Safeguarding procedure timetables should be revised to enable social workers to put adults at risk at the heart of the process and focus on improving outcomes for them.
That was the message from councils who have tested the Making Safeguarding Personal (MSP) approach to protecting adults, designed to involve the person in the process, enable them to articulate what they want from it and assess whether these outcomes had been achieved.
The finding came in a report on the MSP programme in 2013-14, published by the Local Government Association (LGA) and Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass), which oversee the Department of Health and LGA-funded programme.
Findings from 43 of the 53 councils to test MSP in 2013-14 found that all believed that it had made adults at risk feel more empowered, enabling some people to take action to protect themselves, and that it had improved social work practice.
Need to revise timescales identified
But councils said that making the approach work involved social workers investing more time at the start of the safeguarding process than is usually allowed for by policies and procedures.
These often specify timescales for each stage of the process, for example that strategy meetings – the initial multi-agency discussion to assess the safeguarding allegations – take place within five working days of a referral.
However, the MSP approach promotes involving people in the strategy meeting to articulate what they want from the safeguarding process so this can shape professionals’ practice.
Councils found this required giving practitioners more time with the person to help them identify outcomes, understand their options and prepare for meetings, including by appointing an advocate to support them where necessary.
“Timescales in procedures are a particular area to be revisited so that the emphasis is shifted to timeliness rather than a single, ‘one-size fits all’ time target,” said the report.
Most councils said safeguarding policies and procedures needed to be revised to remove barriers to person-centred practice. While some had done so, others said they intended to influence the revision of regional procedures, such as those developed by the Social Care Institute for Excellence for London and the West Midlands.
Councils said involving adults at risk in strategy meetings and case conferences – meetings that consider the findings of an adult safeguarding investigation – was beneficial in promoting a focus on their desired outcomes.
However, councils found that social workers and managers needed to remove jargon and make language more accessible to effectively engage people in the process, including by explaining what is meant by ‘safeguarding’ and ‘outcomes’.
Social workers more motivated but in need of training
Councils said the programme had made social workers feel more motivated and enthusiastic as they were spending more time with people, felt less rushed and were more focused on improving people’s quality of life, rather than just keeping them safe.
Authorities also reported improvements in social workers’ recording of their decision-making. While practitioners had lacked confidence in having conversations with adults at risk about their desired outcomes, councils had developed practice tools to help them foster this, including prompts, checklists and aide memoires.
However, they also said practitioners’ skills needed to be developed, including in risk enablement and in negotiating outcomes with people and their families, particularly where desired outcomes were unrealistic or where there was conflict within the family. Staff also needed to develop their knowledge of the law, including in relation to the Mental Capacity Act and Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards.
To support this, some councils had recognised that they needed to redesign and recommission the safeguarding training they provided for social workers and ensure trainers were sufficiently skilled to promote an outcomes-focused approach.
Councils also identified the key role of individual and group supervision in embedding the MSP approach and of providing practitioners with opportunities for reflective practice.
Case recording changes
The report also found that most councils had amended their case recording systems to enable information to be collected on people’s preferred outcomes and whether these were achieved, given the past emphasis on processes and timescales in performance data.
However, authorities reported a challenge in implementing systems that recorded and aggregated outcome data but were sufficiently flexible to reflect the complexities of individuals’ wishes and feelings.
As part of MSP, councils had tested a “sector outcome measure”, recording the number and proportion of people who define the outcomes they want – or for whom outcomes are defined through a best interests process – and the number and proportion for whom these outcomes are realised.
However, councils warned this should not be adopted as a simple performance indicator lest it incentivise authorities to encourage people to be less ambitious in their desired outcomes, so that a higher proportion of them are achieved.