What practical steps can a social services department take to minimise the risk of abuse in care situations
To answer this question means to understand what is meant by abuse, it can mean different things to different people which makes it a very broad term. For social services to minimise the risk of abuse means they need a comprehensive understanding of abuse. Ideas of what is and isn’t abusive evolve over time and is affected by culture, beliefs and social policy’s . What was found to be acceptable a hundred years ago is know in some situations criminalised, for example corporal punishment in state schools.
However a boundary has been drawn here but it does not necessarily reflect the public’s opinion of what is abusive. An ICM poll done by the guardian (P. 81 understanding health and social care) showed considerable support for corporal punishment. (Socolar and stein 1995 P. 81 understanding health and social care) surveyed mothers attending two clinics. Three quarters believed it appropriate to smack children between the ages of one and three. Where do agencies start to draw the line of when certain acts become abusive and when do they intervene.
The legal definition for child abuse is ‘The maltreatment of a child, especially by beating, sexual interference or neglect,’ the children’s act1989. (P. 101 understanding health and social care) The ‘Law commission, 1995, P207 ‘(P101 understanding health and social care) set out guidelines for what is abuse for vulnerable adults who qualify for social services adult protection policy. People outside of these categories can call on the help of the police or organisations like the women’s refuges. The categories of abuse are ‘physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, financial abuse and neglect.
These are labels and therefore have limitations. More often than not it is not just one form of abuse taking place. It is hard to imagine physical abuse happening without psychological abuse occurring . It is not necessarily one person committing an abusive act, organisations, residential settings can be abusive. Infact is it not abusive to house children in a residential setting where professional boundaries and indeed policies can create an environment where it is impossible to have any kind of healthy attachment to adults.
So how does one evaluate seriousness and then intervention? The seriousness of abuse can be gauged by how harmful the act was. If a person shows physical evidence of abuse it would seem that this would make it obviously abusive but should an agency necessarily intervene every time such a circumstance happens for example: a fight outside a pub could have been resolved by the time police arrive and the people in question may not want to press charges. Back to the question of intervention.
Brown and Stein1998 ( p76 understanding health and social care) developed a list to assist staff in evaluating seriousness . One of the things on the list that struck me as particularly valuable way of determining intervention was ‘will it happen again if action is not taken. ‘ if this can be determined then I believe this to be a key factor for intervention. The longer abuse occurs for the more psychological and long term damage occurs. Intervention must surely always be necessary if the person is vulnerable and unable to defend themselves.
How to intervene and act in the most productive way depends on each individual case for some situations legal action can be taken where as in others it may be more effective to put support mechanisms in place. But as I mentioned earlier abuse is not necessarily committed by a single person, residential settings could be accused of neglect or emotional abuse and in such settings environments could be created where it is easier for abuse to take place.
With very difficult clients an unsupported staff group could be lead into un-caring practices. In a residential setting it is easy to depersonalise clients making them even more vulnerable to abuse. So there has to be policies and procedures in place to protect both staff and client .’ Vicky Golding’ an area manager for Enfield social services (P. 23 understanding health and social care) describes why her department decided to develop guidelines.
One of the reasons was staff over stepping boundaries and allegations being made. Vicky Golding’ made a distinction between “the kind of reciprocal sharing which happens in self help groups where ones personal experiences would be seen as an asset” and then the more “anonymous role of a care work or social worker”. The guidelines her department drew up stated things like no disclosing information about your personal life, not meeting socially in a pub or restaurant a lot of these stipulations did have written in exceptions which required written and agreed care plans .
Boundaries policies and procedures are vital for attaining quality care but personally ‘Vicky Golding’s’ guidelines seemed very impersonal and making care workers and social workers more anonymous completely clashes with their job roles. Care workers have to develop relationships with clients to create a better standard of living where interaction with people is made as comfortable and trusting as possible. For a client to disclose information they would surely have to be an element of trust.
In my own circumstances as a residential social worker for vulnerable children I have found it invaluable that they should know an appropriate amount about me. To know what was appropriate though I needed guidelines, policies and procedures to give me an idea of what was and wasn’t appropriate, although for most scenarios I have to use moral judgment . Morally I can call on my judgment and I think many cars have to use this as their main source of guidance. Then you are relying on organisations to employ and judge whether people are of a good moral standing.
There are ways of achieving this to the best of their ability. To interview candidates and have a panel of management who can use informed judgment, to check references, to train and have induction programmes and to have regular supervision. In my experience these safe guards are not always in place. The fictional case study of ‘Allen a planning officer’ in a social services department (section 1 of understanding health and social care ) shows us the dilemmas of writing a policy.
Making policies too rigid or impersonal leads to problems and learning from personal experience can give a partial viewpoint. ‘Allen’s’ job was to develop policies and procedures on abuse for vulnerable adults. Using several different sources of information about abuse was essential. To get a clear broad perspective and reach the people in need of protection. ‘ Allen’ reads and listens to a true account of a workshop held in 1995 for people with learning difficulties who where survivors of sexual abuse. (section 2. understanding health and social care )
It highlights how people can go unheard when they report abuse. So in his policies he writes guidelines for listening and reporting abuse. ‘ Allen’ also consults department records of abuse and spends time reading research on abuse. For social services to minimise the risk of abuse in care situations they need clear policies and procedures that are implemented so that staff have guidelines and codes of conduct, so they understand what is expected of them and what they can expect the job to entail.
If boundaries are overstepped there is a clear course of action that can be taken. Clients need to be aware of what they can expect and feel they have a network of people they can reach, be heard and talk too. The continual research into the affects of abuse can help provide ways of understanding why and when abuse occurs . By empowering the vulnerable, by being listened to and supplying quality care can only encourage them to leave abusive situations behind and expect much much better.