10 May, 2023
When a care home is informed that a safeguarding investigation is taking place, it can be a daunting and stressful time for all involved. It can sometimes feel that this is something that is happening to you and your business, over which you have limited control. However, taking action, providing your views and version of events and taking an engaged and active role in the process can often be the best response.
Safeguarding investigations are carried out to protect vulnerable individuals from abuse, neglect or harm. In such situations, care homes have a duty to cooperate fully with the investigation and take steps to protect their residents from any potential harm. A safeguarding referral can come from any source, from a whistleblowing report by staff, a complaint by a resident or their family, an outside visitor to the premises, or as a consequence of a CQC inspection. The response, irrespective of where the referral originates, should be to avoid being immediately defensive, irrespective of whether or not you feel the referral is justified. Take stock and plan, but not being defensive does not mean that you should necessarily be quite and let the process steam roller over you and your business.
Here are some steps a care home should take in the event of a safeguarding investigation and some things to consider:
1. Upon receipt of a safeguarding referral notification, try and find out as much information as possible. It is important to find out when the incident is said to have occurred, who it involved, the circumstances in which it happened and when was the referral was made. This last point is as essential as what is being investigated, as the Local Authority may have received the referral some time ago and not immediately contacted you. As such, investigations could be quite advanced, which could put you on the back foot with regards to any forthcoming safeguarding meetings. A lack of knowledge about the referral can lead to the investigation having a lack of context, information, documents and witness evidence which would otherwise have informed the investigation. The aim of a safeguarding investigation is to protect service users, provide family members with answers, accept problems if they have occurred and improve service. A delay in informing you therefore certainly does not serve these purposes, but does happen and can leave you playing catch up.
2. Protect residents from harm: You should take steps to protect your residents from any potential harm. This may include reviewing care plans, providing additional support to residents, and ensuring that any staff members who are the subject of the investigation are not allowed to have contact with residents until the investigation is concluded.
3. Notify relevant parties: You should notify the relevant parties, such as the resident's family members and any other regulatory bodies if not already involved, about the investigation and keep them updated on its progress. This will help to maintain transparency and build trust with all parties involved.
4. Is the issue current? A safeguarding investigation under s42 of the Care Act 2014 will be instigated if the Local Authority has reasonable cause to suspect that an adult is at risk. However, the issue has to be current, not historic as the intention is to intervene and rectify live matters. The question therefore is whether the investigation is warranted through this particular process. If the complaint for example relates to an issue of historic abuse, the relevant staff member is no longer employed and as such the service user, or indeed any service user at the home, is not at risk, this would not be the correct forum for that investigation. If however, the action or failure complained of is historic but the staff member remains employed, or the risk remains current having not been dealt with or rectified, then the investigation could still fall under this process. Understanding this could potentially allow you to make representations as to whether this is the correct process.
5. If possible, take immediate action to investigate and take relevant disciplinary action by suspending staff if necessary. However, if there is a concurrent police investigation you may not be able to undertake your own investigation or further disciplinary action, other than suspension. In this circumstance, legal advice as to the process and your responses is recommended.
6. If there have been failings, accept them and put an immediate action plan together to identify changes, improvements, training of staff etc, including a timetable for these to be completed. Try and start them immediately if this is possible without interfering with the investigation. Showing the Local Authority that you are taking things seriously at an early stage can be beneficial.
7. The safeguarding meeting.
a. Before agreeing attending any meeting you should clarify what stage the investigation is at and consider whether you should engage legal representation. You are entitled to take legal representation with you to any investigatory meeting and having such can help you to feel prepared and empowered to put your best case forward. It can also help in providing you with advice about any outcomes or civil claims which might arise as a consequence of such a referral and allow you to be prepared.
b. Ask for as much information as the Local Authority are willing to disclose, and an agenda as to the issues that are to be discussed. You do not want to go into a safeguarding meeting blind to what the issues are or having failed to have prepared your responses.
c. You can expect to be asked difficult questions as the fact finding exercise is undertaken but as a consequence it is only fair that you be given an opportunity to investigate the issues, provide relevant policies and procedures and either a position statement or witness evidence.
d. The Local Authority should undertake the investigation in a fair and reasonable way and not rush to conclusion, but preconceived ideas or impressions can be hard to shake. Be prepared to provide context, explanations of your care home site, staff, routines and policies. Don't assume the investigation knows what you do or how you seek to do it.
e. In our experience minutes of such meetings can be limited in detail and miss relevant information or context, they can also take a long time to be provided. Take notes or bring along someone to do so in order that you can push back with confidence if something has not been recorded properly.
No one is served by significant delays in getting to a conclusion of a safeguarding investigation. The service users are not protected and improvements are delayed. A delay in reaching a conclusion can also have associated consequences for your business, such as commissioners of your services refusing to place anyone else with you until conclusions are reached, having to pay a suspended staff member for months on full pay, or being unable to provide clarity to staff still working to provide the best services for users, causing stress. Pushing for the investigation to be done in a timely manner is preferable for all involved.
In conclusion, safeguarding investigations can be a stressful and difficult time for care homes, but it is important that you engage with them rather than just be subject to them. By conducting an internal investigation, protecting residents, notifying relevant parties, seeking legal advice, and implementing changes, care homes can ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations, providing high-quality care to their residents and obtain the best outcomes possible.
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