Social workers ‘need permission to practise’ in way that improves safeguarding

Timescales for safeguarding cases should be relaxed to make success of Making Safeguarding Personal approach to practice, sector leaders hear

Social worker and person with learning disabilities
Photo: John Birsdall/Rex

Social workers “need permission to work in a person-centred” way in adult safeguarding cases in order to improve outcomes for people who need support.

That was one of the messages from an evaluation of the Making Safeguarding Personal (MSP) approach during 2014-15, which was launched last week at the National Children and Adult Services conference.

MSP is an approach that seeks to identify, record and, as far as possible, meet a person’s desired outcomes from a safeguarding intervention. While it has been piloted in previous years, 2014-15 was the first year that all councils were expected to adopt the approach. The statutory guidance to the Care Act 2014, which came into force on 1 April 2015, also states that councils should work in this way.

Unveiling the findings, Adi Cooper, co-chair of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services’ safeguarding network, said the evaluation showed that MSP was seen as a success

Ninety five per cent of those surveyed by researchers – 95 local authority MSP leads and 63 staff working in areas that had adopted the approach –  said it was the right way forward and most said it had improved outcomes for people needing a safeguarding service.

Permission to practise

Staff interviewed said that the approach had given them permission to work in a more person-centred way and the evaluation said that senior leaders giving social workers this permission was a key success factor for the MSP approach.

“It’s really important for frontline staff to have permission to work in a person-centred, outcome-focused way,” Cooper told the conference. “There’s often a tension with timescales.”

Safeguarding procedures have historically set tight timescales for the management of cases, for example that a strategy meeting starts within five days, and an investigation within 20 days, of a referral.

However, the MSP approach may require longer than such prescribed timescales because of the need to work with people to identify their desired outcomes from the safeguarding process and enable them to take part in the process.

Managing tensions

The evaluation said that councils needed to develop guidance covering timescales and managing the tension between working at the individual’s pace and dealing with high demand and caseloads.

The report, commissioned by the Local Government Association from Research in Practice for Adults, also identified key areas of practice development required to making the MSP approach work.

These included having honest discussions with people, using legal interventions and supporting and managing risk. After staying safe, the second most identified outcome by people needing safeguarding was maintaining relationships. Cooper said that this raised particular challenges for managing risk “because it’s often people who are putting the person at risk who are the key relationships”.

The evaluation stressed that practitioners needed to work with people’s stated outcomes rather than imposing their own. For example, in domestic abuse cases, this may mean supporting safety planning rather than encouraging the person to leave the relationship straight away.

Another area that required development was recording outcomes. “Data relating to outcomes was patchy and inconsistent and recording systems were often seen as frustrating and not set up to support MSP,” said the report.

The evaluation said existing recording systems should be changed if not fit for purpose for implementing MSP.

Making Safeguarding Personal in practice

The conference also heard how Lambeth council in London had implemented the MSP approach.

Director of adult social care Gill Vickers said the authority now asked people requiring safeguarding how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the following outcomes, at the beginning, middle and end of an enquiry:

  • I see the people I want to see.
  • I respect myself.
  • I feel respected and treated with dignity.
  • I get good care and support.
  • I feel safe.
  • I have control over my life.
  • I feel justice has been done.
  • Vickers said that between the start and end of safeguarding enquiries, the authority saw the greatest improvement in agreement from service users in relation to having control over their lives and feeling that justice had been done.
  • But there was greater disagreement between the start and end of enquiries in relation to people seeing the people they wanted to see and in respecting themselves.
  • Vickers added: “We are not making an excuse but we think those are the two most difficult areas to impact on in a safeguarding enquiry.”

A link to the evaluation report will be provided when it is available.

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