What is abuse

Adult abuse is when something is said or done to an adult at risk that makes them feel upset, hurt or frightened. Abuse is not always intentional but it causes harm so something should be done to stop it from happening again. These pages are about abuse of vulnerable people who are over 18. If you are concerned about a child's welfare, contact children's safeguarding. Abuse can take different forms, ranging from exploitation and disrespectful treatment to physical harm. It can be at a low level, and taking place over a long time, or it can take place over a short time and be more extreme. It's all abuse.

Abuse can happen anywhere, in your own home, in a care home, in a hospital, at work, at a day centre or educational establishment, in supported housing or in the street.

It can be deliberate, or the result of ignorance or a lack of proper training. Whatever the type of abuse, and wherever it happens, it is not acceptable, particularly when the victim is someone who is not able to properly protect themselves.

If you think that you or someone you know is being subjected to abuse then please go to our Report Abuse page for advice and details on whom to contact.

The Social Care Institute for Excellence has provided a guide for identifying abuse.

Suffolk County Council has produced an excellent video which explains more about abuse and neglect, and may be particularly helpful for people with learning disabilities or dementia.

Definition of adult safeguarding

It is important to be clear about who the formal adult safeguarding process applies to. The Care Act statutory guidance defines adult safeguarding as:
‘Protecting an adult’s right to live in safety, free from abuse and neglect. It is about people and organisations working together to prevent and stop both the risks and experience of abuse or neglect, while at the same time making sure that the adult’s wellbeing is promoted including, where appropriate, having regard to their views, wishes, feelings and beliefs in deciding on any action. This must recognise that adults sometimes have complex interpersonal relationships and may be ambivalent, unclear or unrealistic about their personal circumstances.’

This definition hints at the challenges of safeguarding, but it is important to be clear about which adults we are discussing. A local authority must act when it has ‘reasonable cause to suspect that an adult in its area (whether or not ordinarily resident there):

  • has needs for care and support (whether or not the authority is meeting any of those needs),
  • is experiencing, or is at risk of, abuse or neglect, and
  • as a result of those needs is unable to protect himself or herself against the abuse or neglect or the risk of it.’ (Care Act 2014, section 42)

So safeguarding is for people who, because of issues such as dementia, learning disability, mental ill-health or substance abuse, have care and support needs that may make them more vulnerable to abuse or neglect.

The Six Principles

First introduced by the Department of Health in 2011, but now embedded in the Care Act, these six principles apply to all health and care settings.

  1. Empowerment - People being supported and encouraged to make their own decisions and informed consent
  2. Prevention - It is better to take action before harm occurs.
  3. Proportionality - The least intrusive response appropriate to the risk presented.
  4. Protection - Support and representation for those in greatest need.
  5. Partnership -Local solutions through services working with their communities. Communities have a part to play in preventing, detecting and reporting neglect and abuse.
  6. Accountability - Accountability and transparency in safeguarding practice.