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Social workers call for ‘radical change’ to protect adults from abuse and neglect

By Reporter - 11th Nov 2022

Almost one year after the publication of the landmark Brandon report, the Irish Association of Social Workers (IASW) is dismayed that adults at risk of abuse and neglect in Irish society remain poorly protected in the gap of adult safeguarding legislation and other essential measures. 

Speaking on Adult Safeguarding Day, Mr Vivian Geiran, Chairman of IASW stated:  

“In 2022, it remains the case that health and social care professionals and other relevant staff groups are not legally required to report most forms of abuse experienced by adults, even the abuse of adults with profound disabilities or dementia. Adults at risk of abuse and neglect continue to receive inadequate, inconsistent safeguarding responses with practice varying from one agency to the next.

“Safeguarding social workers lack a legal right of access to an adult at risk in many circumstances. Social workers lack the professional autonomy and authority to do their job, despite the findings of the Brandon report and other inquiries. A significant issue is that Adult Safeguarding Reviews can be of variable quality. In addition, Safeguarding Reviews often remain unpublished, severely hindering learning and limiting our ability to avoid recurrence of safeguarding failings. All of this leads to a perfect storm, which combined with under-resourcing of safeguarding work, often results in poor quality safeguarding when abuse and neglect of an adult occurs.”

The IASW’s Position Paper on Adult Safeguarding, launched on Friday, 11 November, provides a comprehensive overview of the many current challenges faced by social workers on the frontline of safeguarding work and provides solutions for Government to act on an interim and long-term basis. These solutions include: 

  • The introduction of comprehensive legislation and the establishment of a dedicated independent authority in adult safeguarding, reporting to the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.  
  • The introduction of mandatory reporting of abuse by key personnel in certain circumstances. 
  • The provision of legal powers of access by social workers to adults at risk who are unable to freely express their will and preferences in their current situation. 
  • The routine, full publication of safeguarding reviews, as occurs in other jurisdictions, so that frontline workers can learn and improve practice.  
  • The introduction of robust, transparent governance structures for adult safeguarding, including the appointment of a HSE Chief Social Worker as operational lead with professional autonomy and responsibility for adult safeguarding. The practice of senior HSE managers, who lack relevant expertise, making clinical or operational safeguarding decisions must end.  
  • The development of overarching workforce planning underpinned by a human rights approach to adult safeguarding, with targeted investment in focused multidisciplinary teams. Investment in training to develop co-working approaches with Gardaí and the criminal justice system is also required to support equal access of all adults at risk of abuse to justice when crimes occur. 

The Brandon report in particular clearly highlighted that ignoring expert social work safeguarding advice is harmful for adults experiencing abuse. In the IASW Position Paper, the social work profession delivers a clear and coherent expert roadmap to Government. The IASW welcomes the interest and energy of Minister of State Anne Rabbitte in her work on behalf of adults with disabilities at risk of abuse and calls on Government to follow through on the delivery of the above measures, which should be implemented as a matter of urgency. 

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