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Northern Ireland puts safeguarding vulnerable adults to the fore

A reform of Northern Ireland’s current adult protection infrastructure has been unveiled by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS).

Following a consultation paper on reforming adult protection infrastructure in November 2009, the DHSSPS last week confirmed the establishment of a new Northern Ireland Adult Safeguarding Partnership and five Local Adult Safeguarding Partnerships, which will include representation across the sector, by the end of the year.

The Northern Ireland Adult Safeguarding Partnership (NIASP) and the five Local Adult Safeguarding Partnerships (LASPs) will replace the existing Regional Adult Protection Forum and Local Adult Protection Fora arrangements and will be set up in the context of the development of a government adult safeguarding and protection policy framework.

The aim of the new structure is to bring about improved outcomes for vulnerable adults in Northern Ireland, stressing the need for partnership-working. Guidance on the new infrastructure states: ‘The abuse of adults must be recognised for what it actually is. It is an assault on the human and civil rights of the abused individual and can have a significant impact on independence, health and social well-being.

‘Our collective aim is to prevent the abuse of adults whose vulnerability heightens the risk of abuse. A rights-based, multi-disciplinary, inter-agency approach to adult safeguarding is essential with partner organisations and groups working together in a spirit of co-operation, openness and transparency,’ it adds.

Speaking about the safeguarding plans earlier this month at a World Social Work Day celebration hosted by the Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers (part of BASW), chief social services officer Sean Holland admitted that government needed to do more in its efforts to safeguard vulnerable adults.

He highlighted the 2006 UK Study of Abuse and Neglect of Older People, which revealed that 2.6% of adults living in private households had experienced mistreatment at the hands of a family member, family friend or care worker in the previous year, equating to 227,000 older people in the UK suffering abuse. Mr Holland stressed that there was no evidence to suggest vulnerable adults living in other forms of accommodation were better off.

“Adult abuse is prevalent in our society. Emotional, sexual, financial, physical, institutional and discriminatory abuse; it includes neglect and exploitation. Whatever form it takes, it is abhorrent and should not be tolerated in any society,” said Holland.

The Northern Ireland Adult Safeguarding Partnership will be responsible for determining the strategy for safeguarding vulnerable adults, developing guidance and policies, monitoring trends and monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of partnership arrangement. The five Local Adult Safeguarding Partnerships will facilitate practice efforts, including engaging with service users, carers, families and the wider public at local level.

In time, the NIASP will undertake Serious Case Reviews where necessary to establish whether there are lessons to be learnt from cases regarding the way that organisations and professionals have worked to safeguard vulnerable adults.

NIASP and the LASPs will be made up of representatives from the main voluntary, statutory and community organisations involved in adult safeguarding work across the sector and will include representation from service users and providers.

A key role for the NIASP is to forge definitive links with relevant organisations, including the Youth Justice Agency of Northern Ireland, universities and colleges and professional bodies such as the Northern Ireland Social Care Council.

Both NIASP and the LASPs will set up working groups to carry out specific tasks, provide specialist advice and monitor activity and trends in adult safeguarding work. In conjunction with the LASPs, NIASP will also set out its strategy for safeguarding with agreed objectives and priorities for its work in a three-five year plan. Both partnerships will produce annual reports.