This chapter provides information for multi-agency practitioners about the processes involved where there is an allegation against a member of staff or volunteer (a person in a position of trust) who works with people with care and support needs.
The Safeguarding Adults Board (SAB) needs to establish and agree a local framework and process for notifying and responding to allegations against people working with adults with care and support needs.
Whilst the focus of safeguarding adults work is usually with identified adults with care and support needs, there may be occasions when incidents involve an adult not known to safeguarding adult teams, where a risk may be posed by a person in a position of trust.
This chapter applies to staff who are paid, volunteers, students on placements and contractors. The terms ‘staff’, ‘practitioner’, ‘employer’ and ‘work’ will be used throughout to apply to this group of people.
Where concerns are raised about someone who works with adults with care and support needs, it will be necessary for the employer (or student body or voluntary organisation) to assess any potential risk to other adults who use their services, and, if necessary, to take action to safeguard those adults.
2. Agency Responsibilities
The local authority’s relevant partners, those providing universal care and support services, student bodies and voluntary organisations should each have clear internal policies and procedures, in line with those from the local Safeguarding Adults Board (SAB), for dealing with allegations against people who work, in either a paid or unpaid capacity, with adults with care and support needs.
They should make a clear distinction between an allegation, a concern about the quality of care or practice or a complaint.
Where concerns are raised about someone who works with adults with care and support needs, it will be necessary for the employer (or student body or voluntary organisation) to assess any potential risk to other adults with care and support needs using their services, and, if necessary, to take action to safeguard those adults.
They should also set out the process, including timescales, for an investigation and what support and advice will be available to individuals against whom allegations have been made and have their own sources of advice (including legal advice) in place for dealing with such concerns.
Employers who are also providers or commissioners of care and support have a duty to the adult, as well as a responsibility to take action in relation to the employee when allegations of abuse are made against them.
Employers should ensure that their disciplinary procedures cover the responsibility to protect adults at risk of abuse or neglect.
The Police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) should agree procedures with the local authority, care providers, housing providers, and the NHS / clinical commissioning group (CCG) to cover the following situations:
- action pending the outcome of the police and the employer’s investigations;
- action following a decision to prosecute an individual;
- action following a decision not to prosecute;
- action pending trial;
- responses to both acquittal and conviction.
Where there are reports of abuse, neglect and / or misconduct, they should be investigated and evidence collected.
Codes of professional conduct and /or employment contracts should determine what action should be taken.
Robust employment practices, with checkable references and recent disclosure and barring checks are vital (see Disclosure and Barring Service).
Where appropriate, employers should report workers to statutory and other professional bodies such as the General Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
If someone is removed from their role providing regulated activity following a safeguarding incident, the regulated activity provider (or an agency or personnel supplier if they placed the worker has a legal duty to refer the person to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).
The legal duty to refer to the DBS also applies where a person leaves their role to avoid a disciplinary hearing following a safeguarding incident and the employer / voluntary organisation believes they would have dismissed the person based on the information they had.
The standard of proof for prosecution is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. The standard of proof for internal disciplinary procedures and for discretionary barring consideration by the DBS is usually the civil standard of ‘on the balance of probabilities’. This means that when criminal procedures are concluded without action being taken this does not automatically mean that regulatory or disciplinary procedures should cease, or not be considered. In any event there is always a legal duty to make a safeguarding referral to DBS if a person is dismissed or removed from their role due to harm to a child or an adult with care and support needs.
Whilst it is the exception rather than the rule, people who work with adults with care and support needs may deliberately or accidentally:
- behave in a way that has resulted in an adult experiencing or being at risk of abuse or neglect;
- commit a criminal offence against or related to an adult with care and support needs;
- behave towards an adult with care and support needs in a manner which may suggest they pose a risk of harm to such adults.
When a person’s conduct towards an adult may affect their suitability to work with or continue to work with children, this must be referred to the local authority’s designated officer.
If a local authority is given information about such concerns they should give careful consideration to what information should be shared with employers to enable a comprehensive risk assessment to be conducted.
Any allegation which arises in relation to historical abuse by a member of staff who used to work for an organisation, should be responded to in the same way as a current concern. In such cases, it is imperative to ascertain whether the practitioner is still working with adults and / or children and if so, to inform their current employer / organisation.
4. Actions Required following an Allegation against a Member of Staff
Any allegation against people who work with adults should be reported immediately to a senior manager within the organisation.
When a complaint or allegation has been made against a member of staff, including people employed by the adult, when they are first informed an allegation has been made they should also be made aware of their rights under employment legislation and any internal disciplinary procedures.
Whilst any allegation is being investigated and until the outcome is decided, practitioners against whom there is an allegation should always be treated fairly and respectively, helped to understand the concerns expressed and processes involved, and supported through the process.
Allegations against people who work with adults at risk must not be dealt with in isolation. Any corresponding action necessary to address the welfare of other adults with care and support needs should be taken without delay and in a coordinated manner, to prevent the need for further safeguarding in future.
Local authorities should ensure that there are appropriate arrangements in place to effectively liaise with the police and other agencies to monitor the progress of cases and ensure that they are dealt with as quickly as possible, consistent with a thorough and fair process.
4.1 Persons to be first notified
The employer must inform the local authority Safeguarding Adults Team within one working day (customer to amend as required) once they have been made aware of the allegation.
Where it is suspected that a criminal offence may have been committed the employer should also inform the police.
The member of staff’s line manager should inform their own line manager and their designated safeguarding adults lead prior to informing the local authority’s safeguarding adults team / and or the police, and a plan of action should be agreed including of who needs to be notified and by whom.
Where the local authority safeguarding adults team, in conjunction with the police as appropriate, decides that the information gathered following a safeguarding enquiry requires further discussion, the factors below should be considered. These may be considered as part of a strategy discussion / meeting, depending on the circumstances of the case and what decisions are made during the enquiry (see also Safeguarding Enquiries).
4.2.1 Possible risk to others
The possible risk of harm to other adults or children should be assessed and managed including those adults or children who may be at risk in accused member of staff’s home, work or community life.
Where necessary action should be taken, using local safeguarding children board and safeguarding adults board procedures, to protect children and adults from abuse or neglect. This includes taking immediate action (see also Safeguarding Enquiries).
4.2.2 Sharing Information
Unless it puts the adult or child in danger, the individual should be informed that the information regarding the allegation against them will be shared. Responsibility lies with the person receiving the information to obtain the consent of the individual to share information.
The person with the allegation against them should be offered a right to reply, wherever possible seek their consent to share, and be informed what information will be shared, how and who with.
Each case must be assessed individually as there may be rare cases where informing the person about details of the allegations may increase the risks to the adult or child. Decisions on sharing information must be justifiable and proportionate, based on the potential or actual harm to adults or children at risk and the rationale for decision making should always be recorded.
When sharing information about adults, children and young people at risk between agencies it should only be shared:
- where relevant and necessary, not simply all the information held;
- with the relevant people who need all or some of the information;
- when there is a specific need for the information to be shared at that time.
The employer should be advised as to what information (whether fully or partial) can be shared, and when, with the adult and / or carers. In some circumstances, for example where medical treatment is required, carers will need to be told immediately. Where possible, it should be decided who should be the main contact with whom the adult / carers should liaise throughout the process.
The safeguarding adults team and the police should discuss with the employer and decide what information they can share with the member of staff to whom the allegation relates, including being kept updated about any investigation which is undertaken, any disciplinary or related actions. See also Section 4.2.6, Suspension. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) should be informed of any allegation or concern made against a member of staff. They may also be invited to take part in a related strategy meeting / discussion.
When an allegation is made against a member of staff, it can be a challenging and emotive situation for all those involved, but also for colleagues of the accused person. Every effort should be made to maintain confidentiality in relation to the adult / carer and the member of staff. Whilst staff may be concerned about their colleague, it is imperative that confidentiality is not breached.
4.2.3 Media Strategy
Until a person is charged, the police should not normally provide the media with any identifying information, for example a public appeal to trace a suspect. In such cases, reasons for the publicity should be recorded with prior consultation of involved partner agencies.
Any media interest whilst an allegation is being investigated or considered should be handled very carefully, and a media strategy agreed by a multi-agency strategy meeting where appropriate.
4.2.4 Support for the Adult / Carer
It should be agreed who should be the main point of liaison with the adult / carer and they should be kept up to date, as far as possible, with the progress of the investigation whilst not breaching confidentiality in relation to the accused member of staff.
Other professionals providing care and support to the adult / carers at the centre of the allegation should remain impartial throughout the process. Whilst they should provide support to the adult / carers specific to their role, they should refrain from offering opinion on the case and in particular not be seen to favour either side. It is the role of the liaison person to keep the adult / carer informed of progress.
4.2.5 Support for the Accused Member of Staff
As soon as possible after an allegation has been received, the member of staff should be advised to contact their union or professional association. The line manager should contact human resources department as soon as practicable, to discuss how the member of staff can be supported if an investigation takes place. This may be via the organisation’s occupational health or employee welfare departments or via external agencies.
Suspension should not be automatic when an allegation is received. It should be considered when:
- there is concern that an adult is at risk of harm;
- the allegation has resulted in an investigation by the police; or
- the allegation is so serious there may be grounds for dismissal.
Although those involved in the safeguarding enquiry can discuss views on suspension, only the employer has the power to suspend an employee. The employer cannot be required to suspend an employee by the local authority or the police.
Following the outcome of the investigation, if the member of staff returns to work after a period of suspension, the employer should consider – in conjunction with human resources or management – what help and support might be appropriate. This may include a phased return to work for example.
The line manager should also consider the employee’s contact with an adult and their carers, who was the focus of the investigation. They should also be aware of any issues which may arise between the member of staff who was accused and colleagues, and intervene appropriately as required.
4.2.7 Disciplinary Process
The employer should decide, in conjunction with the local authority safeguarding adults team, whether disciplinary action is required. The employers disciplinary procedures should be followed in such circumstances. In the case of contractors or volunteers, they should decide whether it is appropriate to use / employ them in the future, and whether or not a referral to the DBS is warranted.
Wherever possible and necessary during the disciplinary process, consent should be obtained from the relevant people to share information with required organisations / bodies.
Where there are prosecutions, the police should inform the employer and the local authority safeguarding adults team of the outcome immediately, to enable them to take action as required in relation to the employee’s future employment and any required DBS referral.
4.2.8 Terminating Employment
Wherever possible a conclusion to the investigation should be achieved, even if:
- the employee does not cooperate with the investigation;
- disciplinary sanctions are not possible because the employee terminates their employment before the process has been completed.
In cases where an employer has a duty to refer an employee to Disclosure and Barring Service as the criteria for referral are met, agreements that enable the employee to resign with no disciplinary action and provision of future references should not be made.
If an organisation removes an individual (paid worker or unpaid volunteer) from work with an adult with care and support needs (or would have, had the person not left first) because the person poses a risk of harm to adults, the organisation must make a referral to the DBS. It is an offence to fail to make a referral without good reason.
4.2.9 Record keeping
The employer should keep a clear and comprehensive record of the allegation, decisions reached and actions taken on the employee’s personnel file, a copy of which should be given to them.
This will enable any future reference requests to provide accurate information, or in relation to any future DBS request for information.
Details of allegations made which are subsequently found to be malicious should be removed from the employee’s file.
4.2.10 Unsubstantiated or False Allegations
Where it is decided there is not enough evidence to substantiate an allegation, a professional involved in the safeguarding enquiry should inform the employer in writing. Those involved should be clear about who is undertaking this task.
If it is established that an allegation has been deliberately invented, the police should be asked to consider what action may be appropriate.
4.2.11 Learning Lessons
The employer and the local authority safeguarding adults team, and any other relevant parties, should undertake a review of the case to ascertain whether there are lessons to be learned for the individual agency, or other organisations, which would result in improvements to the organisation’s procedures or practice, in relation to the circumstances which led to the allegation.
The process of investigating the allegation should also be evaluated, to decide if there are also recommendations for improvements. If so this should be reported to the local Safeguarding Adults Board for a decision in relation to amendments to these procedures.