Healthwatch research reveals challenges of protecting adults at risk in Essex

Healthwatch Essex has released research in collaboration with the Essex Safeguarding Adults Board which explores challenges around making safeguarding personal for Essex residents.

Working with the Essex Safeguarding Adults Board (ESAB), Healthwatch spoke to over 50 people who have experienced safeguarding in the county. They shared stories relating to their attempts to seek support when they were most in need.

In Essex last year, there were more than 12,500 safeguarding concerns raised to Essex County Council; an average of 34 each day. The Essex position reflected the national pattern with concerns commonly related to neglect and quality of care provision.

Healthwatch Essex found that people who had been involved in the process did not fully understand the term ‘safeguarding’ and therefore did not fully benefit from the systems and people in place to protect them.

Their experiences highlighted that on some occasions, it took professionals longer than expected to enact meaningful change, which could leave people feeling vulnerable. On a more positive note Healthwatch heard accounts of where professionals had gone the ‘extra mile’ to join things up and make the process meaningful and personal. People often spoke of having a positive working relationship with their social worker once the service had been accessed.

Engagement work took place from February 2018 with Healthwatch Essex working with various organisations and individuals with experience of the safeguarding process through a series of focus groups and interviews to gain a deeper understanding of the system from the perspective of the service user.

Healthwatch Essex and Essex County Council drew together professionals working within health and social care at Hamptons Sports and Leisure, Great Baddow on 14th October 2019 to hear the findings of our reports: ‘Making Safeguarding Personal’. The reports which collate their experiences and makes some recommendations for change can be found here: ‘555 Report 2018and ‘Making Safeguarding Personal – Report 2′.

Recommendations include: Services to incorporate individuals’ lived experience in their planning and shaping of safeguarding processes, and clear and accessible information for the public.

The event highlighted the aim of the engagement, to see how ‘personal’ the safeguarding process has been for individuals in the system. The conference heard from three people who had been through the safeguarding system and were willing to share their stories. One of the people who spoke at the conference, who is the sole carer for her son, provided an emotive account of what things feel like when services do not work effectively for vulnerable people.

Fiona Davis, Director, Safeguarding & Quality Assurance, shared how the ESAB have already actioned recommendations put forward in Phase 1 of the engagement which include the development of a multi-agency awareness campaign around ‘what is safeguarding’ and incorporating a standardised review process for individuals to provide feedback on their experience of the safeguarding process.

CEO of Healthwatch Essex, Dr David Sollis, said: “We know that people often find themselves in complex situations that don’t always have clear-cut solutions, so ‘safeguarding’ is always likely to be fairly complex. It seems, from the people we have spoken to, that the service tends to kick in as a last resort when people have already reached crisis – perhaps because of a lack of awareness or a lack of available services. We hope this report illuminates what it is like for an individual experiencing safeguarding in Essex and, in doing so, it helps to inform professionals about what works well and what might benefit from improvement in the future. It is vital that people in Essex have a chance to shape the services they need, and we hope that this report helps to achieve that.

Fiona Davis said: “We welcome these reports and we are already working with the Essex Safeguarding Adult Board to implement all of the recommendations. We asked Healthwatch to support us in this piece of work because we genuinely want to ensure we hear the voice of the people using our services. We continue to strive to improve adults and their support networks experience of the safeguarding process and to work in a preventive way whenever this is possible.

Cllr John Spence, Essex County Council’s Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care, said: “We welcome this research which has enabled us to listen to and learn from its findings, and as a result improve the care and support, we offer. We are utterly committed to making things better.