What is Safeguarding & Why is it Important?

what is safeguarding

Every person in the UK has the right to live and work without fear of harm, abuse or neglect regardless of their gender, religion, ethnicity, social standing, physical abilities or age.

To protect the human rights, health and wellbeing of its most at-risk citizens, the UK has introduced and developed a range of safeguarding legislation and guidelines. The concept of safeguarding applies to all policies, procedures and processes that protect the safety of vulnerable adults and children.

Anyone that works in an industry or organisation that deals with adults and children who are at risk should have an in-depth understanding of safeguarding principles and regulations. This article aims to provide a detailed overview of general safeguarding concepts and definitions for adults and children. We will also look at the relevant safeguarding legislation in the UK and common safeguarding policies used by organisations and businesses.

What is Safeguarding?

The term safeguarding is used in the UK to describe any action taken to promote the welfare and ensure the safety of adults and children who may be at risk of abuse, neglect or exploitation.

Whether they are in the public sector, a private enterprise or a not-for-profit entity, all organisations or businesses in the UK have a responsibility to safeguard the physical and mental health and wellbeing of the adults and children in their care.

Safeguarding policies and procedures are crucial for hospital and health care workers, care providers, charity volunteers, teachers, school staff and other workers who deal with vulnerable people. Both front-line staff and management share safeguarding responsibilities.

Safeguarding Adult Courses

Our Safeguarding Adults courses provide trainees with the concepts and principles of safeguarding. The course is designed for people at any level of work with vulnerable adults so that the signs of abuse are spotted and documented correctly.

Why is Safeguarding Important?

Safeguarding protects people who are unable to look after themselves due to age, sickness, infirmity or disability. This can include elderly people, people with severe illnesses, children, physically disabled people and people with mental disabilities.

Reports of concerns of abuse of vulnerable people increased by 5% in the 2020-21 period, as shown by figures released by the Safeguarding Adults Collection (SAC). Risks involving neglect and acts of omission made up 30% of reports, with 50% of these incidences taking place in a person’s own home.

principles of safeguarding adult

Safeguarding Adults & Children

Many organisations and businesses have one set of safeguarding policies for both adults and children. However, when considering safeguarding procedures, it is important to have a separate set of techniques for adults and children as both groups face different issues and have different needs.

Terms and definitions, legislation and procedures for reporting and handling cases of abuse are also different for adults and children.

Developing separate policies and procedures for safeguarding adults and safeguarding children can help an organisation to better meet its duty of care obligations. A clear delineation between the two types of safeguarding will also ensure that staff know exactly how to provide services safely and how to report any instances of abuse properly.

What is Safeguarding Adults?

Any person who is over the age of 18 and cannot adequately take care of themselves or protect themselves from considerable harm or exploitation is defined as a vulnerable adult.

Safeguarding procedures are designed to help vulnerable adults maintain their safety and dignity and prevent them from experiencing harm or neglect. Safeguarding duties and responsibilities for adults are detailed under the Care Act 2014.

The Care Act 2014 provides guidelines on how local authorities can provide safeguarding procedures for adults in the UK. The aim of the Care Act 2014 was to simplify and clarify previous legislation and ensure that a person’s individual opinions, requests, emotions and beliefs be taken into account when implementing any type of safeguarding action.

This person led approach is also known as Making Safeguarding Personal (MSP). MSP was developed by the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Care (ADASS).

MSP places a focus on achieving outcomes that are satisfactory for the individual in question, rather than simply applying procedures designed to meet bureaucratic guidelines alone. The intention of MSP is to provide a better standard of care using a personalised approach that provides vulnerable people with a measure of control over the safeguarding process.

Issues regarding safeguarding adults can often be complex. Unlike children, adults have the right to self-determination. This means that an adult may choose to not protect themselves against harm and legal proceedings may be necessary to apply measures to provide this protection.

Aims of Safeguarding

In general, the aims of adult safeguarding are:

  • To prevent or reduce the risk of harm, abuse or neglect to a vulnerable person
  • To stop harm, abuse or neglect from occurring to a vulnerable person
  • To allow vulnerable adults to make choices about and to have control over their lives
  • To improve the well-being of the person in question
  • To raise public awareness of issues surrounding adult abuse and neglect
  • To provide information and support so people can recognise cases of potential abuse or neglect

To inform people about how to stay safe and how to report suspected adult abuse cases

What is Adult Abuse?

Abuse can be described as any violation of a person’s human and civil rights by any other person or group.

There are 10 types of adult abuse as defined under the Care Act 2014:

Self-neglect – This refers to when a person is unable to care for their own hygiene, health or surroundings.

Modern slavery – This term encompasses slavery, sexual exploitation, debt bondage, forced labour, human trafficking and domestic servitude.

Domestic abuse – Any psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional abuse between persons aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members.

Discriminatory abuse – Unfair or unequal treatment based solely on a person’s race, religion, age, disability, gender, marital status, beliefs, sexual orientation or other ‘protected characteristics’ listed under the Equality Act 2010.

Organisational or institutional abuse – Neglect and poor care within an institution or specific care setting. The abuse may occur in a hospital or care home or in one’s own residence. It may be a sole incident or a series of incidents. Inadequate safeguarding policies and procedures are often the cause of organisational abuse cases.

Physical abuse – This definition covers any type of physical assault such as hitting, slapping, pushing, kicking and so on. Physical abuse can also include unauthorised restraint, misuse of medication, involuntary isolation, force-feeding or withholding food and deliberately making a person’s environment uncomfortable.

Sexual abuse – Sexual abuse encompasses rape, sexual assault or sexual acts to which an adult did not give their consent or was pressured into participating. This includes acts such as indecent exposure, sexual harassment, inappropriate teasing, innuendo, looking or touching, as well as being subjected to pornography or being made to witness sexual acts.

Financial or material abuse – Any type of theft, fraud or coercive behaviour in relation to an adult person’s financial affairs or arrangements. This definition includes internet scams, changes to wills or inheritances and the misuse or misappropriation of benefits, property, or possessions.

Neglect and acts of omission – Any act where a person’s medical or physical needs are ignored or where a carer has failed to provide access to social or health care, educational services or life necessities such as heating, medication or nutrition.

Emotional or psychological abuse – This definition includes threats of harm, threats of abandonment, intimidation, bullying, humiliating behaviour, verbal abuse, harassment, coercion and being isolated from services or support networks.

There are also other types of adult abuse that are not currently covered under legislation, such as:

  • Cyberbullying
  • Radicalisation
  • Forced marriages
  • Mate crimes

What is a Vulnerable Adult?

Adults at risk are defined under section 42 of the Care Act 2014 as anyone in need of care and support, persons who are experiencing or are at risk of abuse or neglect, or any person who is unable to protect themselves against abuse or neglect or the risk of abuse or neglect.

Examples of adults who may be vulnerable and at risk of abuse or neglect include:

  • The elderly
  • Carers
  • People who have serious illnesses or diseases
  • People who are physically disabled
  • People who have cognitive impairments
  • People with physical disabilities or sensory impairments
  • People with long-term health conditions
  • Alcoholics or drug addicts
  • People with reduced mental capacity
  • People who have learning disabilities
  • People who are experiencing extreme poverty
  • People who have undergone severe trauma

What is Safeguarding Children?

Safeguarding is particularly important for children as they are especially vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and neglect. In the UK, a child is defined legally as any person under the age of 18.

Safeguarding children is defined in the UK as ‘the process of protecting children from abuse or neglect, preventing impairment of their health and development, and ensuring they are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care that enables children to have optimum life chances and enter adulthood successfully.’

In 2006, the UK government released the document ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’. This publication contains guidelines designed to enhance the ability of organisations and individuals to keep children safe and ensure their wellbeing.

There are four main areas of safeguarding for children:

  • Children should be protected from maltreatment and abuse
  • Children should be kept safe from any harm to their health or development
  • Children should be provided with safe and effective care
  • Children should be afforded opportunities to attain the best outcomes for their development

Any person who works with children or has children under their care has a responsibility to protect them from harm. This also includes being aware of any signs of abuse, being attentive to any reports of abuse and taking appropriate action if neglect or abuse is suspected. The responsibilities of persons who have a duty of care for children are outlined under sections 10 and 11 of the Children Act 2004.

What is Child Abuse?

Child abuse is defined as any act where a child experiences intentional harm caused by an adult or another child. The definition also covers situations where a child experiences harm due to neglect. Although exact statistics on child abuse cases in the UK are difficult to ascertain, approximately 227,530 child abuse offences were recorded by UK police in 2019, as reported by the CSEW.

The definition of child abuse includes acts such as:

  • Domestic abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Neglect
  • Physical abuse
  • Bullying and cyberbullying
  • Child sexual exploitation
  • Child trafficking
  • Criminal exploitation

Child at Risk Definition

A child at risk is defined as any child that is currently experiencing or may experience neglect, abuse or any form of harm and thus has a need for care or support. The term ‘at risk’ denotes any situation where action needs to be taken to prevent abuse, harm or neglect from occurring or from continuing to occur.

What is Contextual Safeguarding?

Contextual safeguarding is the process of understanding and responding to children’s experiences of harm, abuse or neglect outside the family environment. This concept recognises that children form relationships outside the family home that can result in abuse. These relationships include those formed by children at school, online, within their immediate neighbourhoods or during extra-curricular activities.

Why is Contextual Safeguarding Important?

Parents and careers often have reduced influence over the relationships that children in their care make outside of the family environment. Contextual safeguarding recognises that children are at risk of abuse in spaces outside of the family home and places a duty of care onto adults who are not part of the family group. Contextual safeguarding requires social care practitioners, child protection workers, educators and others to intervene if child abuse is suspected.

What is Safeguarding in Schools?

Outside of the family home, most children spend the majority of their time in a school environment. Educators and school staff are also well placed to observe and report any signs of possible abuse.  For this reason, schools must develop and implement effective safeguarding policies and procedures.

Safeguarding procedures in schools should ensure that:

  • All adults who are employed by or volunteer at the school pose no risk to children
  • Children are taught how to keep themselves and their peers safe
  • Children feel safe and comfortable in reporting any instances of neglect, abuse or maltreatment
  • Adult staff know how to recognise signs of abuse and how to report cases of abuse, neglect or maltreatment

What is Safeguarding in Health and Social Care?

Hospitals and social care facilities by their very nature deal with some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Whether it is a public or private entity, every health-related, medical or social facility in the UK has a legal responsibility to protect the people under its care from abuse, harm and neglect.

Effective safeguarding procedures in health and social care facilities can include:

  • Ensuring all staff are fit for their roles and have undergone sufficient vetting, for example, Disclosure and Barring Service checks (DBS checks)
  • Adequate training for staff members so they can provide appropriate care
  • Educating staff members so they can recognise and report signs of abuse, neglect or maltreatment

What is Safeguarding Policy?

If your organisation or business deals with vulnerable adults or children, then by law you should have a detailed safeguarding policy. As a general guide, safeguarding policies should include definitions of abuse, harm or neglect, definitions of vulnerable people and provide staff with information on how to recognise the signs of abuse, harm or neglect and how to record and report any concerns. As previously mentioned, it is beneficial to have separate safeguarding policies for children and for vulnerable adults.

Safeguarding Legislation

There are four major pieces of legislation regarding safeguarding in the UK:

The Care Act 2014 This is the main legislation related to safeguarding in the UK. Although aimed at vulnerable adults, the principles contained in the Care Act 214 can also be applied to children.

The Children Act 1989 This act enshrines in law the concept that the safety of children is paramount. It details safeguarding frameworks for social workers, courts and local authorities. This act was amended by the Children Act 2004, which encourages a more child-centric, integrated approach.

The Children and Social Work Act 2017 This act enhances the regulations laid down by the Children Act 1989 and provides guidelines for improved support for children in care.

The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 This act deals with the vetting process related to employing people who will deal with children or vulnerable adults. Its aim is to prevent unsuitable people from being placed in positions where they could cause harm to children or vulnerable adults.

Other relevant legislation relating to safeguarding includes:


It is unfortunate fact that often the most vulnerable among us are the ones that are exploited or abused. It is both a moral and a legal duty to do everything in our power to prevent this from happening. Anyone whose role involves contact with those with care or support needs must understand potential types of abuse, the signs that they are occurring and what to do, if they are.

Human Focus offers approved Safeguarding training to provide staff with tools to do exactly this. Click here to find out how you can begin earning your own certificate today.

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