Safeguarding under the Care Act: ‘Business as usual is not an option’

Social work adviser Robert Templeton examines the role of the ‘independent chair’ in developing and strengthening safeguarding boards

Could appointing an independent chair be the key to strengthening safeguarding boards?Photo: jk1991/Fotolia

By Robert Templeton, independent social work adviser

Awareness of adult safeguarding has developed enormously since the publication of the ‘No Secrets’ guidance in 2000. It’s not easy to quantify, but the introduction of ‘No Secrets’ has undoubtedly saved many lives and spared others from unimaginable abuse and cruelty.

However, in the 15 years since its launch, the guidance has also been marked by tragedy and scandal. At its worst, safeguarding practice has developed into a self-defeating, risk adverse process that has failed to fully consider the needs of the very individuals professionals are seeking to protect.

Safeguarding adults boards have been criticised for becoming little more than talking shops, with a lack of commitment from partners to make effective decisions. People subject to safeguarding processes have also reported they often feel they have little control, have not been involved in decisions and have had little say over outcomes.

‘Statutory footing’

The Care Act 2014 and its guidance proposes a major change in practice. It moves away from being process-led to a more person-centred approach. Importantly, it defines the core purpose of adult care and support as to help people achieve the outcomes that matter to them in life.

The act also puts safeguarding boards on a statutory footing for the first time. It requires each local authority to establish a board with mandatory members from the council, the clinical commissioning group and the chief of police, as well as other organisations and individuals as appropriate to their local safeguarding arrangements.

The board has responsibility for leading adult safeguarding across the locality and has three core duties: to publish a strategic plan setting out how it will meet its objectives, publish an annual report outlining what the board has achieved, and to conduct a safeguarding adult review when needed.

‘A fresh perspective’

Appointing an independent chair is not a requirement of the Care Act, but many safeguarding boards are opting to do so. When a chair isn’t in place, the task usually falls to the council’s director of social services and some have reported they find the role challenging – it’s difficult to remove themselves from the operational mindset.

An independent chair can bring impartiality and a fresh perspective. They’ll need a broad range of skills – managing meetings, being a good listener and the ability to understand the different priorities and pressures across the safeguarding partnership.

The role is also uniquely complex. The chair needs to be the custodian of the safeguarding governance framework, give advice and support to partners, as well as being able to offer constructive challenge and hold agencies to account.

‘Service user voice’

A crucial task for the independent chair, and the safeguarding board, is to bring the service user’s voice to the centre of strategic decisions.

The Care Act replaces a number of statutes but it does not fundamentally change the established legal concepts or practice. As public services enter their eighth year of recession there is a risk they lack capacity, appetite and resources to make real change and will opt for business as usual – including the user’s voice is key to avoiding this.

As one parent involved in a safeguarding review said: “It is painful to be involved in safeguarding but it would be more painful not to be involved.”

‘Common values’

The principle of individual wellbeing is the underpinning force that binds all elements of the Care Act together. The act is clear that it is the person themselves who is best placed to judge their wellbeing. The independent chair has a vital role in ensuring this principal is embraced by all partners and forms a golden thread from the board through to the frontline.

Safeguarding boards need to think carefully when recruiting a new chair. Playing it safe and taking a business as usual approach will result in an isolated, reactive and ineffective board. What is easy to measure will become more important than the outcome for the individual.

The task is to find someone who can instil a common set of values in the hearts and minds of those who use and work in services and create a system in which good safeguarding leads to great outcomes for individuals and communities.

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4 Responses to Safeguarding under the Care Act: ‘Business as usual is not an option’

  1. Gary FitzGerald September 5, 2015 at 3:17 pm #

    While I fully agree with Robert on the benefits of establishing an independent chair, as opposed to keeping these roles in-house. I think we also need to consider how we evaluate the effectiveness of that role and ensure that it is actually achieving the objectives that Robert rightly identifies.

    It can be a lonely position to be the independent chair and it takes a very confident individual to question and challenge and guide. It is all too easy for someone to therefore be ostensibly ‘independent’ but in reality simply ‘go with the flow’, and we have already witnessed examples where this has happened. So independence is important, but so also is transparency, accountability, and systems of checks and balances to make sure people are being genuinely independent.

    There is a real danger that the role becomes a good ‘retirement career’ rather than one that should be at the forefront of leading good practice.

  2. John Roberts September 9, 2015 at 10:11 pm #

    How can a chair be independent when the local authority controls the appointment? How can the SAB be seen as independent from the local authority that established it?

  3. Carol Turner September 10, 2015 at 1:40 am #

    Until the abusive safeguarding processes are accepted as just that, due to the ignoring of the MCA 10 years on and as confirmed by the House of Lords MCA committee report that states the MCA is mostly not implemented on the ground by authorities these processes are often only used against family etc as a whole different set of rules in reality apply to care homes and care home carers and the authorities – who often get away with blatant evidenced abuse – abuse matters raised against homes or authorities often not acted upon – cherry picking who to pull through the process and how

    The safeguarding process is often a kangaroo style court that ignores LA own policy ignores the service users rights bypasses and ignores family and LPAs and the service users views that are rarely sought or recorded in any detail – investigations supposedly done by persons objective and impartial often not the case – cases that drag on for months with no real investigation not evidenced based restrictions not least restrictive nor proportionate in fact a process often more abusive than the alleged abuse – safeguarding process where the Chair of the SAPB is not interested if the process is correct or not just that the process is completed – a process where the LGO ignore legal frameworks and statutory obligations dictated by the DH and ignore the fact that often LAs ignore their own policy and the MCA and the service user – the alleged victim often a by product where MCA is ignored and no empowerment and only subjugation of rights is carried out and when reported ignored abusing the service user themselves – a process that has no possible outcome of innocent or exonerated and a process for an innocent alleged perpetrator mars there whole future

    Please advise how this matter is being lobbied or not this very serious matter of abuse of rights with many LA that have no best interest policy or best practice and MCA leads that do little re anything practical to implement the act or uphold the rights of service users who are deemed to lack capacity and often recorded as N/A

    A process no one is interested in whether its right or wrong as LA are self policing and relatives have no where to go to address such issues often ignored or denied

  4. barry osborne September 28, 2015 at 9:12 am #

    I have worked in Adult & Children’s Social Care for 30 years and as the co-ordinator for person centred plannning ensuring people’s voices are central to planning (and heard by all involved with that person), is fundemental.

    To ensure this throughout all our planning and reviews these two questions are always asked

    Question 1: Keeping everyone informed?
    …………………… (reviewer’s name): has my (person’s) permission to forward my plan / review on e-mail to all my key support

    Question 2: Ensuring I am safe, happy and content with the support I get?
    Answer: I have good / poor support and I am happy/ unhappy with things in general

    If I was an independent Chair – These should be mandatory across all agencies

    Where there is any concern / issue raised (that involved safegaurding) the chair should be notified . The Chair could then ensure this is brought to the attention of those relevant and followed up: & Chair notified.

    I would also ensure local safeguarding processes / structures is included in induction training for all social care & health provider agences.

    Too often the Board’s become professional places and local people are unaware of whothey are or what they do. The Board needs to link in with local face to face contact.