Safeguarding, Well-being & Dignity In Social Care: Why Are They So Hard To Balance?
At the end of November 2015, the media reported the sad story of Mervyn and Beryl Bevan from Bristol, who were both moved in to emergency care after their care worker defrauded them of £1,750 in savings. The woman who had cared for them in their home was given a suspended sentence for her crime. In the same month, the OPG published its comprehensive and very helpful new Safeguarding Policy. The policy includes guidance on types of abuse and warning signs for spotting financial abuse in particular, which remains one of the most common forms of abuse against Adults at Risk.
Mr and Mrs Bevan were both aged 86 at the time of the fraud against them, and had been married for 63 years. Both were housebound, but wanted to remain living together in their own home. The newspaper reports indicate that after the care worker’s fraud was detected by Mr and Mrs Bevan’s family in early 2014, Social Services initially placed the devoted couple in the same emergency care facility. However, because they had different needs, they were then moved to separate care homes. Mr Bevan, who had a neurological condition, was moved between four different care homes. Mrs Bevan, who had dementia, was moved between five different homes. They were not reunited before Mr Bevan died in September 2015.
A report in one of the local Bristol papers quotes the police officer in the case as saying “This case illustrates that we must all work together to protect the most vulnerable in society and, where you suspect wrongdoing, involve the police at the earliest opportunity”.
I completely agree with the police officer. One of the positive changes introduced by the Care Act 2014, which came into effect on 1 April 2015, is that it put safeguarding vulnerable adults on a statutory footing for the first time. The OPG Safeguarding Policy echoes the Care Act. Our community care law team act in so many difficult and distressing cases where adults at risk have been exploited and abused by those in trusted positions – sadly often by close relatives, paid carers, or by a smaller group whom I refer to as ‘opportunistic others’.
Some safeguarding referrals would not progress because the police took the line that this was a civil law issue or a family problem. There are also difficulties in taking forward a prosecution when a vulnerable adult lacks capacity. The Care Act and associated guidance helpfully widens the definition of financial abuse and this should mean that there will now be more effective interventions and prosecutions.
My main concern about what happened to Mr and Mrs Bevan is that they were not accommodated together in the same care home, preferably together in a shared room. The fact that they were both shunted between so many care homes would have been very distressing for them.
We should have a care system which is sufficiently flexible to recognise that this couple, and many others like them, had a need to live together. This is a need that should have been assessed and identified by Social Services right at the beginning. A skilled Social Worker should have been tasked with finding a care facility that was capable of meeting both sets of different and specific needs. A good working knowledge of the Care Act and community care law is vital in challenging Social Services in this type of case.
A refusal or an inability to provide care for a couple together in the same environment is something that happens all too often. Many of us would not find this acceptable for their own family or indeed for any elderly couple.
Our community care law team believe that solutions need to be found that respect dignity and choice and facilitates the need for married couples to be cared for together. What happened to Mr and Mrs Bevan is not only likely to fall within the ambit of the Human Rights Act, but also the failure to accommodate them together might also result in a Deprivation of Liberty.
If you need expert community care law guidance on challenging a social care assessment for a client or loved one, or on safeguarding vulnerable adults, contact Martin Searle Solicitors on 01273609911, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.