The government will set out the role of social workers in adult safeguarding in guidance issued under the Care Bill, a minister has pledged.
Government health spokesperson Baroness Northover made the commitment in yesterday’s House of Lords debate on the bill, though ministers rejected several amendments designed to strengthen the safeguarding aspects of the bill.
Crossbench peer Baroness Greengross had moved amendments that would have required safeguarding adults boards (SABs) to include social work-qualified staff from the relevant local authority among their members, and to ensure safeguarding adults reviews were overseen by people who were social work-qualified.
The bill would make it mandatory for councils to establish SABs to oversee and monitor safeguarding practice in their area. Boards would have to carry out safeguarding adults reviews when an adult at risk had died as a result of abuse, or had suffered serious abuse, and there were concerns about how well they had been safeguarded.
Increasing the influence of social workers
Greengross, patron of Action on Elder Abuse, said her amendments would ensure “practice-based and evidence-led influence on boards by practitioners involved in active work with clients”; she also said only social workers had the “theoretical, legal and policy knowledge to undertake complex, politically charged and sensitive safeguarding investigative work” through safeguarding adults reviews.
Responding for the government, Northover did not take up Greengross’s amendments, and said the bill already made clear that members of SABs should have “the required skills and experience”.
But she added: “We will elaborate on that in guidance and ensure that the importance of social work is recognised and supported. Guidance will also cover the importance of ensuring appropriately qualified oversight of safeguarding adults reviews.”
Power of entry rejected
However, the government again rebuffed attempts to provide social workers with a court-sanctioned power to enter people’s homes to assess vulnerable adults whom they believe are being abused or neglected, but where entry is being barred by a third-party. Ministers had rejected the case for such a power – which is available in Scotland and would be in Wales under legislation going through the Welsh Assembly – following a consultation that found split views on the subject.
Greengross put forward an amendment, drafted by Action on Elder Abuse (AEA), to introduce a power into the bill, which was backed by Labour and other crossbench peers, and carries strong support among social workers working in adult safeguarding.
“The critical point of the power of access is to enable the local authority to access the person and speak to them alone to assess the situation,” said Labour whip Baroness Wheeler. “It is not about entering someone’s house for no good reason. It is a last-resort power and is by no means presented as a solution in itself.”
However, Northover said the government had found “no compelling evidence” for the introduction of a power in its consultation, and said there were concerns that “such a power could be used as a quick fix that would neither resolve the problem nor improve good professional practice where the intention is to try to build trusting relationships”.
No to offence of ill-treating vulnerable adults
The government also rejected calls to bring in a specific offence of wilfully neglecting or ill-treating an adult at risk of abuse. Certain caregivers can currently be convicted of ill-treating or neglecting adults who lack capacity to take relevant decisions, under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, or those who are subject to the Mental Health Act 1983. However, no specific offence applies to abuse of vulnerable adults who possess capacity in relevant areas, and Greengross, who proposed the amendment, said this had led to perpetrators getting away with their crimes.
In response, Northover said the existing criminal law provided a means to prosecute abusers of vulnerable adults, and that a specific offence was justified for people who lacked capacity “because of the evidence that such people are highly vulnerable to abuse, neglect and exploitation”.
The House of Lords will hold its next debate on the bill next Monday (29 July).
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