Rise in safeguarding enquiries involving domestic abuse and self-neglect during pandemic

Councils received more adult safeguarding referrals, but investigated fewer cases, in 2020-21, show official figures

Dictionary, definition of the word abuse.
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Councils investigated more adult safeguarding cases involving self-neglect and domestic abuse last year, but carried out fewer enquiries overall, despite a rise in referrals, show official figures.

The number of concerns reported to local authorities rose by 5% to 498,260, reported NHS Digital’s annual safeguarding adults collection, published last week. However, the number of enquiries fell by 5% to 168,960, with a 6% drop in statutory investigations under section 42 of the Care Act 2014.

The number of completed section 42 enquiries fell or was stable in most categories of risk, with neglect and acts of omission remaining the most common form, accounting for 61,190 cases, down from 65,590 in 2019-20.

However, the number of completed domestic abuse enquiries rose by 28%, from 10,825 to 13,880, with a 26% rise in those concerning self-neglect, from 10,245 to 12,920. There was also a significant jump in cases concerning sexual exploitation, though from a low base.

Under section 42, an enquiry is triggered when a local authority has reasonable cause to suspect an adult with care and support needs is experiencing, or at risk of, abuse or neglect and is unable to protect themselves because of their needs.

Domestic abuse rise ‘reflects national picture’

Liz Howard, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) England’s professional officer for adults, said the rise in domestic abuse cases “sadly reflects the national picture” during Covid-19.

“We, along with many charitable organisations and women’s groups, have consistently been raising awareness and pressing government to do more to help victims of domestic abuse as we saw in our research that incidents spiked during lockdown periods,” she said. “The increase in self-neglect could be linked to delays in accessing support because of fears of contracting Covid-19.”

Howard said of the rise in the overall number of referrals: “It is impossible to attribute this to a single factor, but it is clear to see in society and in the media, as well as from member feedback, that there is a greater awareness of people’s welfare – particularly the elderly, vulnerable and solitary adults – during the pandemic. We believe this is leading to more referrals to professional services.”

She said the fall in enquiries was “likely to be linked to changes in local working arrangements and processes during the pandemic”.

“We believe this also relates to differences in practices and application of statutory duties across local authorities, such as application of the threshold and how activity connected to safeguarding is being recorded,” Howard added.

In 89% of completed section 42 enquiries where a risk was identified, it was either reduced (64% of cases) or removed (25%), similar to levels in 2019-20.

In cases where the preferred outcome of the person was known, this was achieved fully in 67% of cases and partially so in 26% of cases. Practitioners asked people about their preferred outcomes in 77% of cases.

Howard said this “demonstrates that action being taken with adults in terms of safeguarding is effective and working well for people”.

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