Yesterday I attended a seminar organised by AVA, considering the interface between the Care Act 2014 and domestic violence, and what could be learnt about support for vulnerable victims of abuse: “The Care Act six months on …early lessons to keep vulnerable adults safe from domestic and sexual abuse.” As always with these things I had an interest in how this would apply in situations of child to parent violence, but there was a nice overlap too with my “proper job” in that some of the social work students I support and assess might be working within this legislation.
The afternoon was chaired by Donna Covey, Director of AVA and there were presentations from Cathie Williams, Chief Officer of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services; Theresa Renwick, Safeguarding Adults Lead at Whittington Hospital NHS Trust, Jo Sharpen, Children and Young People’s Project Coordinator at AVA; and Alison Millar, partner at Leigh Day Law Firm.
One of the strong messages from the seminar was with regard to the need to be clear about who falls within the legislation. Section 42 of the Act lays out the three requirements, all of which must be met. The adult concerned
- has a need for care and support (whether or not the local authority is meeting any of those needs) and
- is experiencing, or at risk of, abuse or neglect, and
- as a result of those care and support needs is unable to protect themselves from either the risk of, or the experience of abuse or neglect.
The important thing though is that, in terms of adult safeguarding, this legislation also encompasses legal duties which extend to carers. A carer may witness or speak up about abuse or neglect; they may intentionally or unintentionally be harmed by the person they are caring for (or professionals and organisations they are in contact with); or they may harm or neglect the person they support.
We were told that around a quarter of safeguarding adults work relates to domestic abuse, though it is not always recognised as such because it involves family members other than intimate adults. In considering violence from children, the difficulty in asking for help should not be underestimated. This may have been carrying on for many many years, and the adult concerned may be entirely dependent on the person for care. While separation may appear to offer a quick and easy solution, it may not be the most appropriate, desired or proportionate response. It goes without saying, (hopefully?), that each case must be considered individually and a full assessment made before the story can be properly understood.
So, what can we glean and how does it help us?
Firstly and importantly, the fact that a parent is being severely abused by a child, of whatever age, does not of itself make them vulnerable within the meaning of the act. They may suffer from poor mental health as a result: depression, PTSD, anxiety, or have suicidal thoughts for instance; but unless they are also in need of care and support, they do not fall within this legislation. Individuals who do not fit these requirements can access help via domestic violence services if a child is over 16, and hopefully elsewhere if the child is younger (though we know this is not always easy to find).
My understanding, however, is that some families experiencing child to parent violence will be able to access help within this legislation as follows:
- Older people with care and support needs being abused or neglected by older children.
- A carer abused by an adult child with care and support needs (e.g. learning disabilities)
- An adult with care and support needs themselves (perhaps a physical disability) being abused or neglected by a child for whom they still have responsibilities or who remains in contact.
In these cases the legislation provides for action both preventative and protective. Enquiries must be made by the most appropriate professionals concerned (includes health and police as well as councils) and should be more personalised and less procedural. There should be an emphasis in safeguarding now on what is wanted by the individual as an outcome.
As in all things, the changes will only be as good as the people operating them. Continuing training will now be vital in making people aware not just of their responsibilities, but also the importance of thorough assessments, of not making assumptions and of not taking things at face value. This is an area of work fraught with tangled and complicated relationships which must be respected if individuals are to achieve an outcome which is empowering, personal and proportionate. And then of course there’s the impact of austerity …..