Timescales for conducting safeguarding investigations have been relaxed in the capital to allow a more personalised approach to protecting adults at risk.

The policy and procedures for adult safeguarding in London now contains desired targets, rather than more definitive timescales, for completing adult safeguarding cases. The new policy, which has been adopted by all of London’s 32 boroughs, NHS organisations and the Metropolitan Police, is designed to affect the changes brought in by the Care Act, replacing a policy produced in 2011.

The 2014 Act invested in new thinking.  It put adult safeguarding on a statutory footing for the first time, embracing the principle that the ‘person knows best’. It laid the foundation for change in the way that care and support is provided to adults, encouraging greater self-determination, so people maintain independence and have real choice.

The London policy, which came into force on 1 April is also backed by the capital’s fire, ambulance and probation services.

At its core it asks councils to put into practice the Making Safeguarding Personal’s (MSP) “person-led” and “outcome-focused” approach to adult protection. This involves practitioners identifying and seeking to achieve, as far as possible, the preferred outcomes of the adult at risk, through the adult safeguarding process.

There is an emphasis on working with adults at risk of abuse and neglect to have greater control in their lives to both prevent it from happening, and to give meaningful options of dealing with it should it occur. For staff the Act provides clearer guidance, and supports pathways to working in an integrated way, breaking down barriers between organisations.

But feedback from the new way of working across multi agencies highlighted a problem with timescale and expectations and were found to be unrealistic as every adult is different. They currently didn’t allow for individual expectations. Reports to come out of the feedback showed a tension between the timescales that have traditionally been applied to adult safeguarding investigations and working in a person-centred way. Helping a person identify their preferred outcomes at the start of the safeguarding investigation may take a significant amount of time that would breach timescales.

The previous London multi-agency safeguarding policy set out a seven-stage process for safeguarding investigations (alert, referral, strategy meeting, investigation, case conference, review, closure) with clear timescales for each.

While these timescales could be varied – if it was a particularly complex case, if this was in the best interests of the person at risk or if the original timescales would jeopardise the outcome the person wanted – this had to be agreed with the relevant safeguarding adults manager.

Letting the adult decide

The new policy reduces the process to four stages (concerns, enquiry, safeguarding plan and review and closure), and sets “indicative”, not “definitive” timescales, which it is up to local agencies to decide whether to implement.

It also states: “Local guidance on timescales should reflect the ethos of the Making Safeguarding Personal agenda. It is important that timely action is taken, whilst respecting the principle that the views of the adult at risk are paramount.”

In line with MSP, the new policy states that each enquiry should start with a conversation with the adult at risk – unless it is unsafe to do so – to identify their desired outcomes from the process. These outcomes should give focus to the enquiry though practitioners should work with the adult to ensure outcomes are achievable. There should also be ongoing dialogue with the person, and enquiries should be replanned if their desired outcomes change.

“Making Safeguarding Personal is embedded in this [policy],” said Derek Oliver, assistant director, adult and community services, at Richmond Council, who helped develop the policy. “We are trying to place the person at the centre though balance that against the community interest.”

Wider range of abuse types

Reflecting the Care Act statutory guidance, the new policy covers a wider range of abuse types than its predecessor. For example, while the previous policy did not cover self-neglect, modern slavery, female genital mutilation or mate crime, these are referenced in the new policy.

It also includes a dedicated section on working with providers of relevant services, including those in social care, health and housing. This includes guidance on distinguishing between poor care and potential safeguarding issues. For example, it suggests that while a one-off medication error or a missed care visit from a provider may constitute poor care, a series of errors or missed visits would be potential safeguarding concerns.

The policy also includes a procedure for addressing “provider concerns”, where there is alleged abuse or neglect affecting a group of people within a service, rather than an individual.

National impact

Regional safeguarding partnerships across England are having to amend their safeguarding policies to take account of the Care Act and are now looking to London so that they can learn from its new policy and roll out successful changes in their own area.

The New Policy – http://londonadass.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/LONDON-MULTI-AGENCY-ADULT-SAFEGUARDING-POLICY-AND-PROCEDURES.pdf

The Care Act 2014 – http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2014/23/introduction

London Care Act Impact – http://londonadass.org.uk/safeguarding/review-of-the-pan-london-policy-and-procedures/

7 Step London Multi Agency approach – http://www.scie.org.uk/myscie/almost-there