Protection from Abuse in Supporting People Services

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1 Protection from Abuse in Supporting People Services INTRODUCTION Supporting People Core Objective C1.4 is to safeguard the right of the service user to be protected from abuse. This is one of two objectives where failure to achieve level C represents a serious potential risk to service users and/or staff. As such, any provider who fails to reach level C for this objective on their performance up to this level. There are two main groups to be considered when developing policy and procedures to protect from abuse; the protection of children and the protection of vulnerable adults. This Briefing Paper identifies the legislative and policy base for the protection of these two groups and the factors that need to be considered by housing support providers when developing their protection policies and procedures. The SP team will issue further briefings on more detailed aspects of the process of monitoring and quality assessment. In addition you can contact SP team at or visit the Supporting People section of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive s (NIHE) website at Page 1 of 7

2 Defining Abuse It is important for staff and service users to understand the broad definition of abuse. The services should provide information and training on the different forms that abuse can take, and not assume people automatically comprehend what is ment by the range of terms used. Protection applies to all kinds of abuse, many of which are not physical in nature, for example, financial or material exploitation, or abuse through neglect or omission. Discriminatory abuse like harassment, shunning or verbal abuse also need to be addressed. All people involved in the service need to clearly understand what behaviour is not acceptable. Approaches to protection must be appropriate to the particular type of service concerned, the vulnerability and abilities of client group, and based on an assessment of the full range of risks faced. Protecting Children Housing support services may affect children when they are admitted to services as part of a family unit. Some 16/17 year old vulnerable young people may also use services in their won right when they are homeless. The legislative base for the protection of children is clear, as set out in the Children Northern Ireland Order The protection measures required from Providers will vary depending on the nature of the service they provide. For example, a refuge or homeless hostel accommodating families with children would have an obligation to ensure their policies and procedures adhere to the Children Order. However the burden of responsibility to care for and protect children in these circumstances still lies with their parents. Conversely, in a hostel that accommodates single homeless people or teenage parents who may be 16/17 years old there would be more stringent requirements and greater responsibility on the Provider to protect these young people. Protecting Vulnerable Adults Most Supporting People service users are vulnerable to greater or lesser extent. There is no specific legislation to protect vulnerable adults. However emerging legislation (Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults (NI) Order 2003) enables employers to request background and criminal records Page 2 of 7

3 checks on staff and volunteers through the Pre Employment Consultancy Service (PECS) Register. Otherwise the legislative base for the protection of vulnerable adults lies in the general criminal and civil legislation that protects us all. However there are other specific pieces of legislation and guidance that need to be considered when developing policy and delivering the protection from abuse standards. Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 This Act protects whistleblowers that make disclosures in the public interest and allows for action in the event of any resulting unfair dismissal. Health and Social Services Adult Protection Policies All four HSS Boards in Northern Ireland have policies and procedures to protect vulnerable adults, as do most HSS Trusts. These outline procedures for the reporting and investigation of abuse. These policies and procedures generally identify multi-agency protocols that include voluntary and private sector service providers. Related Policies and Procedures As well as specific protection policies the protection of vulnerable adults and children can be achieved through a variety of other measures. Clear rules and guidance set out in the following policies can also serve to protect service users from neglect, abuse or exploitation. Staff training and supervision Cash Handling, financial management and accounting procedures Staff recruitment and vetting Equal Opportunities and Anti- Discriminatory Practice Professional Boundaries Risk assessment as part of needs assessment and support planning Incident / accident logs and associated investigation and action Health and Safety Disciplinary Procedures Whistle Blowing Policy Lone Worker Policy Rules about gifts and donations Guidance and staff training on how to deal with violence or aggression Managing challenging behaviour Page 3 of 7

4 processes Complaints Harassment Policies Protection Policies and Procedures All services should have a specific policy and associated procedures for the protection of vulnerable adults. Where there is a likelihood of children using the service for their own right as part of a family group there should be a specific child protection policy. Even for accommodation based services where children might be visitors, or floating support services where workers may come into contact with children, it would be advisable to have a basic policy outlining what staff should do if they witness or suspect abuse or neglect of a child. Reporting Abuse Protection policies and procedures should clearly state that there is a duty for staff to report incidents, or suspicions of abuse. Procedures for reporting should clearly define who should be informed in different situation, and what form the initial report should take. For example a verbal account to the line manager, a written report, or the completion of an agency incident report form if such exists. The procedure should give an indication of what should happen once an incident has been reported. Any allegations or suspicions of abuse need to be responded to seriously with immediate action taken. Therefore action may include measures such as; internal investigation, report to external agency, and/or immediate palliative action required to protect the victim. The policy can be complimented by a whistle-blowing policy that protects staff that raise concerns from being victimised or unfairly treated. This includes disclosure to a non prescribed regulatory body in certain circumstances. Recording and Investing Incidents All incidents of abuse (actual or suspected) should be recorded in writing and should include the details of the abuse, dates and times of incidents, who was involved, and any corroborating evidence. The policy should state the process for investigating concerns or complaints relating to abuse. This should include specific time parameters for responding Page 4 of 7

5 to accusations and what feedback the victim can expect. You may also wish to detail the feedback that a third party reporting incidents or suspicions can expect. The latter must take into consideration the privacy and confidentiality rights of the victim (and the alleged perpetrator). Thought must be given to the immediate protection needs of the victim all responses must take account of the person s age, race, cultural background, disability, gender and sexuality. Whilst the investigation is taking place there needs to be a clear policy relating to the management of the person accused. The action taken should depend on the seriousness of the allegation, the effect on the person abused, and the position of the alleged perpetrator. The needs of the other staff and service users affected by the incident also need to be considered. There may be a need for support or counselling for all concerned to deal with the whole process. Once the investigation has been completed steps should be taken to ensure that similar incidents of abuse do not occur again. This can include measures such as; disciplinary action or pursuing prosecution, self protection work with service users, staff training or re-training. If a particular service user is found to present a significant danger to others it may require that their service is like to be terminated or that they are transferred to another, more appropriate, service. It is likely that any significant incident will trigger a review of certain policies, procedures or working practices. The outcome of the investigation and actions taken should be recorded. Information for Service User For any policies and procedures to be effective service users need to be fully informed about the definition and nature of abuse, and their right to be protected by the service. It is important that any information provided is in a format that is understandable and easily assessable. This will mean developing specific information for service users rather than handling them organisational policies and procedures. It is important that service users understand the definition of abuse so that they can recognise inappropriate conduct against themselves or others. Some may come from backgrounds where behaviour that would constitute abuse was acceptable. Providing general information at the point of entry to a service or on the client handbook will support understanding, but as it is a sensitive issue for some people it may be more beneficial for the key worker / support worker to discuss issues individually with service users as an integral part of the support package. The procedure for reporting should be explained to service users, and what action they can expect once they have reported. Page 5 of 7

6 The procedure should give service users the option of raising concerns with different staff members. Providing names of external agencies or advocates that service users can contact directly will offer an alternative for those who would prefer to talk to someone independent of the provider organisation. The procedure should also inform service users who the information will be shared with (such as staff supervisors or senior managers in the organisation). Also describe circumstances when information will be shared with external bodies such as Police and Social Services, and their role in any investigation and subsequent protection measures. Information for Staff Staff too need to understand the nature and variety of different forms of abuse, and must be able to recognise signs or behaviours hat might alert them to the need to be vigilant. It is important that they know what steps to take to protect service users and staff and how to cope with any incidents of abuse sensitively. Staff should be provided with information through induction, supervision and training. Methods need to be employed effectively and be relevant to staff. For example translating policies and procedures into easy to read working practice guides can be helpful. Team meeting can provide an opportunity to discuss policies and work through actual examples from the service to assist understanding, as can individual supervision sessions. Supervision should also provide the opportunity for managers and staff to address any issues or to raise any concerns. It can also identify any staff training needs. Professional Boundaries Staff need to be made aware of their professional boundaries. This applies equally to volunteer as well as paid staff. Professional boundaries set the limits to the worker service user relationship. This includes personal and material boundaries. If these boundaries are not respected then there is increased potential for abuse to occur. The observation of clear boundaries may also protect the staff member from unfounded allegations. Staff need to clearly understand what the aim and objectives of service are, and how their role fits within this. It should be clear what the limits of their job is and what would constitute boundary crossing. For example, meeting a service user outside working hours, any sort of personal relationship, or, accepting payment or gifts for services. Page 6 of 7

7 There should be a clear policy on gifts, donations and bequests that include, a duty to declare, identify acceptable value limits and perhaps a policy of all donations or gratuities going to a central service user or staff comfort fund. Lone Working In situations where a person works alone or has sole responsibility for an area of work there is a greater risk of abuse occurring. Procedures for handling service users money, one to one sessions etc. should emphasis safe working practices to reduce the possibility of abuse. Accurate record keeping, dual sign off of action taken, regular procedure checks, and periodic contact between staff supervisors and service users are some methods of dealing with these situations. Evidencing Protection Standards To comply with the standards a service needs to provide evidence that it has robust policies and procedures for preventing, and for responding to actual and suspected cases of abuse or neglect. The main body of evidence will be contained in specific policies and procedures. However it will not be enough to have the policies sitting on the shelf at head office. It needs to be shown that they are being used in practice. This can be achieved through staff training records, service user handbooks and other information sources, support plans, multi agency protocols, logs of incidents and actions taken and the like. Risk Assessments should identify situations where abuse could occur and indicate what actions need to be taken to reduce the risks. This includes general risk assessments for vulnerable individuals during the needs assessment and support planning process. Staff and service users are likely to be interviewed during the validation stage of service review. Demonstration of knowledge and understanding of agency policy and procedures during this process will be the most effective evidence that the core objective of protection from abuse is being achieved. Page 7 of 7

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