Safeguarding adults: Social Work Law

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Does the Care Act 2014 work? Do its provisions reflect evidence from research and practice, or policy considerations? Should safeguarding failures be clinical and welfare issues or matters for the criminal law? These and other questions about protection for vulnerable adults were posed and discussed by participants at the inaugural seminar of an exciting new project that launched early this year.

On January 22nd 2016, Keele Hall hosted the first of nine events in an ESRC-funded seminar series entitled ‘The Care Act 2014: A New Legal Framework for Safeguarding Adults in Civil Society’. Three seminars with the theme of ‘Making Law’ are planned for the first year, to examine the interplay between research and practice evidence, policy, advocacy and political debate. This seminar, entitled ‘Evidence-Based Policy or Policy-Based Evidence?’, was hosted by Keele’s Professor Alison Brammer, Head of the School of Law, and chaired by Professor Michael Preston-Shoot, Dean of the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences at the University of Bedfordshire, and attended by around 60 participants from a variety of professional and academic backgrounds.

The presentations allowed an opportunity to reflect on the law-making contributions of researchers, civil society organisations, pressure groups, statutory health and welfare agencies and judicial decision-making. Each speaker offered a fresh perspective. Gary Fitzgerald, CEO of Action for Elder Abuse, focused on the experiences of victims and stressed that the Care Act 2014 had not necessarily made it easier for practitioners to protect adults at risk of abuse. Claire Crawley from the Department of Health provided insight into the policy-making process that shaped the 2014 Act. Independent consultant Lynne Phair drew on her practitioner experience to open up new lines of inquiry for the seminar, such as the adequacy of whistle-blowing legislation when raising issues of neglect in hospital settings is recognised to be be career-limiting. Each seminar will hear from students, practitioners, or early career academics and in Seminar 1 doctoral candidates Paul Hollingdale and Jaime Lindsey presented some of their research. Paul described the academic and practice curriculum which will influence social work students to work with older people, while Jaime queried whether the current legislation does or could encompass social, environmental, and situational causes of vulnerability. The plenary discussion concluded that the legal rules do not provide answers, but offer a framework within which to think about and construct practice.

This tension between evidence and policy will doubtless surface again in the next two seminars, when the focus will shift to new categories of abuse, such as self-neglect and modern slavery, and contrasting rules in the new legal framework across the UK.

Professor Alison Brammer is Head of School of the School of Law at Keele University.  She is leading the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) seminar series The Care Act 2014: a new legal framework for Safeguarding Adults in Civil Society. The website for the seminar series can be found here.

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