Put a plaster on a gaping social wound, please the paymaster, keep your head down, look away or dare to genuinely safe guard the vulnerable adults known to health and social services. Where do you stand and place your ethical daily practise?
Recently, I was working as a locum policy-procedure worker in a former conservative flagship district while the unravelling horror of the brief existence of Baby P was taking place. My job was to make sure the vulnerable adults were involved and more than just seen, but, to be spoken to about their risks, fears and needs. This was an alarming litany of self-disclosures of all types of abuse some involving perpetrators who were staff. From the onset, it was made clear matters were less than satisfactory in terms of staff performance and degree of genuine risks of many people with enduring mental illnesses, learning disabilities and older people, but, the overriding anxiety of the authority was an imminent government of its social care inspection (Care Quality Commission, CQC) of its adult services.
On my second day, I was taken away from principal duties developing public user policies on safeguarding and instructed to ‘audit’, or assess and evaluate approximately 150 cases social work cases on specific Safeguarding Vulnerable Adults (SVA); adherence to procedures laid-out in law, in-putting of data and the quality of the tasks – that is at the end of the day is the person’s quality of life safer. The outcome was more depressing than even my twenty-five years in social care could have dreaded, it was a shameful reflection and contemporary protection of vulnerable adults.
Standards v Legal Duties
The inability of many staff to appreciate adequately their legal duty to care and be seen to act as a public service was as depressing as it appeared arrogant. Senior management were informed and specific unacceptable high risk investigations that fail to reduce and resolve risks were identified. It is inexcusable that a paid worker in a residential home sexually engages with a highly vulnerable woman with an established learning disability, or the police decline to robustly engage in protecting a mentally-ill man who‘s home has been taken over by a menacing gang.
Generally, it is our statutory services that imposes vulnerable investigations upon individuals, yet fails to adequately reduce risks and so common sense demands to ask, why bother, or should a specialist service be created to end this malaise? Why subject a person unable to always understand danger through so much to provide so little safety? Is it just for show or do services convincingly evidence a substantial increase in safety for vulnerable adults, will government inspectors be robust enough to fail borderline practices? Yes, the dreadful roll-call of authorities from Haringey, Cornwall Council Homes, Stafford Hospital, Doncaster, Manchester, Cleveland all make us stop but they are no worse it appears than some hitherto less known areas as yet ignored by the media.
Juggling Inertia v Justice
We ask vulnerable people to make a huge courageous act to ‘whistleblow’ and state they are being possible abused, and even greater courage if it is perpetrated by carers or family. Unsurprisingly, they are least likely to have safe friends and social circles and isolation feeds any abuser. We are not serving the vulnerable public adequately and for the staff identifying poor responses they are not greeted with commendations or popularity – regardless of the soundbites from their leaders! So where to from here for the vulnerable public and assertive professional can we look to a government that fails to reflect ethical governance within its own ranks or should be demonstrate – or seek guidance from the media? These diverse vulnerable people require automatic advocacy from competent solicitors and not just charities, to reflect the gravity of what is being investigated and begin to place statutory agencies on an explicit legal platform; and selected by an independent, or advocacy group. Isolated from robust legal support it is inevitable the malaise will exist.
Who Is Capable of Protecting – Who Is Accountable?
Capacity is the new buzz liberally used term, and statute within most recently the Mental Capacity Act and Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act. Capacity once important as a marker for aspiring to secure the best degree of daily liberty for vulnerable adults, and now, liberalised and manipulated in its use and deed, just as we have seen ‘culture’ or ‘confidentiality’; what a sad provision and misguided leadership we have! How frightening for the adults that as you read, continue to exist beaten, robbed, violated … and where have you been? Looking away, plastering the wound or daring to robustly protect the vulnerable and prosecute the abusers?
My contract was not renewed for many reasons, but it is the first environment that left me saddened about my profession and self-interests of those that should know and act better; my first experience of a reactively managed authority where an unnecessary death will inevitably happen. If the police, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), and social health care services fail the most vulnerable who is there going to protect them – and when?
So, do you look away, do you please your paymaster, do you increase safety of the vulnerable?