Safeguarding is a term usually associated with child protection but is equally important in the case of vulnerable adults. So what are the differences between safeguarding children and vulnerable adults and how important is it to have a defined strategy and policy in place?
What is safeguarding to protect vulnerable adults?
Safeguarding of vulnerable adults refers to the process of protecting adults who may be more susceptible to harm. This could be due to mental or physical disabilities, age or other factors and requires policies and procedures to be put in place to promote their wellbeing and safety.
It involves the identification and prevention of abuse, neglect, or harm, with appropriate actions taken when an allegation is made. For this to be effective, those involved need to feel they can report issues quickly and in confidence, with the allegations being investigated correctly.
In a previous article we covered the subject of who is responsible for safeguarding where we explained how it is up to everyone to report issues of the safety of a child or an adult at risk. We also talked about the importance of having a safeguarding policy and strategy in place which individuals are aware of, and which is easy to follow.
Is safeguarding children different to safeguarding vulnerable adults?
While there may be some similarities in the principles and procedures of safeguarding between children and vulnerable adults, the specific challenges and approaches can differ greatly.
For example, safeguarding in schools requires a very different strategy to safeguarding in a care home. Protecting vulnerable adults involves promoting their independence and protecting their rights while children require protection from risks around their wellbeing, as well as promoting their welfare and ensuring their safety.
How can safeguarding children and vulnerable adults training help?
Safeguarding children and vulnerable adults training significantly contributes to promoting the welfare and protection of those at risk. It empowers individuals with the knowledge and skills needed to intervene, prevent harm, and create safer environments.
Drawing on our experience as independent investigators, Verita provides incident investigation training which helps delegates understand how process and systems issues contribute to failures. We also provide training on how to handle complaints, as well as how to conduct an investigation which are important aspects of safeguarding.
Cases of safeguarding children and vulnerable adults: Myles Bradbury
Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust published the report of the review it had commissioned from Verita into the governance of its paediatric haematology and oncology service, in light of the conviction of Dr Myles Bradbury for sexually assaulting some of his patients at the unit over several years.
The Trust needed to know if any of its staff had known or suspected what Myles Bradbury was up to, or if they should have known or suspected. Typically in such cases, evidence emerges after the event that there were concerns or worries, but for one reason or another no effective action was taken. The trust also wanted recommendations to reduce the risk of recurrence in future.
I and Barry Morris, Verita partner, carried out the review and co-authored the report. We interviewed nearly 50 people, mainly staff on the unit and in the trust, but also families of patients, regulators, experts and Myles Bradbury.
Rather to our surprise, and not until we had asked a great many questions of a great many people, we concluded that there had been no prior suspicion of any untoward behaviour, and that staff had not overlooked any obvious clues that should have alerted them.
We identified a number of specific ways in which the Trust could and should improve policies and processes to make it more difficult for staff to misuse their authority with patients and get away with it.
Some of these recommendations have relevance across the NHS, particularly our suggestion that patients and families should be given more information about the details of treatment and the expected behaviour of staff, and should be encouraged to raise any query about any aspect of care treatment or behaviour at any time.
Safeguarding children is a work in progress, in which we are all learning all the time. We hope that this report will add to the learning.
As an independent investigator Verita can help to ensure that children and vulnerable adults are protected from harm by conducting safeguarding reviews and providing safeguarding training, including guidance on developing policies and procedures.
This article was originally published in October 2015 and was updated with additional content in July 2023.