Safeguarding vulnerable adults and children is not covered by a single law or piece of legislation . The law in relation to this area can be divided into three categories:
Criminal Law – relates to a person or persons who have broken the law in connection with the safeguarding and protection of vulnerable adults and children and who would, given the chance, be a danger to their safety. Criminal laws deal with the punishment of offenders.
Civil Law – covers both private and public law. Private law governs the relationship between the state and individuals and lays out what is required to protect and reduce risk of harm to vulnerable adults and children.
Case Law – is the decisions and interpretations made by Judges while deciding on the legal
issues before them. Once the law has been interpreted in a certain way it will be recorded and may be referred to in the future as a precedent. Case laws are used to influence the law and future decisions made in court or by Judges.
Statutory guidance relating to the Safeguarding of vulnerable adults and children includes:
The Children Act 1989 and 2004
The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006
Mental Capacity Act 2005
All decisions taken in the safeguarding process must comply with this legislation. This legislation is in place to prevent unsuitable people from working with vulnerable or ‘at risk’ adults and children.
It also ensures that anyone with responsibilities for the health, safety, education, well-being and care of vulnerable adults and children are fully trained and understand their responsibilities. They need to understand the legal requirements expected of them and that they have a ‘duty of care’ to ensure the adult and child’s protection.
The legislation has been developed over many years as a result of the increase in allegations about abuse and neglect. It aims to provide a framework for the protection and safeguarding of ‘at risk’ adults and children.
The next few pages will provide a brief overview of specific legislation.
Key The Children Act (1989)
At the core of this legislation is the concept ‘what is best for the child’ and this takes priority over what the parent or carer wants for the child.
The act applies to all people and organisations that have a responsibility to manage and ensure adequate child protection measures are in place for those who work with children. It is assumed that the best outcomes for children are achieved when they remain within parental responsibility and, if necessary, have additional support in place to allow parents to provide appropriate care and a safe environment for their children.
Parental responsibility is defined as ‘..all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law, a parent has in relation to a child and his or her property.’
For children in care, the parent retains parental responsibility in one of two ways:
- Shares responsibility with the local authority where the child is subject to a ‘Care Order’
- Entire responsibility where a voluntary agreement is drawn up between the parent(s) and the local authority for the child to be in care.
A ‘Care Order’ is made by a court and places a child under the care of a local authority. It places
Barred lists allow the ISA to keep a record of individuals who;
- Are not allowed to work in regulated activity with vulnerable adults and children.
- Can only work with vulnerable adults and children in organised activities with safeguards.
Automatic Barring is a serious measure which the ISA will use where there is robust evidence in the form of a conviction or caution for a serious offence. All individuals (aged eighteen or over) who have committed sexual offences against children and other specified sexual or violent offences are placed automatically on the relevant Barred List.
The Mental Capacity Act (MCA) 2005
This act provides the framework to empower and protect people, ‘adults at risk’, who may lack the capacity to make decisions for themselves. Issues of mental capacity and the ability to give informed consent are central to all decisions and actions in the safeguarding process.
The Act says “..a person lacks capacity in relation to a matter if at the material time he is unable to make a decision for himself in relation to the matter because of an impairment of, or disturbance in the functioning of the mind or brain.”
It is presumed that adults have mental capacity to make informed choices about their own safety and how they live their lives. All interventions need to take into account the ability of adults to make informed choices about the way they want to live and the risks they want to take.
The Children Act (2004)
The Governments ‘Every Child Matters’ green paper led to the introduction of the Children Act 2004 in November 2004. This legislation builds on the legal framework detailed in the Children Act 1989 however it does not change it.
The focus of the Children Act 2004 is on local authorities using a multi-agency approach to assist in the protection of children, resulting in a more extensive and cost effective use of the shared expertise available. By working and communicating together they do not miss information or evidence that could allow abuse to go undetected.
The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006
This act established the legal basis for the creation of the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) which operates totally independently from the government. The act also puts a statutory duty on all those working with vulnerable groups to register and undergo an advanced vetting process with criminal sanctions for non-compliance.
Through this act the new Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS) was set up and has replaced:
- List 99
- The protection of Children Act (PoCA) 1999
The ISA decides who is unsuitable to work or volunteer with vulnerable groups. It bases its decisions on information held by various agencies.
The new Vetting and Barring Scheme involving the Independent Safeguarding Authority has a major impact on the recruitment and monitoring practices of people working or volunteering with vulnerable adults and children.