As a safeguarding practitioner, I deal with clients who are at risk of or experiencing abuse or neglect of some kind. Safeguarding can be a difficult job, but what is more difficult is making safeguarding personal. As a practitioner, I'm sure we would all like to believe that we work in a person-centred way, making the needs of our clients a priority, and doing our best for people with care and support needs. I’m sure that no one thinks they make choices for other people, or take decision making out of other people hands.
However as a safeguarding practitioner that is exactly the struggle we have to deal with every day. All too often it can appear easier to try and take decision making away from someone. When working in health and social care, practitioners can often want to change people in order to make their lives better and fix things. We often take on the role of “fixer”, and this doesn't always fit easily with making safeguarding personal.
The fact is, some people don't want to be safeguarded. Some people know the risks they take and continue to take them; they don't want any help or support and don't want to change their way of life.
As a practitioner it can be very difficult to leave people in what we may feel is a risky situation. Personally, we may all choose to make many risky decisions and end up in unpleasant situations in our own lives, but as professionals we don't want our clients, the people with care and support needs, to make those same choices. We want to fix people to help them and make them safe.
When you truly make safeguarding personal, it means leaving people in a domestic abusive relationship. It means leaving people to continue to give money to someone when they can't afford it. It means putting your own judgement to the side and letting people make unwise or unhealthy decisions.
Making safeguarding personal isn't an easy thing to do. It's a struggle, and can be extremely hard as we leave people in abusive situations, but if that person is aware of the facts and able to make that decision and understand the consequences, we must attempt to put the client first, to respect their wishes/decisions and do what the client wants.
Someone may know that they're being taken advantage of, but if the perceived benefit they get from the relationship is worth the money, or the emotional upset, they may wish to continue to be in that situation. There may also be no way to stop it. I’ve had to leave people knowing that they're being taken advantage of, knowing that they've changed their will to leave all their belongings to someone who is using them, but if they wish to continue to make that choice regardless of others then that has to be ok!
I have to leave that person, because it is their choice and that's what matters. Just because someone has care and support needs and has made a bad decision doesn’t mean they lack capacity, and that means I have to leave someone to make what I believe is the wrong decision, the worst decision, but they have to be allowed to make that choice.
If someone has capacity to make that decision you can be left feeling useless, but you can't force people to make a change they don't want to, you can't demand that someone doesn't make contact with someone else, or prosecute someone for being immoral or being a bad person. It's a horrible feeling to wish that someone didn't have capacity so that you could take action, and you can struggle with your own professional values when all you want is for someone to lose capacity so that you can assist to make them, in your eyes, ‘safe’.
It can be difficult for family and friends too. All too often people surrounding the client want professionals to swoop in and save the person, to make the abuse stop and to make changes. It can be challenging to speak to others who may not understand the nature of capacity and unwise decisions, who instead feel that you're failing the person with care and support needs by leaving them, or as they may see it abandoning them.
Making safeguarding personal is being shouted and screamed at on a regular basis, it's letting people get away with things without being prosecuted because your client doesn't want the police involved because they won't make a statement against their own family member, and it wouldn't be in their best interests to do so. It’s about being angry that abuse has happened but pretending its ok so as not to damage the therapeutic alliance you have with your client. It’s about being supported by your colleagues because someone doesn't want to be safe and you don’t’ know what else you can do! Sometimes it's about not doing anything, and that can be the hardest decisions to make.
It was once described to me as the mystery of the safeguarding magic bag. People may think that safeguarding can take control and fix the situation, remove the abuse. There is no magic bag; we can't fix things just by being involved, and there's no magic wand to make the situation safe and to change someone’s mind. I can't make a situation safe just be visiting someone. The person involved needs to want to accept help offered and be in agreement to want to alter the situation they're in. If they don't want to do this, or if they don't share the view that the situation is abusive, this can't be forced upon them. Obviously, there are always exceptions where action does need to be taken, however if possible I work with the client to assist and educate them to make them safe. Sometimes it can be the case that the person was not aware that their situation was abusive, that they were unaware that it was “not normal”. Often people are unaware that there is help for them, and that there may be a way out of the situation they're in.
In this line of work it can often be frustrating without any positive outcomes, but when you do experience a positive outcome, a situation in which, together with your colleagues from the police, People 2 People or our Housing team, you've made a real difference, where you have actually assisted someone to change their lives and remove themselves from an abusive situation, it can make all the difference to the job and help put into perspective all the terrible and upsetting abusive situations that we find ourselves dealing with on a day-to-day basis.
In safeguarding I only work with abuse, and it can be tough, but when you can make a difference by working with someone and getting a positive outcome, an outcome that they wanted, that they're happy with and that's also of benefit to the client and not just to the professionals involved, that's when I believe I have made safeguarding personal.