By Robert Templeton, independent social work adviser
Awareness of adult safeguarding has developed enormously since the publication of the ‘No Secrets’ guidance in 2000. It’s not easy to quantify, but the introduction of ‘No Secrets’ has undoubtedly saved many lives and spared others from unimaginable abuse and cruelty.
However, in the 15 years since its launch, the guidance has also been marked by tragedy and scandal. At its worst, safeguarding practice has developed into a self-defeating, risk adverse process that has failed to fully consider the needs of the very individuals professionals are seeking to protect.
Safeguarding adults boards have been criticised for becoming little more than talking shops, with a lack of commitment from partners to make effective decisions. People subject to safeguarding processes have also reported they often feel they have little control, have not been involved in decisions and have had little say over outcomes.
The Care Act 2014 and its guidance proposes a major change in practice. It moves away from being process-led to a more person-centred approach. Importantly, it defines the core purpose of adult care and support as to help people achieve the outcomes that matter to them in life.
The act also puts safeguarding boards on a statutory footing for the first time. It requires each local authority to establish a board with mandatory members from the council, the clinical commissioning group and the chief of police, as well as other organisations and individuals as appropriate to their local safeguarding arrangements.
The board has responsibility for leading adult safeguarding across the locality and has three core duties: to publish a strategic plan setting out how it will meet its objectives, publish an annual report outlining what the board has achieved, and to conduct a safeguarding adult review when needed.
‘A fresh perspective’
Appointing an independent chair is not a requirement of the Care Act, but many safeguarding boards are opting to do so. When a chair isn’t in place, the task usually falls to the council’s director of social services and some have reported they find the role challenging – it’s difficult to remove themselves from the operational mindset.
An independent chair can bring impartiality and a fresh perspective. They’ll need a broad range of skills – managing meetings, being a good listener and the ability to understand the different priorities and pressures across the safeguarding partnership.
The role is also uniquely complex. The chair needs to be the custodian of the safeguarding governance framework, give advice and support to partners, as well as being able to offer constructive challenge and hold agencies to account.
‘Service user voice’
A crucial task for the independent chair, and the safeguarding board, is to bring the service user’s voice to the centre of strategic decisions.
The Care Act replaces a number of statutes but it does not fundamentally change the established legal concepts or practice. As public services enter their eighth year of recession there is a risk they lack capacity, appetite and resources to make real change and will opt for business as usual – including the user’s voice is key to avoiding this.
As one parent involved in a safeguarding review said: “It is painful to be involved in safeguarding but it would be more painful not to be involved.”
The principle of individual wellbeing is the underpinning force that binds all elements of the Care Act together. The act is clear that it is the person themselves who is best placed to judge their wellbeing. The independent chair has a vital role in ensuring this principal is embraced by all partners and forms a golden thread from the board through to the frontline.
Safeguarding boards need to think carefully when recruiting a new chair. Playing it safe and taking a business as usual approach will result in an isolated, reactive and ineffective board. What is easy to measure will become more important than the outcome for the individual.
The task is to find someone who can instil a common set of values in the hearts and minds of those who use and work in services and create a system in which good safeguarding leads to great outcomes for individuals and communities.