Social workers have been provided with advice on legal powers they can use to overcome barriers to accessing adults who may be facing abuse or neglect.
The Social Care Institute for Excellence publication is designed to help councils carry out their Care Act 2014 duty to make enquiries where they reasonably suspect a vulnerable adult is at risk of abuse or neglect in cases were they cannot access the person to determine this.
This would usually be because a third party – often a family member – was blocking access or preventing the adult at perceived risk from being seen alone with a practitioner.
The Scie publication was promised in January by care minister Norman Lamb during the passage of the Care Act 2014 as he rejected calls to bring in a new power of entry to deal with cases where a third party was blocking access to a vulnerable adult at perceived risk.
Lamb’s argument was that existing powers were sufficient to protect adults and that social workers and other professionals needed to improve their knowledge of these. In rejecting a new power, Lamb also warned that this could undermine social workers’ ability to build relationships with families in these circumstances.
Reflecting this, the Scie guidance – which is purely advisory – stresses that such powers should only be explored when practitioners have tried and failed to access the adult using persuasion or negotiation, believe the third party’s refusal to grant access is unreasonable and the circumstances justify intervention. It also points to section 1(3)(h) of the Care Act 2014, which states that, in the exercise of its adult social care functions, a council must have regard to the need to ensure that any restriction on a person’s freedom must be “kept to the minimum necessary for achieving the purpose for which the function is being exercised”.
It then goes on to set out the existing powers, their limits and the contexts in which they could be used. In doing so, it mirrors an analysis of the current law published in February by Action on Elder Abuse, and carried out by leading Court of Protection barrister Alex Ruck Keene. However, contrary to the government, Ruck Keene’s analysis concluded that existing powers were insufficient to deal with situations where the alleged victim does not have a mental disorder and has mental capacity to take relevant decisions.