Story updated 17 December 2019
Councils investigated a record number of safeguarding cases under the Care Act last year as the number of reported concerns about abuse or neglect they received jumped sharply for a second year running.
Authorities received 415,050 safeguarding concerns in 2018-19, up 5.2% on the 2017-18 figure (394,655), which was itself a significant rise on 2016-17 (364,605), official statistics from NHS Digital showed.
But while last year, there was a fall in the number of enquiries carried out under section 42 of the Care Act 2014 off the back of the concerns, this year the number of these enquiries rose by 8.7%, to 143,390. This is the highest recorded figure since the Care Act came into force in April 2015, as was that for the number of individuals at risk affected by enquiries (116,230).
There was also a rise in the number of safeguarding enquiries that were not carried out under section 42, which went up by 1.8% to 18,540 during the same period.
Amid the rising demand, the figures also suggested that councils’ ability to make adults safer had declined.
Increase in abuse or in reporting?
The rises load further pressures onto local authority safeguarding services at a time when Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards caseloads have continued to mount.
The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services said it was not clear whether the rises were due to increased abuse or neglect or increased awareness and reporting.
“Any increase in the abuse or neglect of people with care and support needs is of course of significant concern,” said ADASS president Julie Ogley.
“However, it is not clear whether this is the case: if it is due to increased awareness we would view that as positive. We are also very aware that our members and social workers across the country are developing their understanding of how to consistently make judgements about how best to respond to concerns and when to undertake and report these as formal enquiries.”
She said ADASS had worked on guidance for other agencies to improve understanding Care Act safeguarding requirements, and that it would keep the issue under review.
2018-19 safeguarding figures: key findings
- Safeguarding concerns were up 5.2% to 415,050.
- Section 42 enquiries were up by 8.7% to 143,390.
- Other safeguarding enquiries were up by 1.8% to 18,540.
- Neglect and acts of omission was the most common type of risk in completed section 42 cases (31.4% of cases, down from 32.1% in 2017-18).
- In completed section 42 cases, where a risk was identified, it was reduced in 62.5% of cases and removed in 27% of cases.
- In 63% of completed section 42 cases the person at risk or their representative were asked about their preferred outcomes from the enquiry and expressed a preference.
- The preference was fully achieved in 66% of cases and partially achieved in a further 26%.
What councils must do
Under the Care Act, councils must make enquiries, or cause them to be made, under section 42 where it has reasonable cause to suspect that an adult with care and support needs, whether met or unmet, is experiencing, or at risk of, abuse or neglect, and is unable to protect themselves against the abuse or neglect or their risk.
The purpose of the enquiries is to decide whether the local authority or any other agency should take any action to help or protect the adult.
The Care Act statutory guidance sets out a non-exhaustive list of types of abuse or neglect which are covered by the duty, which includes physical, sexual, financial, organisaitonal, psychological, discriminatory and domestic abuse, neglect, modern slavery and, controversially, self-neglect.
Where the section 42 duty does not apply – for example, if the person is at risk of abuse and unable to protect themselves but not as a result of care and support needs – the council may nevertheless carry out an enquiry but does not have to.
Impact of safeguarding practice
The figures appeared to show that the impact of safeguarding practice on making people safer had declined in the past year.
A risk to the adult was identified in almost three-quarters of completed section 42 cases and, of these, the outcome (or expected outcome) of the case was that the risk was reduced in 62.5% of cases and removed altogether in a further 27%.
In 2017-18, when risks were identified, they were or were expected to have been reduced in 65% of cases and removed in 28%.
In line with the focus on making safegaurding personal set out in the Care Act statutory guidance, councils were also asked to record whether they asked service users, or their representatives, about their preferred outcomes from the safeguarding process.
In 63% of cases this was recorded as taking place and the person or their representative expressed a preference; and their preference was fully achieved in 66% of these cases and partially achieved in a further 26%.
Again, this marked a slight decline from 2017-18 when, of those cases where the person’s preference was recorded, it was fully achieved in 68% of cases and partially in 26%.
The report also revealed substantial local and regional variations in safeguarding cases:
- While nationally, 39% of safeguarding concerns were ‘converted’ into enquiries (whether section 42 or not), regional rates ranged from 25% in the West Midlands to the 53% in Yorkshire and the Humber, while local authority rates went from 2% to 100%.
- The number of individuals involved in section 42 safeguarding enquiries ranged from 187 per 100,000 population in the West Midlands to 444 in the North East, and from 42 to 1,291 between local areas, with an average of 263 across England.
- While nationally, 77% of people involved in completed section 42 cases were asked about their preferred outcomes from the process, this figure was 86% in the West Midlands and 66% in the South West.