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July 2023

C is for … Conversations in safeguarding ...

Three things happened last month that have made me think about conversations.

How many people do you talk to in an average day? It must be dozens. If a 2010 survey is to be believed, the average Brit has 27 conversations every day and the pub is the best conversation environment outside the home (it should be noted that the survey was called ‘The Courage Beer Conversations Survey’!).

The flipside of this is the huge number of people who have little or no conversation or contact with someone else. The Campaign to End Loneliness reports that in 2022, 49.63% of adults (25.99 million people) in the UK reported feeling lonely occasionally, sometimes, often or always.


The use of conversations is so important to us as a species. Years of research in social psychology has shown that people talk to form and grow social bonds. Conversation gives each of us social support. Whether you talk to your friends, colleagues or family members for information-sharing, advice-giving, or just to vent, this process helps you put things in perspective which helps build your resilience and cope better when things don't go to plan. Conversations ensure that we understand one another.

These interactions are so impactful - I bet each person reading this blog could recall a critical conversation that had a lasting impact and may have even affected your life from that point forward.

For example, in 2008 when 20-year-old Jonny Benjamin stood on Waterloo Bridge, about to jump, a stranger saw his distress and stopped to talk with him. This decision saved Jonny's life. The stranger was Neil Laybourn, who was walking to work that day. Jonny had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and was struggling to cope when he attempted to take his own life.

Jonny recalls Neil saying,

'Please don’t do this. I’ve been where you are and you can get better. Let’s have a coffee and we can talk about this.” He reminded me of what people do every day, so the normality of it was really inviting.’

This idea of conversations and their key place in safeguarding adults stood out in three ways recently. The first was when I joined our five Locality Safeguarding Adults Partnerships face to face county meeting, there was a really good buzz in the room. As people talked, a recurring topic of importance was that if you spotted something of concern, you should ask a question. ‘Everything starts with a conversation,’ someone said.

Asking that first question

The next day I was talking with a senior safeguarding social worker about the challenges of asking that first question. Of course it is difficult, she said, but from her own practice she had found certain ways to start a safeguarding conversation that are not complicated or contrived. Rather they are ‘openers’, like:

‘Are you ok?’

'I am concerned about X...'

'I am worried about you because X...'

'I have noticed X, how do you see this?'

‘I’m concerned about your safety…’ or

‘I have noticed some changes that concern me...’

The very act of just asking ‘Are you ok?’ could be critical. It could be that first step  towards getting help, and for some, have a far-reaching impact on their future. We may not always know the outcome, but that is not necessarily the point.

The third conversation starter was the recent NSAB Hidden Harms animation. Based on the power and control wheel as adapted by Dewis Choice, this short animation can support practitioners and families to start a conversation about domestic abuse with an older adult.

We know from research that this is a very sensitive topic to talk about. Older adults may be more reluctant to talk about problems at home due to experiential, cultural, and social factors, and this - combined with ageing and subsequent care needs - leaves them vulnerable to having domestic abuse overlooked (Older women and domestic abuse | Iriss).

I do have one ask: please let me know if you use the animation (where and how) as we are wanting to collect in evidence of its impact.

If a conversation leads you on to raising a concern with the local authority, there is information on the NSAB website to help, including a Quick Guide - 7 Golden Rules about information sharing and raising a concerns checklist.

But it all starts with a conversation, asking a question, and understanding that, as Linda Lam, from the Reboot for the Future Campaign*, said:

‘One good conversation can shift the direction of change forever.’

Thank you.

Walter Lloyd-Smith
NSAB Board Manager

Email: [email protected]

* The Reboot for the Future Campaign is a non-profit registered charity working for a sustainable and equitable future for all.