A stick figure standing above a prone stick figure on the floor attacking them and causing harm

Describe what constitutes harm and explain why an individual may be vulnerable to harm or abuse

This page is designed to answer the following questions:

Harm is a term generally used to describe physical injury, pain and death but can also include non-physical mistreatment such as emotional or financial abuse.

It can be the result of a responsible person (such as a care worker or family member) doing something incorrectly (e.g. not following correct procedure when moving a bed-bound individual) or not doing something that they should do (e.g. not giving an individual their medication). It can also be deliberate or unintentional.

In your role as a care worker. it is likely that you will come into contact with individuals that are more vulnerable to harm and abuse.

This can be due to several factors, including:

  • Physical disability e.g. mobility issues, limited independence
  • Learning disability e.g. not fully understanding the impact of their choices
  • Mental illness e.g.confusion, anxiety, depression
  • Addictions e.g. drug abuse, alcohol abuse
  • Social isolation e.g. having no support circle
  • Dependency e.g. unable to leave or report the situation
  • Family conflict e.g. generational differences in opinion
  • Location e.g. in an individual’s home an abuser can hide their actions easily or in a residential home organisational abuse is more likely to occur
  • Poorly-trained staff e.g. staff not knowing how to deal with an individual with behaviour that challenges

When considering the nature and scope of harm to and abuse of adults at risk, it is important to understand that harm and abuse towards vulnerable can happen anywhere and be both deliberate and unintentional. Performing a task as simple as cutting an individuals fingernails can constitute harm and abuse if they do not have the relevant documentation in their care plan or you have not been properly trained in this task. Similarly, eating an individual’s food even if they are leftovers or past their sell by date and will be thrown away could constitute financial/material abuse.

Employers must have safeguards in place to ensure that vulnerable adults are protected. This includes having agreed ways of working, policies and procedures that comply with legislation and best practice. Employees must adhere to these agreements to ensure that their own practice complies with legislation and best practice or they could be liable if things go wrong.

Both employers and employees must also be transparent when things go wrong (duty of candour) and report incidents to the relevant agencies (e.g. social services, HSE, police etc.).

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