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April 2024

What helps to make people feel safe?

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

There is a dull, distinct thud from downstairs. After a short pause, my wife shouts up the stairs:

'Have you been polishing the floors?'

Somewhat puzzled by the question, I call down “No, why? Is everything all right?”

When no answer is immediately forthcoming, I carry on working. Then, curiosity aroused (and it being nearly lunchtime), I log off and go downstairs.

My wife is in the living room, coat and boots on, ready to go out. “Have you been polishing the floors?” she repeats, rubbing her right elbow. 'Because the wood is really slippy and a minute ago I went all the way over on it!'

Just then my gaze is caught by a can of suede protector abandoned on the sideboard, right next to where she is standing.

'Did you by any chance spray this on your boots (which are suede) just now…?' I innocently enquire.

'Yes, it’s drizzling outside and I didn’t want them to get ruined. Oh …' my wife trails off.

Suddenly the mystery is solved: the protector spray mist had settled into a wet slick on the floor. We quickly wipe it up to prevent further incidents.

So, apart from identifying and addressing safety hazards, what is it that helps people feel safe?

It’s an easy question to ask, and one which takes us to the heart of the essential personal nature of safeguarding.

One of the central tenets of any safeguarding offer, plan or action, is that safeguarding needs to be personal. Safeguarding practice, and the actions taken, should be designed in ways that ensure it is person-centred, proactive, and appropriate. The Care Act 2014 describes 6 key principles for safeguarding adults, one of which is empowerment (see also my June 2023 blog - Quiz question … in the six safeguarding principles, what does ‘P’ stand for?):

People are supported and encouraged to make their own decisions and informed consent.

‘I am asked what I want as the outcomes from the safeguarding process and this directly inform what happens.’

Feedback from safeguarding enquiries

At the March meeting of the Norfolk Safeguarding Adults Board, Adult Social Care presented an update on their ongoing work to talk with people about their experiences of a safeguarding enquiry (Section 42). This gave us a sense of how ‘safeguarding’ is experienced, and how it has helped the person to feel safe.

Safeguarding, rightly so, is about working ‘with the person’ to remove or reduce risks, and not doing safeguarding ‘to them’.
An insight into how a person is feeling at the end links us back to the question about how good are we at Making Safeguarding Personal.

A Care Act Section 42 enquiry (a ‘Sec 42’) is a formal adult safeguarding enquiry, i.e. a duty or ‘must do’ in law. It comprises a range of actions undertaken or instigated by the local authority in response to an abuse or neglect concern about an adult with care and support needs who is unable to protect themselves in the situation. An important word here is ‘instigated’, since the local authority can require others do this on their behalf.

An enquiry should establish whether any action needs to be taken to prevent or stop the abuse or neglect, and if so, by whom. The findings from the enquiry are used to decide whether abuse has taken place and whether the adult at risk needs a protection plan.

In Norfolk not every person who has been involved in a Sec 42 enquiry is contacted for their feedback, which is something I very much support. Care needs to be taken when talking with someone who has been through a traumatic experience like abuse, and therefore a blanket approach is clumsy and ill-advised at best and has the potential to cause further harm at worst. There may be complex family dynamics or ongoing complaints, which mean this kind of blanket approach is not suitable. Before any approach is made, the circumstances are checked with the worker involved, so nothing is missed.

The human factors that count

This latest update to the board was very important, because we heard directly from people about the things that help them feel safe, such as being able to contact support if needed (e.g. having a pendant alarm, or having ‘my mobile phone with me’); aspects of the physical environment (getting the locks changed, alarms on doors and windows, CCTV; or the very fact of ‘having a roof over my head’. These comments echo the research: we know that good family relationships, having an active social life and a circle of friends, being able to participate in the wider community, a good knowledge and access to the range of community facilities and being able to access to sources of relevant information, are all really important.

What stood out for me was the importance of the ‘human’ element: factors like regular contact and visits from family and friends, supportive neighbours, having carers on-site. These all help people feel safe.

Appreciating these human elements prompted the question: how can we lift this knowledge of ‘protective’ factors and apply it further ‘upstream’, to work with people to prevent abuse happening?

How do we do more to strengthen the human elements of safeguarding we know are important? For example, when we take steps to reduce social isolation or ensure a person’s home is secure, these human elements of preventative safeguarding really seem to matter.

I would be keen to hear from readers of this blog how you have used ‘human’ factors relating to safeguarding. How could they be built into your work as preventative safeguarding actions?

Thank you.

Walter Lloyd-Smith
NSAB Board Manager

Email: [email protected]