The theme of Kent and Medway’s Safeguarding Awareness Week is “noticing adult abuse is not nosiness”, which is such a positive message to share. People who may be affected by abuse need everyone to keep an eye out for them and to check they are safe from harm. Safeguarding is about protecting everyone’s right to live in safety and free from harm.

However, it is also about having confidence, the confidence to take some sort of action that will mean that harm is prevented, or people are helped to be safe again. This Safeguarding Awareness Week we are being reminded to report any concerns that we have to the safeguarding teams at Kent County Council.  As our Designated Safeguarding Lead I passionately believe that Safeguarding is about empowering people, helping support people living with dementia or their carers to take back control of their lives and live it in the way that want to.

At Alzheimer’s and Dementia Support Services, it is fair to say, we have been on a bit of a safeguarding confidence journey over the past year. When I started looking at our safeguarding practice I realised that our team knew their stuff but there was an underlying fear, a fear of making a mistake, a fear of being criticised, a fear of making things worse. These, I think, are fears we can all relate to when it comes to safeguarding. I knew if we were all going to start seeing safeguarding as a way to empower people affected by dementia, I had to start by empowering my team.

Know the person

As the charity’s Designated Safeguarding Lead I wanted to ensure that safeguarding was not seen as the enemy but as a force for good. To help us keep people affected by dementia safe and empower them to live their best life. Joining the Alzheimer’s & Dementia Support Services team I could quickly see how caring and compassionate our team are and how well we get to know the people we support. This I knew could be harnessed to help give our team the confidence they were lacking. I could see how much effort, time and love they put into getting to know everyone they support, as a unique individual, knowing their likes and dislikes, their history and hopes, and their routines and rituals. Who could be better placed to notice when things do not seem right? I knew they were able to use their instincts and knowledge to know when someone was at risk of being harmed or actually being harmed.

Know what you are looking for

I wanted to be sure everyone knew what was expected of them and to ensure they had confidence in what they already knew about helping to keep people safe. This started with a review and rewrite of our policy, I wanted a policy that spoke to the charity about the type of work we do and clearly set out what was expected of each and every team member, whether that be staff or volunteers. It included the types and indicators of abuse, just to reinforce to the team what they already knew. We also added Safeguarding to a regular meetings, nothing beats the support from a colleague to work out what action needs to be taken.

Feeling the sense of energy and enthusiasm that was developing around Safeguarding I decided to set up some workshops. I went through the policy but also used some freely available resources to help everyone understand what can happen when things go wrong. There is a very powerful film on the SCIE website about the murder of Stephen Hoskin, luckily a rare situation but it illustrates what happens when things are not reported or shared. In this film the analogy of a jigsaw puzzle is used. This and the practical task I did helped us all to understand that we might be the ones who hold a vital piece of the puzzle.

Work together and share what you know

During the workshops it became clear that although the team knew what they needed to do they felt it took courage to report any safeguarding concerns. They were worried the practitioners from the safeguarding team would criticise them for making unnecessary reports. I wanted to help the team feel happier about raising the alert with the local authority safeguarding team and to stop worrying so much about the form filling. After lots of reassurance I realised that it would help if we could have some faces to names. So I reached out to the local safeguarding team. I met with the lovely Anna, from the North Kent team, and we hatched a plan to get her team to come and have lunch at our base, Safeharbour. Just getting to meet the Safeguarding Team really took the fear out speaking to them for advice and helped us realise we all just want to help keep the people we support safe from harm.

We are now proudly using safeguarding as a way to help empower people affected by dementia. Like Kevin’s auntie and uncle, who were both living with dementia. He called us on the helpline for help as he did not know where to turn. He lived a long way away from his aunt and uncle but phoned them regularly. He increasingly became concerned about them and decided to take the two-hour drive to get to see them. When he arrived he found his aunty covered in bruises and skin tears, upon investigation he discovered his auntie had been falling a lot and his uncle had been dragging her up, not realising the harm he was causing. When we spoke to Kevin we sought his permission to raise this as a safeguarding alert. We were called back the same day, after raising the alert and an urgent care needs assessment was carried out. They chose to move to a residential home together, where they knew they would be looked after. David called us a little while later to thank us for the quick action we took, he felt sure it helped prevent anything far worse happening to his auntie or uncle.

We know we cannot get complacent about our confidence, to ensure that we always keep safeguarding and the safety of the people we support at the front of mind. Ongoing communication between our teams and maintaining our relationship with the local safeguarding team will stand us in good stead, but above all we must ensure we keep trusting our instincts to know when something is not right and have the confidence to do something about it.

If you have concerns that someone is at risk of abuse or being abused call Kent County Council’s Call Adult Social Services on 03000 41 61 61. #SeeItReportItStopIt

Katie Antill 

Joint Interim Chief Executive Officer