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Adult protection

Adult protection and safeguarding has become a prominent issue.
Sunday 17 June 2012
Western Mail
We hear reports about abuse, neglect or poor standards in elderly home care, for example, and it concerns me that people may not see the good work that is being done in this area. Unfortunately, bad news tends to get more publicity than good news.

This isn't to say that we shouldn't recognise it as an issue. Last week (Friday 15 June) saw World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which aims to bring greater recognition of mistreatment of older people and highlight the need for appropriate action.

It's a complex, global issue encompassing different types of harm within domestic, community and institutional settings.

Raising awareness of elder abuse is a challenge, requiring work from a wide range of individuals and organisations. It should not be scaremongering. Again, we need to recognise the tremendous care, support and respect offered to the elderly in most cases.

This is not just something for us to consider in Wales. The United Nations has called for a global response to protecting the rights of older people. It's about sharing information on the effects of neglect and abuse, and working to address it.

Safeguarding and protection are key themes of the Social Services (Wales) Bill which recently went through a period of public consultation.

There is currently no comprehensive legal framework for adult protection in Wales. The Welsh Government issued a document in 2000 called In Safe Hands to develop multi-agency local arrangements for adult protection. Additional guidance was issued to address some gaps but there are concerns that adult protection doesn't receive the same level of attention as arrangements for child protection (which has a well-developed and understood legal framework).

A 2010 review of In Safe Hands concluded that there was a need to ensure that "safeguarding adults at risk from abuse who cannot protect their own interests must have the same legislative status and priority as protecting children."

The legal framework we propose aims to ensure that the response to abuse of adults, including elder abuse, will be as consistent and robust as the response to child abuse.

We've included a statutory definition of an 'adult at risk', as there is a consensus that people do not like to be labelled as "vulnerable" because of its negative connotations. The definition 'adult at risk' can include a wide range of people: those with learning difficulties, mental health problems, alcohol or drug problems, physical or sensory disability, and those in the autistic spectrum.

The legal framework will place new duties on a range of sectors - including the health service - to investigate, cooperate and share information. There needs to be a better relationship between those responsible for investigating safeguarding and the care providers who support those who have suffered abuse.

The duty to cooperate reinforces the principle that adult protection is everyone's responsibility. However, those in social services will be able to request other agencies provide assistance. There is also a duty to report and staff working with adults at risk will have a legal duty to report suspected abuse.

Last week I met representatives from Age Cymru to receive a charter with thousands of signatures supporting their Rule Out Abuse campaign. I agree wholeheartedly with the important principles contained in the charter.

It calls on the Welsh Government to commit to three principles to underpin all work to protect adults at risk of abuse. These are: prioritise safety; protect from harm and respect choices; and promote the right of dignity and respect.

This links very closely with the safeguarding measures we have included in the Bill and I thank Age Cymru for their work on this and their contribution to the recent consultation.

The Bill also takes the step of establishing a National Independent Safeguarding Board. This will be made up of experts on safeguarding and protection, covering adults and children, advising on all aspects of policy and practice.

In addition to this, Adult Protection Boards will be established on a statutory basis for the first time. We envisage, similarly to Local Safeguarding Children Boards, they will be responsible for co-ordinating the work of partner agencies in their area to protect adults at risk, raise awareness and provide training.

We need to help to build people's connections and resilience so that they have a good network of people who care about them and can pick up on any issues, wrongdoing or abuse quickly.

These are important times for adult protection and I am glad that people are raising awareness of the issue. It is vital that we support and care for older people and make Wales a safe and fair place to live and grow old.


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Gwenda Thomas AM

Deputy Minister for Social Services



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