I have a few safeguarding investigations underway at various stages at the moment. There are a lot running concurrently and while wanting to patter off the usual gripes and groans about workloads increasing at different rates, at different times of the year – I can safely blame my current predicament on a shortage of staff and of people who have trained up to complete safeguarding investigations within our team.
Historically, it would have been one of those situations which would have been lead by the social workers in a multi-disciplinary team – because the local authority provides additional training for us in this respect and it is seen to fit into the ‘social work’ role and domain but over the last year, this training and this role has been extended to other disciplines.
For my part, while I don’t want to discuss any of the details of any of the cases, there are some interesting comparisons to make in some of the factors involved.
In two of them, the people with whom I work are the alleged ‘perpetrators’ – both ‘incidents’ took place with residential care settings. This is not as uncommon a situation as might be assumed. We are often, with the resources we have, placing people where the beds are – sometimes there is little choice in the process because there is such a limited resource of the right type of beds in the right type of areas. It may be pot luck where a bed turns up and who might be placed in the room next door. This isn’t meant to scare anyone in this position but it is an interesting recognition of the status of the older adult in our society and perhaps a remnant of the ‘work house’ model.
There are some and actually a lot of excellent residential and nursing care homes and a lot I personally know that have thoroughly devoted and hard-working staff but the care homes that we work with exclusively are privately operated. Times are hard and everyone has to pay attention to base line costs. Placements can be ‘worth’ thousands and homes may feel either pressured (by social services departments, by social workers, by their own wish to ‘help’) to take placements that might not be ideal for all the residents already in situ.
While there is a lot of excellent work done in smaller group homes for younger adults with learning disabilities, the cost of smaller homes is much higher and the funding for older adults is much lower in general so there is less attention, less choice and arguably poorer quality of service. Often the quality depends as much though on the individual members of staff who may be working on particular days as the physical layout of the home but it figures that paying at minimum wage level is barely going to promote extensive loyalty to a particular care home or team. Some companies capitalise on these matters by feeding off the better nature of caring members of staff and it’s hard to argue for raising costs at the moment when money is so short but it comes as no surprise when quality is poor.
Abuse within residential homes between one resident and another can be dealt with in different ways and I have seen very different approaches used – from the ‘trying to brush things under the carpet’ type approach where the care home were terrified of local newspapers and family members of other residents finding out what had happened and trying to cover up a serious criminal offence committed by one resident on another – to an over compensation and a crack down on what might be assumed to be a relatively minor incident with very little risk to either party, that would happen in any situation when you put together a group of people.
In all these situations, there is a balance of risk assessment that needs to be considered particularly where capacity and understanding is a factor.
One of the interesting points for me is that I am party of the investigation process of other social workers in other teams. This led me into one particularly tricky situation as one of them I felt was, to be frank, making a complete hash up of the process and was adding little coherence or clarity. I tried not to be over-critical to a point that I felt her practice was pretty poor and I did raise this. I know, it isn’t very comradely but I felt no great affinity due to the way that things had been done.
I tried to highlight it as a very clear training need rather than as poor practice and I do genuinely believe it was because she either hadn’t been guided particularly well by her manager or hadn’t a clear handle on the process herself.
Then I found out she was actually an unqualified worker. She shouldn’t have been carrying out safeguarding investigations at all. Cue the slightly guilty feeling along with more than a little frustration geared towards her manager who has both badly advised her in the processes of the investigation and has placed her in a position to do work that she really shouldn’t have been doing. It is a completely different team and service area from the one in which I work so I have to be measured and I’ll probably wait for the conclusion to input more about this particular matter as I’ve made my feelings and thoughts known but I can guess why it has been done.
Staffing levels and funding. The cuts are not going to be brushed off easily.
Of the others I have in progress, one is a very straightforward (because there is a stack of substantial evidence that is irrefutable) but unpleasant, another seems to be a little more difficult to extract as it may have depended on a few misunderstandings but it may not have.
I know it has been recorded and researched that adult abuse is rife. I know there are reams of policies written about it but it does still seem to be misunderstood in a lot of settings – particularly the policies where a service user – usually either residential or day services – is an alleged perpetrator. Sometimes the policies which try to compartmentalise don’t allow for much give or if someone is both an alleged victim and an alleged perpetrator.
Perhaps it is due to societal predispositions and assumptions about the status of who a ‘victim’ is and who a ‘perpetrator’ might be.
One of the best lessons I’ve learnt and one of the most useful as I try to follow through all these pieces of work simultaneously is to try and cast aside as many assumptions as possible. The longer you work with people the more you realise how wholly misconceived some of these assumptions can be.