No secrets in practice

Four years ago the No Secrets guidance was issued in
England by the Department of Health.1 It required social
services departments to co-ordinate local development of
multi-agency policies and procedures, in partnership with other
relevant agencies, to protect vulnerable adults from abuse.

A project was designed by Practitioner Alliance Against Abuse of
Vulnerable Adults (Pava) to examine the implementation of No
from a more practice-oriented perspective, and to
identify good and innovative initiatives at local level, so others
across the country could learn from them. These aims recognise the
importance of translating guidance, policies and procedures into
effective services and practice. The project also recognises that
the protection of vulnerable adults within local multi-agency
frameworks is at an early stage. Local initiatives are also
encountering difficulties competing for resources.

The project, which began in January 2002, found that there were
difficulties being experienced around the country in implementing
the No Secrets guidance.2 Other results,
however, appeared to show that agencies within certain local
authority areas were developing good practice initiatives.

In June 2003, about 30 representatives from 20 self-reporting
“good” practice sites were invited to a Pava project forum day.
There were some interesting views about what can block turning
policy into practice. The two main areas of concern were a clash of
cultures and perspectives within and between organisations and
agencies; and a lack of commitment to the goals by agencies and
senior managers. The delegates also believed that management
support and working together were vital to turning policy into
practice successfully.

There were plenty of ideas about the project’s major objective of
developing a proactive, engaged and committed practice network.
Feedback appeared to indicate a desire for the network to have a
real influence on government policy. The issue of consistency
across local authorities was also given a high priority, and there
were plenty of ideas and comments about collaborative, supportive

The development of the network is now an ongoing task for the
project. The plan is that the sites invited to the forum day will
facilitate mutual support and development, and raise the profile of
adult protection. If further project funding can be obtained, the
idea is to open the network out to a much wider membership.

Producing a directory of reported good practice for England, with
contributions from the sites invited to the forum day is another
major objective of the project. This will provide a valuable
learning and development tool for other organisations and

Two of the ideas given highest priority in the directory concern
national standards of good practice and ways of addressing
prevention. This indicates a desire to move away from more
“reactive” service provision, and encourage a measurable
consistency of approach across the country. Creating a culture of
collaborative, shared learning and working was also important to

We hope to have a basic directory ready for this year. It will give
brief information about practice initiatives from participating
sites, and a named person to contact for further details.

The project has also recently begun work with six practice sites,
chosen from the 20 sites invited to the forum day, to tease out
more information about their practice as a further learning

From working on the Pava project so far, it seems apparent that
four main areas need to be addressed if local authorities and their
partner agencies are to form a firm foundation for translating the
No Secrets guidance into effective, robust practice.

First, organisations need to prioritise their response to the abuse
of vulnerable adults. Real commitment and ownership of the issues
by those who direct organisations is vital if their practitioners
are going to be motivated and able to do the work.

Second, as part of this prioritisation and commitment, there needs
to be a realistic allocation of resources. The best policies and
guidance in the world will have little impact if the resources to
do the job are inadequate.

Third, the public, vulnerable adults and their carers need to know
about the issues, what to do to help prevent abuse, and how to
respond to abuse if it is encountered. Organisations, agencies, and
practitioners need to know how to work with the issues. They also
need to compile information and data about the effectiveness of
their responses.

Fourth, organisations and agencies need to be able to work in
effective partnership with each other, with vulnerable adults and
carers, and with the public. Working in isolation or in
“competition” simply will not get the job done, nor will expecting
“somebody else” to do it.

The need for councils and their partner agencies to address these
areas will no doubt appear obvious to many reading this article.
Arguably, the two most important areas to address in terms of
promoting the whole process are those of organisations and agencies
prioritising their response, and working in partnership. The first
will perhaps often rely on a “champion” within organisations, a
person or people who will effectively promote the issue at
decision-making levels, or motivate somebody who can.

Partnership is at times one of the most problematic areas. Although
the approach of “working in partnership” is greatly promoted in
public sector policy and guidance, the reality sometimes appears
difficult to achieve. Among other things, the process might founder
on the different agendas of the parties involved, the “clashing
personalities” of lead officers, or indeed, inadequate partnership
frameworks and processes.

One of the keys to working in partnership is perhaps the ability to
go right back to the beginning; to look at common goals and what
all parties need and want to achieve – the protection of vulnerable
adults from abuse.

It then hopefully becomes clearer that the investment needed to
facilitate real partnership working is one worth making. The
benefits of combining knowledge, expertise, influence and resources
in a unified approach to the issues are plainly evident. It is
vital that organisations and agencies in all sectors work with
their differences and find the common ground.

The Pava Project

The three-year project, which began in January 2002, is funded
by a DoH section 64 grant, and consists of a full-time project
worker who reports to the Pava executive board, and some part-time
administrative assistance.  

The project’s information gathering indicated that there were
both difficulties and good practice associated with implementing
the No Secrets guidelines.  In June 2003, about 30 representatives
from 20 self-reporting “good” practice sites were invited to a Pava
project forum day to discuss progress.    

Andy Foskett is project officer. He can be contacted at the Pava
Project, Clarence House, 46 Humberstone Gate, Leicester, LE1 3PJ.
Tel: 0116 2621654. 


1 Department of Health,
No Secrets: Guidance on Developing and Implementing
Multi-agency Policies and Procedures to Protect Vulnerable Adults
from Abuse
, DoH/Home Office, 2000 

2 Foskett A, The PAVA
Project Year 1 Report: January 2002 to January 2003 – Stage 1:
Information Gathering
, available at 


More from Community Care

Comments are closed.