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March 2024

Is that dripping water I can hear?

Estimated reading time: under 5 minutes

‘Are you awake? Can you hear that noise…?’ asks my wife. I pretend not to hear.

I peer through one eye at the alarm clock … it says 03:04.

‘I can hear a sort of tapping sound, can’t you?’

I remain silent. I want to be back asleep, but now I am awake and waiting for this noise.

‘It sounds like water dripping, can’t you hear it? It’s in the ceiling above your head!’ my wife exclaims.

‘No, I can’t hear it, I am asleep, or I was….’

I lie there in the dark, looking at the ceiling, waiting for the sound. Nothing. Still nothing. And then I hear a very slight, hardly audible tap-tap-tap-tap. The sort of noise you could easily miss if you were not listening for it.

What then follows is a detailed discussion of the noise that dripping water makes and why it might not be constant. It has been raining heavily for several days, although not at the moment.

03:20 I am now standing in the attic, torch in hand, trying to locate the source of the sound. I can hear my wife saying something from the bedroom. Unable to find any obvious explanation, I return to bed.

As I lie there, it starts me thinking about how small, barely perceptible things might signal bigger concerns or problems.

This is very true for safeguarding adults. We have to be good (and we are) at spotting the ‘obvious’, the ‘standout’: for example, physical abuse. We have to be equally as good at spotting the small, the minor or ‘less obvious’. This might be a single comment, or a look or a subtle gesture which might indicate something is wrong or worrying. It could be an 'undercurrent of unease' when you visit a service to see someone (see April 2023 blog). This may be a safeguarding concern, or it might be something else: the key point is that small things matter.

In my role I talk with lots of people from all sorts of organisations and services, and it is not uncommon for a person to say something along the lines of

‘… there was just something not right, something I couldn’t put my finger on, but something nevertheless.’

Alongside responding to a disclosure of abuse, picking up on the ‘small’ details is just as important. In my experience, receiving a disclosure of abuse and harm doesn’t happen that often. In my previous role as the safeguarding adult lead, I had four direct disclosures. But there were lots of occasions when a person would tell me or a colleague about a small thing they had noticed, which acted as a possible warning sign. Giving us an alert, if you like, to the ‘sound of dripping water’: that something was not right.

There isn’t a toolkit or a manual for this (although good quality safeguarding adults training certainly helps): it comes from careful observation, close listening and asking the next question (making sure it is safe to do so). The person noticing it might be someone you know well, or it could be the first contact you have with them.

Picking up on the small stuff is part of having strong safeguarding skills. Spotting these subtle signals is about what I describe as having good ‘safeguarding radar’. If something doesn’t look or feel right, it probably isn’t. Trust your instincts. As I wrote in my August 2023 blog, from my experience working in safeguarding adults, I have found two good questions to ask oneself in a situation like this:

• If this was happening to a friend or a family member, would I be concerned? and

• What would I want someone seeing or hearing this to do? I would want them to do something, not ignore it

Just like NOT disregarding the noise of dripping water, following up a small thing might just be the action which helps protect a person from abuse and harm.

Developing these safeguarding skills across our workforce is part of what makes Norfolk a place where abuse and harm are not tolerated,
see page 3 in our strategic plan. It would be great somehow to reflect this, to record in some way how we are moving our safeguarding work forwards.

I would be excited to include some vignettes in the next Norfolk Safeguarding Adults Board (NSAB) annual report, to help illustrate evidence of our impact.

Perhaps you have picked up on something small, which then went on to help protect the person from abuse? It doesn’t need to be anything big or complicated - it could be simple description in 3 or 4 lines, which acts like a quote on our safeguarding work in Norfolk.

Please send me your vignette and I will look to see if it can be included in the annual report.

Thank you.

Walter Lloyd-Smith
NSAB Board Manager

Email: [email protected]

PS: The following night, that small sound in the attic was back (it was blowing a hooley outside), and I was back in the attic. This time I could see a steady flow of rainwater coming in around the Velux window, soaking into the boarding below. We were able to get the leak fixed before the problem got any worse, but it would have carried on getting more serious if my wife had not awoken and picked up on that small sound.