Care Talk: Safeguarding obligations in light of the changes in the Care Act 2014

It is essential that care workers understand not only their obligations in reporting safeguarding issues but also what the “new” legal requirements are on local authorities in relation to safeguarding investigations.

In April 2015, the law changed in relation to safeguarding with the introduction, under section 42 of the Care Act 2014, of a duty on a local authority to investigate safeguarding issues where:

  • It has reasonable cause to suspect that an adult is experiencing, or is at risk of experiencing, abuse or neglect; and
  • That adult as a result of their needs is unable to protect themselves.

If you hear that a local authority is carrying out a section 42 investigation it will be under that section of the Care Act.

The test above is very general in nature and does not give any guidance on how serious a case has to be to bring it within a section 42 investigation. However, the expectation is that most safeguarding concerns will be investigated by the care provider not the local authority. Only the more serious cases ought to fall within section 42.

Local authorities will have their own safeguarding policies and procedures which identify what types of cases can be investigated by your employer, as well as those that will need to be investigated under section 42. These policies and procedures will set out how section 42 investigations will be conducted.

Under the Care Act itself, there is what is called “statutory guidance” issued to organisations that come into contact with adults at risk which include providers and local authorities. The Care Act Guidance sets out more detail in relation to safeguarding practices and procedures. For example, it states that:

“In order to respond appropriately where abuse or neglect may be taking place, anyone in contact with an adult must understand their own role and responsibility and have access to practical and legal guidance, advice and support.”  

In line with the Care Act Guidance, care workers should have defined roles and responsibilities in relation to safeguarding either in their job descriptions or some other document such as their employer’s adult safeguarding policy and procedure. The document should set out what to do:

  1. When witnessing abuse;
  2. When abuse is reported to you;
  3. In terms of reporting internally – it should identify the person or persons you should report to;
  4. What can and cannot be investigated – for example some matters may need to be investigated by the police;
  5. In terms of reporting externally – for example to the Care Quality Commission or the local authority.

In summary, there are several layers of the safeguarding “cake”, starting with the base which is the Care Act 2014, the filing which is the Care Act Guidance, the top which is the local authority safeguarding policy and the icing which is your own employer’s safeguarding policy. They should all fit together neatly to ensure that the safeguarding system works effectively in the interests of service users.

If you are unclear about your safeguarding responsibilities as a care worker, ask your employer. You should also receive training on safeguarding to ensure you are clear about the safeguarding system and your important role within it.

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