What is Safeguarding of Vulnerable Adults?

What is Safeguarding of Vulnerable Adults

Whilst growing up until they reach the age of 18, children are protected by the Childrens Act 2004[1]. This legislation ensures that children and young people are protected from all forms of abuse and mistreatment. The Care Act 2014[2] sets out how adults must also be protected from similar abuse and neglect. It specifically applies to vulnerable adults. The definition of a vulnerable adult is broad. The individual must be over 18, they could have a disability, either physical or mental. They could be elderly or have an illness which has caused them to struggle to be able to look after themselves independently or protect themselves from harm and neglect.

Vulnerable adults may struggle with everyday activities which others take for granted. Basic hygiene may be difficult to achieve due to a disability, illness or frailty. Going to the shops for food and drink provisions may not be possible. Or their vulnerability may be less obvious, they may be unable to protect themselves from abuse, both physical and emotional. They may have mental health issues, such as depression, PTSD or other disorders which are not immediately obvious but present daily challenges.

According to the Care Act, Local Authorities have a responsibility to provide an assessment of anyone, regardless of their financial situation, who is believed to be in need of care, support, and protection. They must engage the individual, identify the outcomes they wish to achieve and focus on areas of their lives that have the greatest impact on their wellbeing. If the individual is unable to engage in this process they may nominate a carer or someone else to do so on their behalf.  They must consider a broad spectrum of ways desired outcomes can be achieved which extend beyond care services. Care and financial support can be publicly funded and the Local Authority will use a national minimum threshold to judge eligibility.

The responsibility for safeguarding adults lies predominantly with the Local Authority but ways in which individuals are identified and brought under the care of the local authority is extensive and whilst statutory services have a legal obligation to support these individuals everyone has a part to play. Organisations working directly with individuals who are at risk of being vulnerable need to have their own policies and procedures in place in order to effectively identify and support people to access the support they require.

The Care Act outlines 6 principles which apply to all sectors and settings which provide care, education, healthcare, housing and welfare benefits, social work and criminal justice systems to vulnerable adults. The principles form the foundation of ways professionals should engage and work with vulnerable adults.

Six key principles are[3]:


  • People being supported and encouraged to make their own decisions and informed consent.
  • For example, they are asked what outcomes they want from the safeguarding process and these outcomes are worked towards.


  • It is better to take action before harm occurs.
  • Individuals receive clear and simple information about what abuse is, how to recognise the signs and what to do to seek help.


  • The least intrusive response appropriate to the risk presented.
  • This is a reassurance that professionals will only become involved in an individuals life no more than is required and only in the individuals’ interest.


  • Support and representation for those in greatest need.
  • This ensures that individuals know they are able to report instances of abuse and neglect and they are supported to be part of the safeguarding process to an extent which is suitable for them.


  • Local solutions through services working with their communities. Communities have a part to play in preventing, detecting and reporting neglect and abuse.
  • This ensures individuals have the reassurance that their personal information will be handled in confidence and that professionals will work collaboratively to achieve the best result for them.


  • Accountability and transparency in delivering safeguarding.
  • Everyone understands the role they play.

Issues of adult safeguarding are complex and can be subtle and difficult to identify. It is therefore vital that safeguarding adults training is undertaken by anyone working in an environment where vulnerable adults are present.

You can view our Safeguarding Adults online training course here

[1] https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2004/31/contents

[2] http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2014/23/contents/enacted

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/care-act-statutory-guidance/care-and-support-statutory-guidance#safeguarding-1