As health and social care professionals, keeping the people we support safe and well is crucial, and safeguarding has a big part to play within this.

We come into contact with a whole host of people who help us maintain and monitor the health and wellbeing needs of the people we support – GPs, psychologists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists… And it’s everyone’s responsibility to safeguard adults at risk.

Spotting the signs

Support Workers and front line staff know the people we support incredibly well – like a family member – and it’s amazing how these staff members will pick up on those little changes – something that’s not quite right for the person they support.

You might be thinking:

“Joe’s not quite right today, something’s going on, he’s off his food, he’s not eating and drinking, he’s not enjoying his cup of tea…”

They might not be doing something that’s usual for them. It might not be a safeguarding issue, but if anyone has a concern about the health and wellbeing and the safety of someone they support, they have a duty to tell someone and to escalate the issue.

After all, there are those instances where it is something of concern, and no one does anything about it because we didn’t think it was worth mentioning, or we didn’t want to appear foolish or we didn’t want to trouble someone. If you’re not sure, ask the question, be curious and have that person’s safety and wellbeing at the forefront of your mind at all times.

Responding to a disclosure – what do I do?

What about when the person you’re supporting confides in you directly?

It’s a huge step for someone to approach a member of staff to say that something has happened. They might have been bottling it up for ages, but they’ve chosen that particular time and they’ve chosen you to convey those concerns to. Listen carefully and be considered in what they’re telling you – don’t go into procedure mode! You might need to take notes to refer to later – make sure you keep these safe.

During the conversation, you should also explain to the individual how you’re going to keep them safe in responding to this. It’s important to try to understand what they would like us to do to make them feel safe and well. There might be instances where we can do that on our own, other times we might need to get other people or organisations involved, depending on the seriousness of what they are telling you. If the person is immediately at risk of injury or hospitalization, this could be the police.

What could be happening?

Some of the most common safeguarding concerns I come across in my role involve people who live in services together and they might not be each other’s first choice of housemate. These are instances where people don’t get on or they abuse each other in some sort of way, such as swearing or being rude about the other. When this situation occurs, staff will usually mediate between individuals or even move individuals in order to make those involved feel safer.

Another situation that is sadly all too common for the people we support is financial abuse. Some have fallen victim to online scams such as ‘befriending’, where people will start talking to someone, become friends and then ask them to send gifts or cash. This kind of behaviour serves as an important reminder why safeguarding should be at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

Where can I get support?

Whether you’re supporting someone or you’re a friend or family member, if you spot something that could signal a safeguarding concern, it’s important that you report this to someone who can help.

This could be a service manager in the first instance, but any organisation working with adults at risk should also have a designated safeguarding lead.

The person you tell will be able to escalate your concern and inform everyone else who needs to be notified. They should also communicate directly with the person concerned where possible, to make sure they’re responding in way that will keep the person safe and well.

If your concern is about a member of staff, you will be protected by Whistleblowing law so you should still report it.

If you think they might be in immediate danger, you should contact the Police straight away and let them know what your concerns are. You should still make the service manager aware of your concerns, as they will also respond to any immediate risks.

  • Mike Brent is the Head of Quality and Safeguarding at United Response.

As an organisation that supports people with learning disabilities, autism and other complex needs, United Response is committed to the safeguarding of adults and young people.

For more information about Safeguarding Adults Week, including free resources and training, visit the Ann Craft Trust website.