Safeguarding adults.

There is a growing understanding that protecting anyone who is vulnerable is at the core of our faith. Until recently there has been more attention paid to protecting children. However, our understanding of safeguarding has developed over the years as people have become more aware of how adults may experience harm, whether that be in institutions, in their own homes, or in the community.

All adults (people over 18 years of age) can be at risk of abuse, and adults who are vulnerable face particular and increased risk. The term ‘vulnerable adult’ has previously been used to describe adults who are either vulnerable, or in need of protection. However this term has been strongly criticised by those to whom it might apply. Labelling people as vulnerable because of, for instance, their age or disability is felt to be a little insulting. You only have to think about the competitors at the Paralympics to understand that we would be highly unlikely to label them as vulnerable, in spite of the various impairments that make them eligible to compete in the Paralympics.

The term “vulnerable adult” is therefore no longer used by most organisations, although you will still see it being used by the Charity Commission and the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). The term now preferred is “Adults at risk”

Who are adults at risk?

The definition that we, the URC, have arrived at is contained in Good Practice 4 2015

Any adult who, due to disability, mental function, age or illness or traumatic circumstances, may not be able to take care or protect themselves against the risk of significant harm, abuse, bullying, harassment, mistreatment or exploitation.

Adult abuse

There are many definitions of abuse, and sadly too many examples of abuse in the press.

Our definition, contained in Good Practice 4 2015 is:

Abuse is about the misuse of power and control that one person has over another. In determining whether or not abuse has taken place, it is important to remember that intent is not the issue. The definition of abuse is based not on whether the perpetrator intended harm to be caused but rather on whether harm was caused, and on the impact of the harm (or risk of harm) on the individual.

Categories of abuse and possible signs/symptoms of abuse

Please see

Appendix 5 categories of abuse adults 2016   for categories and definitions of abuse

Appendix 7 possible signs of abuse 2016  for examples of possible signs of abuse.

Spiritual abuse: You will not find references to spiritual abuse in The Care Act 2014. However, spiritual abuse is a recognised form of abuse which misuses power and is very relevant to church and faith settings. The term ‘spiritual abuse’ covers a wide variety of behaviours, and can be summarised as the use of spiritual authority or spiritual means in order to demean, manipulate, control or exploit someone. As with any category of abuse, spiritual abuse is most likely to arise when people, often in positions of authority, misuse power.


The Care Act 2014 is now the legislation in respect of safeguarding adults. Pursuant to Section 14 (2) safeguarding duties apply to any adult who:

  • Has needs 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 emphasis is on “Making Safeguarding Personal” which highlights the concept of empowerment and choice, involving adults in the design of services to enable them to retain independence as far as possible and so that they can have the necessary support to live a life free from harm and abuse.

The Care Act 2014 introduces a duty on local authorities to assess Carer’s needs. Awareness of this can be crucial if there is anyone in your congregation who may need additional support in caring for a relative or friend.

DBS checks and recruitment of volunteers

The legislation regarding DBS checks in respect of adults at risk changed some time ago to take away from the characteristics of adults being the guiding criteria, to what is being done with them. The activity has to be done on behalf of a third party, for example as a result of the person being on a pastoral rota (not friendships) and they have to be done because of the person’s age, illness or disability

The following are examples that would mean that a DBS check on the enhanced plus barred list is needed:

  • Personal care e.g. washing hair
  • Shopping with the persons money
  • Feeding someone, or teaching them how to feed themselves
  • Taking to and from Doctor/hospital visits

These tasks only need to be done once to meet the eligibility to have a DBS check If you are likely to be doing any of these activities we recommend that you apply for a DBS check.

Please note that when recruiting volunteers to work with Adults at Risk the safer recruitment procedure applies and DBS checks are only one part of that process. please see previous page Safer Recruitment and selection

A major difference between safeguarding children and adults at risk

Adults have a general right to independence, choice and self-determination including control over information about themselves and the right to make choices that others might deem unwise. This right can affect whether you can make a referral, where there is a safeguarding issue, against an adult’s wishes when they have capacity. It is good practice to endeavour to obtain the adults consent to share information.

Below are some examples of when a referral can be made against an adults wishes

  • A criminal offence may have been committed
  • Where the duty of confidentiality is outweighed by the duty to prevent a crime
  • Others are in danger or at risk
  • The alleged perpetrator is employed in a position of trust which means others may be endangered
  • The alleged perpetrator works with children or adults at risk
  • In circumstances that involve malpractice, abuse or poor professional practice by certain agencies e.g. Doctors, Care Agency
  • The alleged perpetrator is also an adult at risk
  • There is a serious and high risk to the safety or life of the person
  • The alleged perpetrator works for the church, paid or unpaid

As long as it does not increase risk, you should inform the person if you consider that you need to share any information without their consent.

The law does not prevent you from sharing information within your organisation, as long as this is done proportionately. So please do talk to your church safeguarding coordinator, or your Synod Safeguarding Officer, Jan Murphy 07875 454 064, if in any doubt. You can also phone your local Adults Safeguarding Board without giving names and they will be pleased to advise you as to whether a referral is warranted.

Please see     Similarities and differences     for details of some similarities and differences in safeguarding children and adults at risk

If you would like more detail

For more detail about safeguarding adults please see GP4-Safeguarding-Adults-at-risk-2016-web