Safeguarding Vulnerable Adults: What Is It and Who Is It For?

October 29, 2018
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Everybody deserves to live a life that’s happy and free from harm, regardless of disability, age, or ethnicity. Whilst many people can achieve this independently, others may need additional help. Safeguarding vulnerable adults aims to protect these adults from harm and refers to the actions you take to achieve it.

It’s important that anybody who works alongside a vulnerable adult understands their safeguarding responsibilities and how to provide appropriate care and protection. Everybody has a responsibility to safeguard vulnerable adults and support them in maintaining a good quality of life.


What Makes a Person Vulnerable?

A vulnerable adult is any person above the age of 18 who may struggle to take care of or protect themselves from harm and exploitation. Adults who may be considered vulnerable include:

  • Those who lack the mental capacity to make decisions about their life.
  • Those who have suffered a stroke or have dementia.
  • Elderly adults.
  • Those who have a disability that prevents them from taking care of themselves.

Certain adults may also face greater risk if they are isolated, have mental health issues, are misusing drugs and/or alcohol, or have low self-esteem.

Nurse and patient walking in care home


What is My Duty of Care?

If you work with vulnerable adults, then you have a duty of care to protect them from harm and exploitation. This means that you should treat them with dignity and respect and act on any concerns you have.

Your care should be guided and underpinned by six key principles, as defined by the Care Act 2014:

  1. Empowerment
  2. Prevention
  3. Proportionality
  4. Protection
  5. Partnership
  6. Accountability

For each of the principles in detail and advice on how you can implement them, take a look at our guide to The 6 Principles of the Care Act 2014.


Recognising Types of Abuse

To help you fulfil these principles, you should understand the different types of abuse and know how to recognise their occurrence. The most common types of abuse are:

  • Physical abuse – any deliberate or accidental acts that cause physical harm to the body, such as kicking, punching, and misuse of medication.
  • Psychological abuse – any acts that cause emotional harm or distress to the adult, for example name calling, blaming, and controlling.
  • Sexual abuse – when an adult is involved in a sexual act that they haven’t consented to or have been pressured into consenting to. For example, rape or being forced to watch pornography.
  • Neglect and acts of omission – when a care provider fails to provide something to an adult and they experience harm or distress because of it. For example, ignoring medical needs and withholding necessities like food and drink.
  • Financial abuse – where an abuser takes advantage of a vulnerable adult’s financial situation. For example, borrowing money and never repaying it or pressuring someone into changing their will.
  • Discriminatory abuse – harassment or mistreatment based on a person’s race, gender, disability, age, religion, culture, or sexual orientation. For example, being subject to discriminatory jokes.
  • Institutional abuse – when the delivery of care benefits the organisation and its staff rather than the adult, such as no choice over meal times or bedtime.

Vulnerable adults cooking at home

Reporting and Whistleblowing

If you suspect any of the above types of abuse, then it’s in your duty of care to report it. Speak to the designated person in your organisation who handles safeguarding queries. You should do this even if your concerns haven’t been proved; raising a concern could potentially save someone’s life.

If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to someone in your organisation, then you should speak to someone externally. Whistleblowing is where you raise and share your concerns about wrongdoing in an organisation to an external party. Read your company handbook for more information on the whistleblowing procedure and who to contact.


Do I Need Safeguarding Training to Work with Vulnerable Adults?

It’s recommended that anybody who works with vulnerable adults receives training to help them understand their responsibilities. This applies whether you’re a volunteer or in paid work. The level of training required depends on your position, so make sure you know which one you need. For more information on the level of training appropriate for your role, take a look at our guide to Safeguarding Training Bands.

You should also be aware of certain pieces of legislation that apply when working with vulnerable adults. For example, the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 and the Mental Capacity Act 2005. Understanding these Acts will help you to deliver the best level of care and comply with the law. Safeguarding training will provide you with an overview of these pieces of legislation and explain your safeguarding duties.


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