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How to respond to suspected or alleged abuse

This page is designed to answer the following questions:

NOTE: This page has been quality assured for 2021 as per our Quality Assurance policy.

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 to report them. This is part of your duty of care towards the individuals that you support. You will usually report your concerns to your manager or a nominated safeguarding lead who will then 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, not being dealt with properly or quickly enough or that your manager is implicated, 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 (adult care), the individual’s advocate, police or the CQC. Your organisation’s whistleblowing policy will guide you in this process.

It is also essential that you record your concerns in writing as soon as possible. Your account should be factual and as accurate as possible. Your account should be objective, which means that it is based on evidence and observations and not your own opinions.

Responding to alleged abuse

If an individual discloses to you that they have been abused, you should show sensitivity, provide reassurance and take them seriously. Listen to them and tell them that they did the right thing and it was not their fault. 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 to prevent further harm to them or others.

You should follow your organisation’s agreed ways of working if someone discloses to you that they have been abused, which will detail the correct procedure to follow. All disclosures of abuse should be reported as soon as possible in line with agreed ways of working. If your manager or organisation are implicated in the disclosure, you may need to report your concerns to external agencies such as the police, social service or the Care Quality Commission (CQC). You should be guided by your organisation’s whistleblowing policy.

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, you should do what you can to preserve any potential evidence. This will support any allegations made, aid the future investigation and assist the judiciary system

The crime scene should ideally remain untouched. If possible, you should secure the room to prevent anyone from entering it. You could suggest the individual move to another room until the police arrive. Damaged item should not be cleaned up.

In cases of sexual abuse, underwear and bedding should not be washed and the individual should not bathe or shower. If you must handle evidence, it should be performed using plastic gloves, where possible. In cases of neglect, living conditions may be photographed.

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. held by the thumb and index finger in the corner). This will help to preserve fingerprints.

Previous records of suspicions and allegations may also be used in evidence – this is why it is important to document any concerns that you have.