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Safeguarding in Focus: Addressing Vulnerability, Exploitation, and Promoting Empowerment

Safeguarding has many components, including some that could go unrecognised. National Safeguarding Week this year focuses on safeguarding in the context of how people can be affected by the current cost of living crisis.

Sadly, there are far too many people who are happy to take advantage of people’s fears and financial circumstances to make money. Many groups of people are often more vulnerable to being exploited, particularly as those doing the exploiting become more and more accomplished in the methods used. Individuals who live with a disability or poor mental health are more vulnerable and, therefore, perhaps at greater risk of being exploited. This could be, for example, in a physical context, a financial context, or a psychological context.

The first component of safeguarding is empowerment. The fact that this now exists within the safeguarding legislation is a huge step in the right direction. For those who live with a disability or a mental health condition, empowerment is what helps them to be independent.

Prevention is the next component of safeguarding. It goes without saying that the

consequences for people who are victims of neglect, harm, or abuse can have a significant impact. Therefore, prevention is key, so that the outcomes are far better. There are a number of steps you can take to ensure that someone with a disability or mental health condition is able to look after and protect themselves. To further educate those we support at Enrych, we have set up informative events with people from the fire service and police. The thinking here is to make sure those we support are more aware of potential exploitation and have effective methods to help them stay safe in any set of circumstances.

Unfortunately, physical and psychological abuse are still prevalent in society, and those who are more vulnerable are more likely to be a victim of one or both. According to a report from Leonard Cheshire, the number of disability hate crime reports resulting in a charge or summons in the year 2022-23 is just 132 (1.2%) out of 10,740 disability hate crime reports. This statistic is quite staggering. The report covers occurrences from April 2022 to March 2023. The data from this report showed that around half of the situations involved violence, with over 1,300 incidents happening online. While it is encouraging to see that disability hate crime is decreasing, there are still more reports than before the COVID-19 pandemic. One has to wonder whether the decrease is linked to reporting—rather than occurrence—due to no action being taken and fear of repercussions. Crime can have a truly detrimental impact on the life of an individual and is more likely to cause issues in the longer term than for someone who doesn’t live with a disability. It is important for those in this position to feel protected, safe, and confident enough to report an incident, whether that be physically or online. It is crucial that there is intelligence to identify potential suspects and find new ways to uncover evidence. The most important thing that we can do as a society is to encourage more kindness and understanding, as well as avoiding making assumptions about others; disability takes many forms.

Of course, every individual is different and will need a different approach when it comes to exploring how to mitigate risks associated with safeguarding. What works for one person may not work for another. Every circumstance needs to be dealt with at an individual level. A generalised approach will not work. There must be an analysis of a situation without putting an individual in a more harmful situation than that in which they started.

Streamlining is a word that has become a part of my vocabulary on a regular basis, and for good reason. When it comes to safeguarding, the responsibility to protect should not sit with any one individual. There should be a streamlined approach where support is readily available for a vulnerable individual to access. Where there is effective intervention on multiple levels, this will generally have a more positive and sustainable impact. It is also important for friends and close contacts of those who are more vulnerable to have those relationships with safeguarding professionals. This will then help provide more information on how to deal with anything that becomes an issue. These safeguarding professionals should exist within care, healthcare, and social work environments and should share any information they have with those who advocate for a vulnerable person.

The final point of importance in a safeguarding context is accountability. Safeguarding is everyone’s business. It may not be an easy topic to discuss or the easiest thing to coordinate, especially while services become stretched. Anybody who is a registered safeguarding person or working in institutions that work to protect individuals living with disabilities or poor mental health should be absolutely clear of their responsibilities and document anything relevant to this. Communication is key. We all need to do our bit to make sure that the most vulnerable in society are safe and protected.

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