and case recording – including a two-and-a half year gap in case records – a lack of care co-ordination and a failure to carry out risk assessments.

Council managers also failed to act on serious concerns recorded by a community care officer, while the problems were underpinned by a lack of understanding of the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000.

The brother, Mr E, was granted power of attorney, enabling him to take decisions about the couple’s welfare and financial affairs should they lose capacity, in 2003. Though a GP deemed that the couple had capacity to grant consent to this, the commission found that it was unlikely they understood the implications of the powers they were handing over to him and were pressured into doing so.

In addition, the community learning disability team had not passed on concerns that it already had about Mr E’s undue influence over the couple to the GP, which could have altered his view of their capacity to consent.

Forty concerns about abusive behaviour were recorded by the council in the subsequent six years, during which time Mr E ran up £10,000 in debts for the couple, confined them to their house at night, managed Mrs D’s access to medication and granted them toilet paper only by request.

But though the council could have used provisions under Act to apply to the Sheriff to revoke Mr E’s powers of attorney or have them supervised, it did not do so, even when staff had serious concerns about abuse in 2008.

In the end, Mr and Mrs D revoked his powers themselves, with the help of another family member, and the watchdog said they were now “going from strength to strength”. 

“In failing to [apply to the Sheriff], [local authority staff] exposed Mr and Mrs D to continued abuse,” the report found. “It was wrong to rely on the couple to act to protect their own interests when there was so much evidence that they were unable to do so without considerable support while they remained under the influence of Mr E.”

Among recommendations, it called on the council, which has not been named, to apologise to the couple, analyse the need for training of staff in the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000 and review supervision arrangements to ensure concerns raised by frontline staff are responded to appropriately.

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