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Must Know: How do you know your council is doing all it can to safeguard adults?

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As an adult social care portfolio holder you have a role in ensuring that departments within the council work together to protect adults at risk from abuse or neglect through, both, responses to specific situations and, also, putting in place broader prevention measures. This document sets out key areas for focus and specific questions to ask to assure you that your council is effective in keeping adults safe.

Key messages

Your leadership role

  • Ensure that you understand both your statutory and community leadership responsibility for adult safeguarding. Note 1
  • Ensure that you, your fellow councillors and council staff, understand arrangements for raising safeguarding concerns; and that there are clear systems for reporting and responding to concerns.
  • Take a leadership role in ensuring that all the bodies responsible for adult safeguarding work effectively with each other. This includes developing good relationships with the chairs of the safeguarding adults boards and children’s safeguarding partnerships as well as any existing roles on health and wellbeing boards, integrated care boards and partnership bodies.
  • Take a leadership role in creating a culture that enables safeguarding support to be delivered through the six safeguarding adults principles and the wellbeing principle and seek assurance that this is the case.
  • Ensure that local leaders take account of any impacts/consequences of COVID-19 when considering safeguarding adults.

Supporting policy and practice

  • Seek assurance that people who need safeguarding services, including carers, are fully involved in, and in control of, safeguarding arrangements and processes at practice and strategic levels. 
  • Ensure advocacy support is considered.
  • Ensure you and your council are raising awareness of adult safeguarding issues with members of the public as an understanding of safeguarding develops.
  • Ensure that learning and development are made available to both staff and councillors on adult safeguarding policies, procedures and practice, including opportunities for reflective practice.
  • Ensure that safeguarding arrangements are in place for young people transitioning from children’s to adults services.
  • Ensure that there is an understanding of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (MCA) to support the best interests of those assessed as lacking capacity

What you need to know

As an adult social care portfolio holder you have a role in ensuring that departments within the council work together to protect adults at risk from abuse or neglect through, both, responses to specific situations and, also, putting in place broader prevention measures. This document sets out key areas for focus and specific questions to ask to assure you that your council is effective in keeping adults safe. 

Adult safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility. Safeguarding means protecting people’s right to live in safety, free from abuse and neglect. Statutory safeguarding applies to adults with care and support needs who may not be able to protect themselves. The Care Act 2014 sets out local responsibilities and roles for prevention and protecting adults receiving care and support from abuse or neglect.

The aims of safeguarding are to:

  • prevent harm and reduce the risk of abuse or neglect to adults with care and support needs
  • stop abuse or neglect wherever possible
  • safeguard adults in a way that supports them in making choices and having control over how they want to live
  • promote strength-based practices that focus on people’s knowledge, voices, experiences, self-determination and strengths
  • promote an approach that concentrates on improving life for the adults concerned
  • raise public awareness so that communities as a whole, alongside professionals, play their part in preventing, identifying and responding to abuse and neglect
  • provide information and support in accessible ways to help people understand the different types of abuse, how to stay safe and what to do to raise a concern about the safety or well-being of an adult
  • provide a trauma-informed approach to working with adults
  • address what has caused the abuse or neglect. Note 2

Six key principles underpin all adult safeguarding work


People are being supported and encouraged to make their own decisions and informed consent.


It is better to take action before harm occurs.


The least intrusive response is appropriate to the risk presented.


Support and representation for those in greatest need.


Local solutions through services working with their communities. Communities have a part to play in preventing, detecting and reporting neglect and abuse.


Accountability and transparency in delivering safeguarding.

Providing local leadership

All councillors will need to know the questions to ask to hold to account those responsible for safeguarding adults, to ensure that everyone is following multi-agency procedures, and that appropriate links are made between agencies so that people at risk and needing help are not missed. 

There is also a key portfolio holder role in shaping the culture of the council to work with partners so everyone has effective processes for keeping people safe, while also promoting an approach that concentrates on inclusion, wellbeing and openness to learning and improvement. 

Local leadership of safeguarding is not a substitute for responses and actions by care providers, commissioners, regulators and/or the police as set out in the Care Act 2014. Note 3

Supporting partnerships

Portfolio holders and other councillors can help build the system leadership to ensure that every local partner is clear about what their responsibilities are and is able to explain what the local safeguarding system is to local people. Local leaders can play a key role in reinforcing the need for collective responsibility for safeguarding adults. 


The Care Act states that the council is the organisation with lead responsibility for safeguarding locally. Each Safeguarding Adults Board (SAB) must have a core membership of the council, the NHS  and the police. 

Lead members should understand both the local authority's role in safeguarding and the specific remit of the SAB. Local partnerships work alongside the responsibility of providers and the Care Quality Commission for the quality of provision and for keeping people safe. 


Subject to the Health and Care Bill’s passage through Parliament, integrated care systems (ICSs) will soon become statutory. Each ICS will have an integrated care board responsible for NHS and wider integration, and an integrated care partnership responsible for promoting health, care and wellbeing. Portfolio holders can work with these local bodies to help them understand and deliver their safeguarding responsibilities.


Safeguarding is a crucial aspect of local partnership work, both through local boards and also through specific agendas such as care quality, mental capacity, community safety and cohesion, scams, domestic abuse, violence against women and girls, sexual exploitation, homelessness and rough sleeping, modern slavery and support for carers. Effective leadership is needed to develop the means of addressing the activities and services that interface with safeguarding adults’ work.

Delivering improvement

All councillors will wish to be confident that the local system is working and that they can easily obtain assurance. This is alongside their key leadership role in creating a culture of continual improvement and an openness to learning. 


SABs will be monitoring the impact and effectiveness of safeguarding practice locally and are required to publish the local safeguarding plan and annual report, to ensure that member agencies’ activities are effectively coordinated. Councillors can review and scrutinise the plan and annual report of the SAB to understand what improvements and progress have been made.


There are statutory performance reports which provide another means of understanding the impact of safeguarding activity in the local area. Note 4 

The Care Quality Commission is planning a new statutory assurance system for adult social care and portfolio holders need to be confident that local partnerships are taking account of this. Note 5


Lead members can encourage local partners and SABs to develop an understanding of the difference that safeguarding support makes for people. There are crucial roles for all councillors in examining how safeguarding is experienced by local people, how people were consulted and involved in developing policies and monitoring services, and how they were involved in their own safeguarding plans and procedures.

As a leader of adult social care, it is important that you are confident that the council and partners have an understanding of the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the ability to safeguard adults at risk and that this understanding is used to inform improvements and ensure that safeguarding risks are mitigated. Note 6 and Note 7

Safeguarding Adults Reviews (SARs) must be carried out by a SAB where, “an adult in its area dies as a result of abuse or neglect, whether known or suspected, and there is concern that partner agencies could have worked more effectively to protect the adult”. Note 8  

It is important your council, officers and the SAB understand the learning and improvement opportunities from both local SARs and national analysis of SARs. Note 9

Councils must make decisions on a case-by-case basis as to what should be considered under their statutory Section 42 duty to make safeguarding enquiries. Note 10

Other issues might more appropriately be dealt with through other routes including complaints, employment law, contract monitoring and compliance, regulation and quality improvement processes. All of these routes,  used effectively, will safeguard people.

Leading ‘Making Safeguarding Personal’

Councillors can play a key role in ensuring conversations take place with people who may be at risk of abuse or neglect. They can seek assurance that there is a focus on the outcomes people want to achieve, rather than the process.

Locally, this will mean taking a leading role to ensure partners, including the integrated care arrangements and provider collaboratives, work together to prevent harm and promote dignity, empowerment and choice. Individuals should be asked what outcomes they want from safeguarding and whether those outcomes are being achieved.

Involvement of the person concerned in adult safeguarding is set out in safeguarding policy and statutory guidance. ‘Making Safeguarding Personal’ (MSP) is defined alongside the six key statutory principles, as a core requirement of the legislation. Note 11

This should underpin work locally. In essence, MSP is a sector-led initiative which aims to deliver an outcomes focus and strength-based approach to safeguarding adults’ work and provides a range of responses to support people to improve or resolve their circumstances.

Activity in recent years has focussed on supporting SABs and partner organisations in actively leading a culture policy and practice change towards MSP. Further information can be found in the useful resources section below, in particular the myths and realities of MSP paper. Note 12 

Safeguarding, personalisation and risk

Personalisation and safeguarding can be made to work hand-in-hand. There should be a proportionate approach to risk, rather than a process which is detached from the individual concerned.

The MSP approach involves asking people’s views on whether the risk has been reduced without compromising the other things that are important to them. A partnership approach to support frontline practice in working with risk is also key. 

Adults who have been assessed as lacking mental capacity have legal safeguards under the Mental Capacity Act (MCA) and must have the representation of an advocate or representative to act in their best interests. The MCA guidance and principles should be at the heart of good safeguarding adults practice.

Questions to consider

Providing local leadership

  • What are you, your council and the health and wellbeing board doing to raise awareness of safeguarding adults in your community and to ensure that there is knowledge of how to recognise and report abuse? How are all councillors involved, trained and supported
  • Is there representation on the SAB of the lead member for adult social care?
  • Are staff supported to share information so they can spot potentially serious issues and be able to respond proactively?
  • Is well-being and safety being secured by good commissioning, contracts management and, for some people, statutory care and support?
  • Does your contract specification for local Healthwatch explicitly include a remit on safeguarding issues? Do you specify appropriate training on safeguarding for Healthwatch representatives and the wider voluntary sector? 

Supporting partnerships

  • What are you doing to ensure close, coordinated and effective joint working between all those organisations in your area with safeguarding responsibilities? Do you understand your role in relation to each?
  • How is the ICS/ICP fulfilling its role to safeguard adults? How does this system support joint working between organisations with safeguarding responsibilities?
  • Is there a multi-agency safeguarding plan for your area and is the monitoring of its implementation part of your overall performance management?
  • How is your SAB demonstrating its effectiveness, for example, in its annual report?

Delivering improvement 

  • Is there clear scrutiny of safeguarding or quality issues in your area, including learning from emerging national assurance frameworks, and what can you do to support it? What has changed as a result?

  • How does your council benchmark against best practice and how do you ensure your council is responding to the developing adult safeguarding agenda?

  • Are you and your council sharing learning as practice develops? Are there learning and development programmes for staff (perhaps jointly with partners)?

  • Does your workforce strategy explicitly include safe and effective arrangements for recruiting and managing staff as part of safe and effective services?

  • Has your council and the SAB considered the learning available on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and used this to strengthen safeguarding?

  • How are you and SAB holding agencies and the multi-agency partnership to account for policy and practice in the field of adult safeguarding and multiple exclusion homelessness?

  • Is the council and the SAB supporting and developing your safeguarding culture? This should enable safeguarding support to be delivered within the six statutory safeguarding adults’ principles and the wellbeing principle. Is MSP a core characteristic of safeguarding strategy and support?

  • Is there assurance on all aspects of the role of the SABs? This includes not only effective responses to safeguarding issues but effective engagement with communities and individuals and carers; prevention

  • Are SARs carried out as appropriate in your area and in accordance with the Care and Support Statutory Guidance NOTE 13?

  • Is there oversight of SARs by your SAB, is learning from SARS cascaded, practice improved, and change effected? How is learning from the national SARs analysis being used?

Leading Making Safeguarding Personal

  • How do you demonstrate that peoples’ lives are improved as a result of safeguarding approaches? Are they safer, do they feel safer and have a sense of wellbeing? Are their circumstances improved?
  • How does your system support and use Care Act advocacy?

Safeguarding, personalisation and risk

  • Are you and your authority ensuring that people understand and use the Mental Capacity, Mental Health and Human Rights Acts and their functions to safeguard people’s rights?
  • How do you know that the MCA is implemented robustly in your area and in accordance with statutory principles? And that people’s liberty is protected in accordance with the MCA?
  • How do you ensure that the potentially vulnerable members of all groups in the community are equally safeguarded, including all those who share any of the ‘protected characteristics’ covered by the Equality Act 2010? How is discriminatory abuse understood and addressed?