Planning Your Safeguarding Policies and Procedures: Key Legislation

Recent events have clearly demonstrated that a lack of comprehensive safeguarding policies and procedures can leave both you, your team and your service users vulnerable. Here we break down the latest legislation.

When it comes to safeguarding, both policies and procedures vary from establishment to establishment, depending on the needs and risks associated with the activities that take place there. 

In or outside of establishments, we all have a duty to protect vulnerable people. To name a few, some basic safeguarding examples you may already be aware of: teachers have a duty to keep their students safe; parents have a legal responsibility to protect the welfare of their children and, as part of the Human Rights Act 1998, every public authority must respect and safeguard our human rights.

“Safeguarding” refers to the actions and procedures taken to promote the welfare of vulnerable people and protect them from harm. The “policies and procedures,” refer to guidelines and instructions, often outlined by a company, government, or organisation, that reflect how we should fulfil these duties.

But what safeguarding responsibilities do organisations have, and to who? What should a safeguarding policy and procedure include?  In this article, we will cover:

  • National legislation and procedures to protect vulnerable adult at risk
  • National legislation and policies designed to keep vulnerable children safe

Why do we need safeguarding policies?

Safeguarding policies encourage us to protect vulnerable members of society. Without them, most institutions would fail to fulfil their obligations, with catastrophic consequences. 

In recent news, for example,  the charity Oxfam has been under the microscope. After concerns were raised regarding the way in which they handled (or rather mishandled) a complaint, a national inquiry was made into their conduct, subsequently finding their safeguarding standards to be insufficient.  Sexual exploitation and misconduct allegations had in fact been made against a senior member of staff in Haiti, to which the response, unfortunately, lacked in all adequacy.  This is a perfect demonstration of how a lack of appropriate policies and procedures can leave vulnerable members at risk. The company didn’t take steps to prevent harm, and acts of abuse went unpunished. 

Safeguarding procedures are designed to prevent abuses like these. They outline potential risks, and the steps institutions should take to protect vulnerable people. Ideally, it should abide by the six core principles of safeguarding. Nevertheless, in cases that slip through the net and abuse does occur (or is reported), procedures set in place should ensure that allegations are addressed in a way that protects vulnerable individuals, and steps are taken to prevent it from happening twice.

These policies and procedures are more important than ever, as safeguarding concerns increase year by year in England (see below).

Safeguarding concerns raised in England year by year, NHS Digital

Safeguarding adults at risk

The department of help defines a vulnerable adult as someone over 18, that needs care and support and is at risk of abuse. A diverse range of people fall under this category; from young-adults suffering from mental illness to elderly people living in a care home. 

According to NHS Digital, an alarming 475,560 adult safeguarding concerns were raised between early 2019 and early 2020. The image below shows the number of Section 42 Enquiries (reports made when an adult is believed to be at risk) per local authority in 2019/20.

Your duty of care under the Care Act

Those working closely with the public play an instrumental role in identifying vulnerable adults at risk of abuse. Thus, under the Care Act 2014, Safeguarding Adults is a statutory duty for Councils with Adult Social Services Responsibilities in England. 

The Government’s Care Act Statutory Guidance defines adult safeguarding as the protection and promotion of an adult’s well-being, free from abuse. To that end, the Care Act of 2014 outlines that local authorities, as well as local health organisations, are responsible for the care of vulnerable adults at risk in our community. For example, the act highlights if your practice involves regular contact with the public, then you and your staff play a role in identifying a vulnerable person. Any concerns of abuse should be reported. 

If you’re an employer, the Care Act outlines your duty of care. Depending on your business, you may be required to: take steps of care and support to promote (and not prevent) personal growth; encourage diversity and inclusion within your services; and take steps to promote individual well-being (like nurturing an individual’s personal dignity, physical and mental well-being).

Alternatively, if you’re an employer, the Care Act outlines your duty to protect your staff from harm. Generally, institutions safeguarding adults policy set out the frameworks and procedures to respond to concerns.

Safeguarding the disabled

Research shows children with Special Needs and Disabilities are three times more likely to be abused and bullied than their peers. In addition, without the necessary support, they are at risk of falling behind in their social and academic development. For example, those with learning impairments find it harder to concentrate, engage in activities and understand information. If this isn’t accommodated for, their development will suffer and so institutions must take action to create the best outcome for the child.

Under the Human Rights Act and the Government’s Staying Safe: Action Plan (2008,) individuals with a disability have exactly the same rights to equal opportunity and protection as anyone else. However, because disabled people are at a substantial disadvantage compared to those who are not disabled, it is service providers’ duty to implement ‘reasonable adjustments’ to promote equality and inclusion. This usually means offering physical or auxiliary aids that remove the detriment. 

The Equality Act 2010 Statutory Code of Practice states that service providers must take steps to ensure that discrimination is not occurring however, what a lot of people don’t realise, is that not providing reasonable adjustments for disabled people in and of itself in fact qualifies as discrimination. 

So as an institution it is paramount that you are not only protecting service users from direct and in-direct discrimination but also supporting them and taking “positive steps to ensure (they) can access services”. This means it is your duty to do everything in your power to find out if customers/service users are in fact disabled (for example, including a relevant field in your onboarding form) and anticipating their adjustment needs before or without the need for request.

According to the act,

“The purpose of the duty to make reasonable adjustments is to provide access to a service as close as it is reasonably possible to get to the standard normally offered to the public at large.”

Equality and Human Rights Commission

That being said, if you were to give a disabled person favourable treatment, that is not considered discriminatory. The takeaway? It is better to go above and beyond than not at all.

Legislation protecting vulnerable adults

Vulnerable adults are protected by a variety of different national policies. Alongside some already mentioned, others include:

The Mental Capacity Act (2005)

This legislation indicates that everyone is free to make their own choices unless they lack the rational and mental capacity to do so themselves.

The Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (2009)

DoLs is a key procedure set out in the Mental Capacity Act and primarily applies to nurses and health care assistants in the care sector. It strives to protect our freedom and keep us safe by providing a legal framework prescribing that we should only deprive the liberty of someone “when there is no other way to care for them or safely provide treatment”.

It sets out the circumstances in which carers limiting a patient’s liberty is within their best interest and when it is not.

Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 and the Vetting and Barring Scheme (2009)

This legislation introduced comprehensive background checks. In summary, to protect the welfare of children and vulnerable adults, any person who has contact with these groups must be properly vetted by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) Update Service, who will investigate if they have previously committed a criminal offence (including cautions). Applicants who fail their DBS check will be added to one of two barred lists: ones barred from working with children (previously known as List 99, POCA list or disqualification orders) or ones who have been barred from working with vulnerable adults (previously known as the POVA list).

The Care Act (2014)

Perhaps the most important set of safeguarding legislation can be found in the Care Act. It sets out a clear legal framework for how local authorities and other parts of the system should protect adults at risk of abuse or neglect. To that end, this act set forth six principles for frontline caregivers to follow when safeguarding vulnerable adults, with the idea being that such increase the autonomy of the service user by involving them in the process of assessing their own safeguarding needs – this is called person-centred care

As for local authorities, this act requires them to: 

  • Lead a multi-agency local adult safeguarding system that seeks to prevent abuse and neglect and stop it quickly when it happens
  • Make enquiries regarding how to best protect adults they believe to be at risk
  • Establish Safeguarding Adults Boards, including the local authority, NHS and police, which will develop, share and implement a joint safeguarding strategy
  • Carry out Safeguarding Adults Reviews when someone with care and support needs dies as a result of neglect or abuse and there is suspected negligence at play
  • Arrange for an independent advocate to represent and support a person who is the subject of a safeguarding enquiry or review, if required.

The Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014

This act outlines the “fit and proper persons test” and the “duty of candour” for NHS providers. Regulation 13 is particularly relevant to safeguarding in that it mandates a “zero-tolerance approach to abuse, unlawful discrimination and unlawful restraint”. If such is breached and a Section 42 enquiry or concern is raised, provider organisations will have to demonstrate to a board that they took all reasonable steps to comply and acted with all due diligence. Nevertheless, the CQC can go straight to prosecution if these actions result in “avoidable harm or significant risk of harm” to the service user.

The GDPR and Data Protection Act (2018)

This act safeguards our privacy and well-being. According to this, employers and institutions must do everything in their power to protect any of our data of a personal and sensitive nature.

These are just a few instances of policies that we must abide by to safeguard vulnerable adults at risk.

The Online Harms White Paper (2020)

This new regulatory framework is primarily targeted at online or tech companies, to help keep users safe online. 

The UK government have become increasingly aware of the particularly damaging impact that harmful content and online activity can have on children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. In 2018 alone there were 113, 948 UK-related referrals of child sexual abuse material by US tech companies to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Terrorists also continue to use online services to spread propaganda and mobilise support. 

This model, which includes a new statutory duty of care and independent regulator, is part of the UK’s wider mission to “develop rules and norms for the internet, including protecting personal data, supporting competition in digital markets and promoting responsible digital design”.

The framework will apply to companies that “provide services or tools that allow, enable or facilitate users to share or discover user-generated content or interact with each other online”. So whether you’re a start-up, an SME, a charity or a massive conglomerate – if you’re hosting an online area (social network) for users to engage on, this framework applies to you.

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National policies to protect children

Children are among the most vulnerable members of society so their safety is of paramount importance. For that reason, if you have contact with children, then you play a vital role in protecting children and identifying those at risk of harm. According to the Social Work Act (2017), every child is entitled to equal protection. All organisations that undergo activities with children should have safeguarding policies in place to promote their welfare.

As part of the Working Together to Safeguard Children Act (2018) these organisations have a duty of care to:

·        protect children from maltreatment

·        prevent harm to their welfare and development

·        ensure vulnerable children grow up with safe and effective support

·        take action to create the best outcome for each child.

In accordance with these, and to protect vulnerable children, organisations are legally obligated to abide by national policies and child protection legislation. 

Preventing child abuse

It is estimated that 1 in 5 adults were abused as children. But child abuse comes in many forms; emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and being exposed to other’s abuse all constitute child cruelty under the Children Act 1989.

Abuse doesn’t necessarily happen at home either, according to the 2020 Girl’s Attitudes Survey, 64% of girls aged 14-21 had experienced sexual harassment in school.  Sexual exploitation also comes in different forms. It could occur between children or an adult with access to children could exploit their position of power. 

Under the Human Rights Act (1998,) organisations with access to children are legally obligated to protect them from child abuse. In preventing these, the Department of Education offers two policies for schools and institutions:

1. To prevent abuse, institutions must practice a zero-tolerance policy, making clear that harassment and sexual exploitation is unacceptable and challenging behaviours that other students might brush off as “seemingly harmless.” 

2. They must abide by the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act. In summary, to protect the welfare of children and vulnerable adults, any person who has contact with these groups must be properly vetted via DBS check (see legislation section above).

What should a safeguarding policy statement include?

Safeguarding policies and procedures vary depending on the nature of the establishment and the risks associated with the way in which it operates. A safeguarding policy or risk policy statement typically outlines the steps you intend to adopt in order to fulfil your legal obligations and keep a person at risk safe and accommodated for. 

As in any risk management, this statement should recognise any threats to your staff, customers, or vulnerable people at risk, and outline how you plan to protect them. Furthermore, according to the NSPCC, these statements should outline all of the policies you have (and their scope) and how they tie into the legal framework.

Though not obligatory, a robust safeguarding statement will typically cover: 

  • the steps that should be taken if an allegation or incident occurs,
  • disciplinary procedures that are followed when neglect or allegations arise,
  • a definition of “abuse” and “neglect” which the organisation is basing their procedures off,
  • contact details for reporting an incident.

Overall, creating a policy statement enables a company to highlight its values and the individual responsibilities of each staff member. It also helps them identify any gaps or potential risks that require further mitigation steps. to protect those at risk. 

The six principles of safeguarding

As part of the Care Act, organisations that have contact with children and vulnerable adults must have a safeguarding policy statement. While creating these processes, they are encouraged to abide by the six core principles of safeguarding (also known as the six principles of the Care Act):

1.  Empowerment: Encourage and support people when they’re making their own decisions and giving informed consent.

2. Prevention: Take steps to prevent harm before it occurs.

3. Proportionality: It’s best to adopt the least intrusive response to an adult at risk or child in danger.

4. Protection: Plan and provide support for those in the greatest need.

5. Partnership: The local community plays a role in preventing and detecting abuse. Within reason, use their support and help.

6. Accountability: Have complete transparency and accountability when delivering safeguarding vulnerable groups.

Following the guidance of these principles ensures that an organisation develops safeguarding procedures that keep everybody safe.

The takeaway

The organisations we work for must abide by policies and procedures that protect our rights. So, if you’re an employer, it is worthwhile familiarizing yourself with them so you can ensure you are fulfilling your legal duties.

After all, as the recent Oxfam inquiry highlights, insufficient safeguarding standards not only leave vulnerable members at risk but your reputation as well.

This post was last modified on 29 April 2021


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