One of the key policies that I’ve worked a lot with over the past few years, has been the introduction of the ‘new’ Protection of Vulnerable Adults (POVA) scheme and the Safeguarding Adults procedure – when there is a suspicion of abuse of a vulnerable adult.
And it’s usually a frustrating process.
There is little legislation in place to allow for any action even where there is – in some cases quite open – evidence that abuse is taking place.
Even after the forms have been filled, the strategy meetings have been convened, the police have confirmed that the CPS will not be able to take any further action because the victim of the abuse has dementia and therefore will not make a reliable witness – there is little that you can be left with.
The frustrating part is that you can have a very strong idea of what is going on through allegations, people saying things, but as long as the Crown Prosecution Service see people with dementia being unable to serve as witnesses, prosecutions will not be forthcoming.
Taking an elderly adult into residential care when they wish to stay in their own home is a draconian (and expensive) measure to take because the process of moving can be more permanent when someone is older. In fact, this article confirms that although there is no long term impact on elderly people who move into residential accommodation, when it is an imposed move, a higher morbidity rate can result.
Sometimes, people are left in situations that compromise their safety, dignity and financial position because the alternatives are not feasible.
I have been involved in two cases recently and without too many details, one is a standard (because unfortunately, it is probably the most common) financial abuse situation.
Someone who has dementia has a family member who feels they can use the income, savings and benefits of their parent as ‘free money’. Is this enough reason to move someone out of the property? No charges can be brought because although there is no capacity, according to the law, she is giving the money willingly (of course, this doesn’t account for the distress that is expressed through lack of being able to visit the local shops and buy a paper).
Another is a more tricky issue of possible physical and sexual abuse. Witness statements based on hearsay but fairly substantial – although not enough for criminal investigations.
That did involve a move – but it was no thanks to the Safeguarding Adults ‘strategy’ meeting which seemed to consist of policemen apologising for what they were not able to do after consulting with the Crown Prosecution Service (no criticism of the police involved, they were equally if not more frustrated by this).
And I shouldn’t even start on trying to get civil injunctions when someone lacks capacity. Civil injunctions are geared towards domestic violence and they have a part to play but when the person who wants to apply for the injunction is deemed to ‘lack capacity’ – there is a more convoluted and extensive procedure involving the Official Solicitor – none of which can be done in a reasonable time-frame.
I think civil injunctions could potentially go part of the way in some circumstances although the need for proof is still there. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I wish the procedures had more teeth.
‘Vulnerable adult protective litigation is a relatively new legal area and many teams will not have the budgets in place to run a case such as this. Difficult financial choices will arise and it is to be hoped that, overall, a means can be found of taking necessary protective legal action without having to cut frontline services.
The solution may lie in the new Court of Protection established under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. Future cases of this sort are likely to be heard by that court whose specialism and relative informality may make vulnerable adult cases easier to manage.’
So perhaps the Court of Protection will provide a greater level of protection in the long run.
One can only hope.
I’m trying my hardest not to be cynical about this because any opportunities to help the victims of abuse has to be positive.
But what I’d really like to see is an additional bump to the legislation and particularly the means of obtaining civil injunctions to cover more of the issues of adults who do not have capacity and a more streamlining (and quick) process.