Sharp rise in adult abuse cases amid fall in social work numbers

The number of confirmed cases of abuse or neglect rose by 13% last year, provisional figures show, and care staff continue to be the most common perpetrators.

Adult protection cases investigated by English councils rose sharply last year amid a fall in social work numbers.

English councils investigated 108,000 cases of alleged abuse or neglect against vulnerable adults in 2011-12 – a rise of 11% on the previous year, according to provisional figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

The increase in caseloads came despite cuts in the number of adult social work posts per authority from 2010-12. Across the UK, the average number of adult social work posts per council fell from 112 to 93, research by Community Care has found.

Rise in substantiated abuse

Of the 83,500 completed adult protection cases for which a conclusion was recorded in 2011-12, just over 34,200 (41%) were wholly or partially substantiated, meaning physical, sexual, emotional, financial, discriminatory or institutional abuse or neglect had been found on the balance of probabilities. This was a rise of 13% on the year before, when almost 30,200 cases of abuse were confirmed.

Just under a third of the allegations investigated in 2011-12 were not substantiated and in 27% of cases an outcome could not be determined.

More than 130,000 safeguarding alerts were reported by 121 councils in 2011-12, according to the report, Abuse of Vulnerable Adults in England 2011-12: Experimental Statistics. For the 99 councils that submitted data on alerts in both 2010-11 and 2011-12, the number of alerts had grown by 23% (21,000 alerts).

Factors behind rise in cases

The report’s authors said the increase in alerts and referrals may be influenced by several factors alongside a rise in actual abuse. Council feedback indicated a number of changes to staffing, training and recording systems during the reporting year and an increase in public awareness campaigns.

Physical abuse was the most common type of abuse reported, accounting for 29% of all allegations. This was followed by neglect (26%) and financial abuse (19%).

The source of harm was most likely to be social care staff (28%) or a family member (22%), consistent with the findings in 2010-11.

A safeguarding alert is usually the first point of contact between someone concerned about abuse or potential abuse and the local authority safeguarding team. A referral is where the concerns meet the local authority’s safeguarding threshold and the case is progressed through the local safeguarding procedure.

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