Practical issues to gaining access to an adult suspected of being at risk of neglect or abuse: a guide for social workers and their managers in England

Published: October 2014

The purpose of the safeguarding enquiry is to decide whether or not the local authority or another organisation, or person, should do something to help and protect the adult. In almost every case it is likely to be necessary to physically see and talk to the adult in order to be able to make that decision.

Good safeguarding practice begins with talking to the adult who there is concern about,, unless there are exceptional circumstances that would increase the risk of abuse. That conversation will need to establish facts and, importantly, what the person wants to happen and how. Practitioners need to make personal contact with the people they are working with and establish a relationship.  Therefore the issue of access and ability of the person to talk freely is critical. 

If the adult has substantial difficulty in being involved, and where there is no one appropriate to support them, then the local authority must arrange for an independent advocate to represent them for the purpose of facilitating their involvement.

People must be assumed to have capacity to make their own decisions and be given all practicable help before anyone treats them as not being able to make their own decisions. Where an adult is found to lack capacity to make a decision then any action taken, or any decision made for them, or on their behalf, must be made in their best interests.

Organisations should always promote the adult’s wellbeing in their safeguarding arrangements. People have complex lives and being safe is only one of the things they want for themselves. Professionals should work with the adult to establish what being safe means to them and how that can be best achieved. Professionals and other staff should not be advocating ‘safety’ measures that do not take account of individual wellbeing, as defined in Section 1 of the Care Act.

All safeguarding policies and practice should reflect the principles underpinning good safeguarding set out in the Care Act’s statutory guidance for implementation. [1]

The six principles of adult safeguarding

There are six principles of adult safeguarding:


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  • Gaining access to an adult suspected to be at risk of neglect or abuse: a guide for social workers and their managers in England