How to respond to suspected or alleged abuse

This page is designed to answer the following questions:

We have already looked at some of the signs and symptoms of abuse that you should be aware of, however it is also important for you to know what to do if you have suspicions that abuse may be happening or if an individual alleges that they are being abused.

Responding to concerns

A care worker on the front line has frequent contact with individuals requiring care and will have knowledge and familiarity with many aspects of their life so they are in a prime position to spot any signs that abuse may be occurring.

You may become suspicious that abuse is taking place if you notice a change in an individual’s behaviour or personality. For example, covering up unexplained bruising or getting upset because they are unable to pay their bills.

It could be that there are perfectly valid reasons for these changes, however if you have any concerns at all you should ALWAYS follow your organisation’s safeguarding policies and procedures. This will often mean reporting your concerns to your manager or nominated safeguarding who will be tasked with following it up swiftly.

In an emergency situation, you should protect the safety and the wellbeing of the individual by contacting the relevant agencies. If the individual requires medical attention you should call 999 for an ambulance or the police if a crime has been committed. You may also need to contact the social services safeguarding team.

If you feel that your concerns are not being taken seriously or not being dealt with properly or quickly enough, you should escalate it to senior management. If it is still not being handled to your satisfaction you should escalate to external agencies – this may include social services, the individual’s advocate, police or the CQC. Your organisation’s whistleblowing policy will guide you in this process.

Responding to alleged abuse

If an individual discloses to you that they have been abused, you should show sensitivity, reassurance and take thm seriously, however do not make any promises that you cannot keep. Even if the individual asks you to keep it as a secret, you must still pass on the information following organisational policies and procedures. You should explain to them that it is your duty to report it.

It can be useful to ask open-ended questions to obtain more information and ask them what you can do to keep them safe going forward. Tell them that they did the right thing and it was not their fault.

However, you shouldn’t try to investigate their allegations yourself or confront the person whom they alleged abused them – this is the job of the professionals such as the police or social services.

As soon as is practicably possible, you should make a factual written statement of what you have been told. Ensure it is accurate and legible and does not contain your own personal views or hearsay. It should also be signed and dated.

Preserving evidence

In situations where abuse has taken place recently, you should do your utmost to preserve any potential evidence.

The crime scene should remain untouched if possible. If possible, you should secure the room to prevent anyone entering it. You could suggest the individual move to another room until the police arrive.

In cases of sexual abuse, underwear and bedding should not be washed and the individual should not bathe or shower either. If you must handle evidence, it should ideally be done using plastic gloves, where possible.

Evidence of financial abuse such as bank statements or credit cards should be secured until they can be passed to the police. Again, if they must be handled, plastic gloves should be worn or limited contact should be used (e.g. holding by thumb and index finger in the corner).

Example question and answer

How should you respond to suspected or alleged abuse?

If you suspect that an individual is being abused, it is imperative that you tell them of the reasons for your concerns and attempt to build a dialogue with them to try and establish what has happened. You should remain calm and listen intently to anything they may tell you without ‘putting words into their mouth’ and without pressing for information that they unwilling to give. If they ask you not to tell anyone, explain that you have a duty of care to report anything that is illegal or affects their well-being. Also explain that they have done the right thing by telling you and that you will take appropriate steps to resolve the problem and protect them from further abuse.

After speaking with the individual, you should preserve any evidence of abuse that is available and, at the earliest opportunity, make a written record of the conversation keeping only to the facts and the words that the individual used. It should then be reported to your manager, or, if your manager is implicated in the abuse, to the next manager up in the organisations hierarchy.

Depending on the circumstances, you may also need to report suspected abuse to the police, local social services and/or CQC (if your organisation does not respond appropriately), however confidentiality is paramount and you should work on a ‘need to know’ basis.

The same process should be used if an individual alleges to you that abuse has taken place. All allegations should be taken seriously.

As mentioned above, in some cases there will be physical evidence of abuse having taken place. It is very important to preserve this evidence. You can do this by sealing off the area where the abuse has taken place and leaving everything untouched, not washing soiled or bloodied clothing and discouraging the individual from washing (particularly if it is a case of sexual abuse). As well as recording the victim’s account of the abuse, you should also record any injuries they may have sustained.