Should councils have specialist adult safeguarding investigation teams?

Little is known about the effectiveness of different models of adult safeguarding but a research project is looking to fill the evidence gap

By Katherine Graham, Jill Manthorpe, Martin Stevens and Caroline Norrie

Adult safeguarding is now a central concern of adult social work. Media reports of scandals and of serious case reveiws raise questions about how best to respond to concerns or incidents involving people who are ‘vulnerable’ for a range of reasons. While individual practice is under the spotlight exactly how to run effective safeguarding services needs an evidence base too. Safeguarding practice and systems need to balance the protection of people at risk of abuse, mistreatment, and neglect with supporting people to exercise their rights to a lifestyle of their choice. Yet little is known about the different approaches of local authorities to delivering a safeguarding service.

We developed a study called Models of safeguarding to explore how different local authorities are organising their safeguarding activity and the implications of different models of organisation for everyone involved.

First UK study to compare different safeguarding models

This NIHR School for Social Care Research-funded study is the first UK study to compare different models of adult safeguarding practice and organisation. The findings will inform the design, funding and planning of local safeguarding policies, day-to-day safeguarding interventions, and more general social work practice.

The study has three phases – and we are collecting both qualitative and quantitative data. At the moment (December 2013) we are embarking on phases two and three of the study. Thanks to many helpful practitioners and managers we are beginning to receive different data and analysing it separately and in combination.

What is known about this subject?
As with most research it is important to see what other people have said about our research questions. To do this we reviewed the literature to find out how local authorities organise safeguarding services. We found little work on this, most of it related to the early implementation of the 2000 No Secrets guidance.

We next interviewed 23 local authorities adult safeguarding co-ordinators to find out how safeguarding is organised locally why it is organised in particular ways. We also asked them about possible links between safeguarding and developments in social work practice such as personalisation and outsourcing.

Following this work we started to use this information to think about the different models or ways of organising safeguarding services in England. At this stage it seems that there are three distinct models:

    1. ‘Dispersed’, where all social workers are expected to undertake safeguarding investigations;
    2. ‘Mixed’, where safeguarding work is split between existing social work teams and social workers who focus solely on safeguarding work;
    3. ‘Specialist’, whereby all safeguarding investigative work is undertaken by specific safeguarding teams.

Comparing models of safeguarding

These broad models are informing are next steps. We hope to work with six different local authorities which cover dispersed, mixed and specialist models of safeguarding organisation. By spending time in each of these sites we are hoping to compare the impact of some of the different safeguarding models on:

  • Referral rates and pathways (i.e. timing);
  • Nature of referrals and variations in different types of referrals within different models;
  • Funnelling of referrals (i.e. ratio of referrals to strategy meetings, safeguarding plans and legal interventions);
  • Plans and interventions implemented and safeguarding outcomes achieved;
  • Initial issues resolved/escalating in different ways;
  • Staff job engagement, burnout levels, and relationships with control-demand model (including psychological job demand and decision latitude);
  • Social care outcomes.

We will collect local information from the present Abuse of Vulnerable Adult returns (referrals, investigations and outcomes), other case records, staff and user surveys, staffing levels and cost data. By analysing this we hope to explore the nature, cost-implications and distribution of safeguarding practice in social work, under the different models.

Observations and interviews

Phase three of the project involves an ethnographic approach to explore the meanings given to ‘safeguarding’ by social work teams, through ‘safeguarding talk’. During this phase of the project we will spend time with safeguarding professionals to be able to observe the informal (and formal) talk that happens in social work teams to help us understanding everyday practice and decision-making. We will undertake observations and interviews with managers, care home managers, social workers and people who have experienced the safeguarding process.

Dispersed, mixed or specialist: Which model?
Being able to specialise in adult safeguarding is greeted with enthusiasm by some of those we have interviewed but others express fear of diluting the ‘safeguarding is everybody’s business’ message. We hope to combine the findings from the different strands of research to give a picture of the models of safeguarding that are being implemented, their impact on outcomes, and also how they affect safeguarding practice among practitioners. We hope our research will provide guidance for practitioners and management on implementation, outcomes and costs of different models of safeguarding practice.

If you are interested in finding out more about the study and in getting updates on the progress of the research please visit the Models of safeguarding study website and follow us on twitter @scwru.
The study is being carried out by King’s College London’s Social Care Workforce Research Unit and is funded by the NIHR School for Social Care Research.

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4 Responses to Should councils have specialist adult safeguarding investigation teams?

  1. Stephen James December 9, 2013 at 3:04 pm #

    This is interesting, as it arose at the Community Care Safeguarding Adults in Care Homes and Hospitals conference last week in Birmingham, when Claire Crawley from the DH said that she didn’t favour local authority dedicated adult safeguarding teams, but rather that adult safeguarding should be fully embedded in the role and remit of all social workers. Is the timing of this press release just a coincidence?

    • mithran samuel December 10, 2013 at 9:52 am #

      I think it is! We commissioned this piece a while back and the study was launched some time ago. And the research team are very credible! However, Claire Crawley’s comments make the conclusions of this study even more important so will be very interesting to see what they come up with.

      • Stephen James December 10, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

        Thanks for your response Mithran. I am a cynic by nature, but maybe on
        this occasion it was as you say, just a coincidence, but I still find it
        strange that the unprompted position statement made by Claire Crawley from the DH at the conference last week on this issue came a matter of days
        before the press release relating to the study. I agree entirely with you
        regarding the credibility of the research team, but others will have to
        decide for themselves how helpful it is for this statement to be made at
        this stage, and what, if any impact it will have.*

        *This will be an issue that will provoke considerable debate amongst social
        work professionals I think, as there is no magic formula nationally on how
        best to discharge local authority duties around adult safeguarding. I will
        look forward to the research findings with great interest.

        • mithran samuel December 10, 2013 at 8:50 pm #

          Thanks for that – interesting and hopefully useful for all involved in adult safeguarding.