Safeguarding is a fundamental responsibility of all care providers and is enshrined in law. As you’re probably all too aware, it’s sometimes difficult to get right. Effective safeguarding of adults in care means balancing the conflicting priorities of preventing somebody from coming to harm, with respecting their independence and freedom to make decisions and even to take risks.
In practice, safeguarding issues are often not black and white. Judgements sometimes have to be made. It’s also a shared responsibility. Everybody working with vulnerable adults would be expected to be aware of potential signs of abuse, neglect or harm, and to have an understanding of how to act.
It’s clearly unreasonable to expect care staff to meet their responsibilities without appropriate training, guidance and support. As an employer, this isn’t just about being fair to your team, it’s also about taking the reasonable steps that the law would expect to protect the people in your care.
Adult safeguarding comes with a raft of legislation. The Safeguarding of Vulnerable Groups Act prevents unsuitable people from working with vulnerable individuals, while the Care Act 2014 has a wide range of provisions that seek to ensure that people get the care and protection they need.
The Mental Capacity Act
There was a tendency in the past for care services to be too risk averse. Perhaps this is understandable. Providers are given a heavy burden of responsibility to look after an individual with care needs and a potential liability if something goes wrong. But the Mental Capacity Act is clear: people with capacity have the right to make decisions, even if they might put themselves at risk. This can include the right to decline a safeguarding intervention.
Safeguarding judgements can be open to challenge, perhaps by family members or even the CQC and commissioners. Training can equip your team to defend decisions from a position of knowledge and also give them the skills to approach these discussions in a more open, collaborative (and sometimes assertive) way.
It’s easy for care staff and managers to think that they are ‘damned if we do and damned if we don’t’ – open to criticism if clients come to harm and also if they have their freedom restricted unreasonably. There are no easy answers. Which is why it’s essential to create a positive culture around safeguarding and to reinforce this with regular training and guidance.