Safeguarding Adults: A View from the Training Room


We were delighted to be asked by Research in Practice for Adults to write a strategic briefing document for Safeguarding Adults Boards on the effectiveness of Safeguarding Adults training. This blog reflects our response to writing the document and offers a small glimpse into our world as Safeguarding Adults trainers, with all its joys, frustrations and challenges!

The first challenge? Safeguarding training is ‘mandatory’ and most people are not there out of choice. Some arrive full of trepidation and anxiety, a few arrive expecting the training to be death by PowerPoint, and some, thank goodness, arrive with enquiring minds and a desire to improve their practice. Most however, have not thought about what they want to get from the session, beyond the mandatory ‘update’ – and that worries us! It worries us because by ‘update’ they are thinking solely of policies, procedures and process, not a person-focused, rights-based approach to safeguarding that meets, wherever possible, the desired outcomes of the individual concerned.

And this is the second challenge. In our experience, safeguarding is frequently driven by a fear of being blamed by other professionals for ‘getting it wrong’. There is often discussion from delegates in the training room about making a referral to ‘cover our backs’ or the ‘Spanish Inquisition’ atmosphere during safeguarding conferences. Individual culpability rather than collective responsibility seems to be perceived as the order of the day, and there is a belief that by sticking rigidly to process and timescales, any ‘blame’ will be avoided. Yes, as trainers we can, and do, give people information on policy, procedures, timescales, and how to fill in the forms – but the filling in of a form never safeguarded anyone! What safeguards people is a culture that values them and upholds their rights to make choices about how they live their lives, including the right to take risks.

The third challenge to effective safeguarding training? As trainers we find it extraordinary that some practitioners have little grasp of the legislation that should underpin their practice. They speak of their ‘duty of care to keep people safe’ as though it were a comfort blanket against the cold wind of legislative requirements, whilst conveniently forgetting that following these requirements is a fundamental part of their duty of care. If we are to safeguard adults in a person-focused way, a good understanding, and implementation of the Mental Capacity Act and the Human Rights Act is surely paramount. They are pieces of legislation that are common to all safeguarding partners and are therefore, powerful tools to utilise as a means of ensuring we work, in partnership, towards the outcomes the adult wants, as far as possible.

Perhaps the most fundamental challenge for safeguarding training however, in our opinion, is that it does not take place in a vacuum, but in established cultures that can support or hinder its transfer into practice. Safeguarding training alone, however good, will not establish an effective safeguarding culture in organisations; it is only part of the picture. Values driven recruitment, effective induction and probationary periods, quality supervision and excellent leadership, to name but a few, are probably more effective in preventing abuse and neglect, and responding effectively to concerns, than any safeguarding training.

So, how do we meet these challenges? How do we try and ensure that training is the best it can be and that learners can put their learning into practice?

Firstly, we believe that learners should know why they are attending training – and not just ‘because it’s mandatory’. They need to be aware of their legal responsibilities and accountability for safeguarding. They also need to have considered what they want to get out of the training and how they will be supported by their organisation to transfer the learning into their practice. This necessitates a three-way partnership between the learner, the organisation and the training provider, with each being clear of their roles in the learning and transfer process.

Secondly, it would be helpful for training to emphasise a rights and values-based approach to the safeguarding of adults at risk, with a genuine focus on working towards the desired outcomes of the person. However, in order to do this, we need to let go of the illusion that training on process and timescales will make everything better, and plunge headlong into the often messy and complex issues of people’s real life situations. It is, after all, their safeguarding, not our ‘back covering’. This is not to suggest that knowledge about processes and timescales isn’t important, but to quote Making Safeguarding Personal (2014:4), there needs to be ‘a shift from a process supported by conversations to a series of conversations supported by a process’. Therefore, training content, at all levels, needs to shift its focus too, in order to support practitioners to be confident in having those, sometimes very difficult, conversations with people about how they want (or don’t want) to be safeguarded.

All this is perfectly achievable. However, it cannot be accomplished in a culture where the fear of ‘blame’ drives practice, and consequently drives the content of training. Individual practitioners, managers of services, commissioners and Safeguarding Adults Boards all have a vital role, and responsibility, in supporting the necessary culture shift, away from individual blame and towards collective responsibility.

The Care Act 2014 talks about Partnerships as one of the key principles of Safeguarding. We tend to think of partnership working in terms of those directly involved with the adult at risk. We would like to see trainers routinely involved as partners in the broader Safeguarding context. We need to start having some meaningful conversations about how we can support the culture shift, because as trainers, we may want to ‘change the world’ but we know we can’t do it on our own.