It must also be remembered that some instances of abuse will constitute a criminal offence, e.g. physical or sexual assault, rape, theft, and fraud (examples are not an exhaustive list). When allegations of abuse suggest that a criminal offence may have been committed it is imperative that the Police should be contacted as a matter of urgency. Criminal investigation by the Police will take priority over all other lines of enquiry but does not take away the need for the safeguarding process to be continued.
In all cases consideration should be given to the context of the person’s behaviour and what is the norm for that individual’s pattern of behaviour or medical history.
People can be at risk of abuse and/or neglect in a range of settings throughout the community, ranging from their own homes, to care service settings as well as in the wider community.
Patterns of Abuse
Patterns of abuse vary and include:
- Serial abusing in which the perpetrator seeks out and ‘grooms’ individuals. Sexual abuse sometimes falls into this pattern as do some forms of financial abuse;
- Long-term abuse in the context of an ongoing family relationship such as domestic abuse/violence between spouses or generations or persistent psychological abuse; or
- Opportunistic abuse such as theft occurring because money or jewellery has been left lying around.
There are certain situations or factors that may place people at increased risk of being abused or neglected. The presence of one or more of these factors does not automatically imply that abuse or neglect will occur, but they are important to note as they may increase the likelihood. The following factors may be relevant to any adult who may be at risk of abuse & neglect, whether living in a domestic home, care home or receiving care, support or services in hospital or any community setting. They include:
- An unequal power relationship or control, whether physical, emotional or financial, generally exists between the abused and the abuser;
- Living in the same household as a known abuser;
- A personal or family history of violent behaviour, alcohol or substance misuse or mental illness;
- Adults living with other family members who are financially dependent on them;
- Financial difficulties often leading to substandard living conditions;
- Certain personal needs may present more opportunity for abuse. For example, where a person needs assistance to bathe or use the toilet;
- Role reversal and need for intimate personal assistance. For example, a son or daughter providing personal assistance for a parent;
- A member of the household or family experiencing emotional trauma or isolation;
- Differences in communication or a breakdown in communication;
- A change in lifestyle of a member of the household or family, such as illness, unemployment or employment;
- Dangerous or inappropriate physical or emotional environment, such as lack of space or privacy;
- Carers not in receipt of any practical and/or emotional support from other family members or professionals.
It might also be the case that an individual’s own behaviour or condition places him or herself at greater risk of harm. For example, due to the state of a person’s mental ill health or learning disability, he or she might exhibit behaviour that suggests to others a willingness to be drawn into a situation that might pose them some degree of risk.
The move away from protection towards safeguarding means that there does not need to be a specific incident causing concern but rather that the concern can centre around a general level of risk. By alerting and raising a concern in these circumstances, the safeguarding process can be used to prevent or reduce the possibility of abuse or neglect occurring, particularly if the concern is raised at the earliest opportunity to enable risk factors to be reduced.