Social workers urged to spot links between domestic abuse and adult safeguarding

Practice guide issued to help adult social workers identify and respond to domestic abuse issues in adult safeguarding.

Council bosses have issued a guide to helping social workers and other professionals identify and respond to domestic abuse in adult safeguarding cases.

Adult safeguarding practitioners require a significant understanding of domestic abuse because of the high number of cases where adults with care needs experience abuse from a partner or family member, said the guide published today by the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services.


Adult safeguarding and domestic abuse definitions

Under the No Secrets guidance, adult safeguarding services are designed to protect adults who may be in need of community care services who are unable to protect themselves against significant harm or exploitation. The person need not be receiving social care.

The draft Care and Support Bill, which is due to become law in 2015, would place a duty on councils to investigate cases where an adult has needs for care and support, is experiencing or at risk of abuse or neglect and is unable to protect themselves, because of their care needs.

Under the government’s new definition of domestic abuse, it covers incidents or patterns of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour or abuse between people aged 16 or over who have been intimate partners or family members.


It cited research finding that disabled women were twice as likely to experience domestic abuse as non-disabled women, and that people’s impairments were frequently used in abuse to belittle and exercise control over them. It also said the impact of domestic abuse was especially acute where the perpetrator was the victim’s carer and thereby had considerable power over them.

The guide also pointed out that victims of domestic abuse could develop care and support needs as a result, including poor mental health, substance misuse and long-term adverse health effects.

Why adults remain in abusive relationships

It said adult safeguarding practitioners needed to develop an understanding of why people remained in abusive relationships and why barriers to leaving them were particularly high for vulnerable adults. This included relying on the abuser for care and support, the fear of losing independence, being placed in residential care or losing access to care packages if they leave, and being less likely to identify their experiences as abuse than other victims.

It also warned that older people may be more financially dependent on their abuser than younger people, and may have faced abuse over a number of years, making it much more difficult to accept help out of shame.

It said social workers needed to take time to build trust with potential victims, providing reassurance in relation to the support they would receive if they disclosed abuse. It also warned against a “rule of optimism”, under which abuse by a carer was not recognised as such.

Risk assessment vital

The guide stressed the importance of conducting comprehensive and accurate risk assessments where people needed both adult safeguarding and domestic abuse services. It warned against an over-reliance on risk assessment tools, and said professional judgement was vital in deciding whether a vulnerable adult was being subjected to domestic abuse.

It highlighted the importance of recognising people’s reluctance to disclose abuse, which necessitated holding interviews in a safe and confidential setting, with sufficient time, and asking direct questions, such as “has anyone close to you made you feel frightened?”

It said people with care and support needs may require additional direct questions, such as “has anyone tried to force you to sign papers against your will?” or “has anyone prevented you from getting food, clothes or medication?”.

Sources of support

The guide also said adult safeguarding practitioners needed to be aware of the sources of support and intervention that were available for domestic abuse victims. These included:

  • Multi-agency risk assessment conferences, to which adults at risk of serious injury or death are referred;
  • Individual domestic violence advisers, who provide practical support and co-ordination of support for people at high risk;
  • Sanctuary schemes in certain areas, which enable people to remain in their own home by enhancing its security or providing a safe room within it;
  • Legal remedies including non-molestation orders, aimed at preventing perpetrators from threatening violence against victims, and occupation orders, preventing perpetrators from entering the area surrounding the victims’ home.

The guide also advised practitioners and managers to develop strong links with domestic abuse agencies and encourage better access to their services for vulnerable adults, foster partnerships between disability and domestic abuse organisations, keep up to date with domestic abuse case law and learn from relevant serious case  and domestic homicide reviews.

Improve your practice

For more practice advice on responding to domestic abuse cases in adult safeguarding, register for Community Care’s conference on safeguarding adults at risk in the community, which takes place on 3 July in Birmingham.

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What research says about domestic violence risk assessments

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