By Andy McNicoll and Rachel Carter
The number of cases adult safeguarding teams need to respond to doubled in the first six months of the Care Act, figures published today suggest.
Councils made 100,000 safeguarding enquiries between April 2015 and October 2015, the Local Government Association’s latest Care Act stocktake found. Official figures show councils handled 103,900 safeguarding referrals in the full 12-month period up until April 2015, when the Care Act came into force.
The figures strongly suggest safeguarding caseloads have increased substantially since the act introduced a statutory threshold for initiating safeguarding enquiries (see box below). Previously councils decided when an investigation should be initiated.
Social care sources said the rise was likely to reflect a combination of factors. These included increased reporting, greater awareness of the need for safeguarding interventions in cases involving issues like modern slavery, and that the Care Act’s statutory threshold may be broader than the local definitions previously used by councils.
However, Community Care understands there are also genuine concerns among sector leaders that the figures could at least in part mark problems in the quality of care services. As at March 7, a third of social care services inspected by the Care Quality Commission were deemed to be inadequate (3%) or require improvement (30%).
Gary Fitzgerald, chief executive of older people’s charity, Action on Elder Abuse, said: “If these figures are accurate they represent a major increase in adult safeguarding intervention, and that must be welcomed because of what it potentially means for victims.
“However, it is worth exploring the detail further as it is difficult to see how safeguarding teams effectively doubled their workloads at a time of substantial cutbacks.”
He added: “It would be useful to know how many of these enquiries were ‘delegated’ to care providers or others? What were the actual outcomes, and did they make a difference for victims? Unfortunately, the stocktake tells us nothing beyond providing the figure of 100,000, which makes it impossible to draw any meaningful conclusions.
“We intend to explore this further with the LGA to better understand the validity of this figure and what it might mean.”
The stocktake, which received responses from 149 of 152 councils in England, is the main tool used by the Local Government Association and the Department of Health to monitor progress on implementation of the act. Previous surveys measured councils’ readiness to deliver the legislation but today’s stocktake, which was carried out in November 2015, covers implementation of the act itself.
Based on performance so far councils expected to carry out 1.65 million social care assessments by the end of the financial year, an increase of 56,000 on last year.
The Care Act introduced the first national eligibility threshold for support. Councils estimated this would lead to a marginal increase in the percentage of assessments that led to a person being deemed eligible for care and support, from 63% in 2014-15 to 65% in 2015-16.
The act also introduced new rights for carers. Under section 10, councils must undertake a carers’ assessment if it appears the individual may have current or future need for support. The stocktake found councils predicted the number of carers assessed as being eligible for support is expected to increase by 37%, with a 48% increase in the number of carers receiving council-funded services as a result of the act.
The stocktake figures also reinforced concerns around the provision of advocacy. Under the Care Act, councils are legally required to offer an advocate to anyone who has ‘substantial difficulty’ being involved in assessments, care planning, reviews and safeguarding cases and lacks a suitable friend or relative to represent them.
The government’s Care Act impact assessment estimated 7% would qualify for, and accept, support. The stocktake found councils arranged independent advocates for just 2% of people assessed so far. Despite this, 95% of councils said they were confident they were meeting their advocacy responsibilities. Community Care first highlighted concerns around Care Act advocacy provision in November last year.
The stocktake noted councils’ confidence in meeting the act’s outcomes had reduced due to budget pressures. However, 81% were confident they had sufficient funding to implement the act in 2015-16. This fell significantly to 29% when asked if there was sufficient resources to meet outcomes in 2016-17 and beyond.
What is a ‘safeguarding enquiry’ under the Care Act?
Section 42 of the Care Act states that safeguarding enquiries should be made where a person has needs for care and support; is experiencing, or at risk of, abuse or neglect; and as a result of their care and support needs, is unable to protect himself or herself against the abuse or neglect or the risk of it.
Enquiries aren’t necessarily the same as investigations. The act requires councils to make “whatever enquiries it thinks necessary to enable it to decide whether any action should be taken in the adult’s case”. So an enquiry may not lead to any action and could in principle be quite short.
Prior to the Care Act being introduced in April 2015, there was no threshold in law for when a safeguarding concern should be investigated. Councils were expected to follow the No Secrets guidance, which was designed to protect ‘vulnerable adults’.
A vulnerable adult was defined as a person “who is or may be in need of community care services by reason of mental or other disability, age or illness; and who is or may be unable to take care of him or herself, or unable to protect him or herself against significant harm or exploitation”. So it would be likely that, in many councils, prior to the Care Act this was the threshold for a safeguarding referral.