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What to do if an adult at risk tells you that they or another person is or has been abused or neglected

Section 2

An adult at risk may decide to disclose to a practitioner that they are, or have been subject to abuseor neglect, or they are aware of another individual who is or has been abused.

The way in which practitioners respond to these disclosures can determine whether the individual continues to describe what has happened to them or shuts down and retracts anything they may already have said.

As these accounts can prove crucial in legal proceedings the way in which practitioners manage them is important. It is essential to:

  • Keep the adult at risk safe.
  • Ask questions to determine if there is a safeguarding risk.
  • Listen and observe.
  • It is vitally important that as soon as you have the opportunity you must record what has been said to you as this may be the first and only account available to the police.
Example: A housing officer visits a man with learning disabilities because there have been complaints from neighbours about noise, ‘partying’ and drunk visitors. The man says he has new friends ‘who are very nice to him’. The housing officer repeats what he’s said ’You’ve got new friends’. The man replies: ‘Yes, they bought me a new large screen TV, get me lots of takeaways and bottles of beer.’ The housing officer observes the TV, empty pizza boxes and bottles. And once again reflects back; ‘they buy you things’. Yes, they do it because I am nice to them and let them keep stuff at my flat’. The housing officer responds;’So you keep stuff for them, can you tell me more about that?’. ‘Yes, and it’s great because people keep coming to see me to collect the parcels. I’ve got lots of friends now’. The housing officer has a duty to report.

Keep in mind:

  • Secure and preserve anything you believe might be evidence;
  • Keep an open mind about what you see and hear;
  • Explain to the individual any actions to be taken in a way that is appropriate to their age and understanding;
  • Do not promise to keep what you have been told secret or confidential as practitioners have a duty to disclose information to social services and in some cases the police;
  • Remember reporting concerns is not a betrayal of trust.

Pointers for Practice: 10 Key Principles for Managing Disclosures of Abuse and Neglect

What to do following a disclosure

It is essential that practitioners take any disclosure made to them seriously and do not make a judgement as to the reliability and validity of what has been said. It is up to social services and the police to make this judgement.

1: Duty to report concerns

Report the concerns immediately to your line manager and/or (if appropriate) the practitioner in your organisation with designated responsibility for safeguarding, if not available then report directly to social services;

Ensure that the concerns are reported immediately to the local social services.

  • do not delay;
  • do not confront the alleged abuser;
  • do not worry that you may be mistaken. practitioners will always be taken seriously by social services. It is better to discuss the disclosure with somebody with the experience and responsibility to make a decision rather than take no action.

2: Record

Record as soon as possible and no later than 24 hours after the disclosure what was said:

  • use the exact words the adult at risk used if possible;
  • describe the circumstances in which the disclosure happened; the setting and anyone else who was present;
  • be aware that the record may be required for legal action or disciplinary procedure so be sure to separate fact from opinion;
  • make a note of the date, time, place and people who were present when the disclosure took place.