Safety first for adults

It is remarkable that it has taken so long to protect vulnerable
adults in the way that children in care have been protected for
years. Still, the Protection of Vulnerable Adults (Pova) list of
potentially abusive care workers, introduced under the Care
Standards Act 2000, finally comes into effect next week.

The Pova list will make the recruitment of care workers safer
without sacrificing efficiency. It will be a statutory requirement
for care providers to check whether prospective recruits are on the
list, but it will also be possible to appoint them on the basis of
an initial check without having to wait for the full Criminal
Records Bureau investigation to be completed.

There will be teething troubles. For example, at what stage should
Pova be notified of any concerns about an employee? When they have
been suspended on suspicion of abuse or when they have been found
guilty? And, given that the list is not retrospective, there are
understandable fears that it will take a long while to catch up
with the abusive individuals who are already in the system and know
how to play it.

That Pova was needed at all reflects to an extent on the failed
recruitment practices of some care providers. By focusing on the
recruitment and selection of care staff, Norman Warner’s
ground-breaking report, Choosing with Care, published as long ago
as 1992, was supposed to change things for the better. It has not
had the desired impact, partly because of the difficulties of
recruiting staff in the first place and partly because the will has
been lacking. The No Secrets guidance issued by the Department of
Health four years ago to protect vulnerable adults has often fallen
victim to the indifference of senior managers and the clashing
cultures of different agencies.

Because its introduction is unfortunately phased, it will be some
time before Pova achieves comprehensive coverage of the workforce.
When it does, it will be a distinct improvement. But the greatest
improvement of all will come only when the dignity and respect due
to vulnerable adults are always uppermost in the minds of those who
would care for them.

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