Definition of an adult at risk of harm and neglect

The safeguarding duties apply to an adult who is over 18 years of age and:

  • has needs for care and support (whether or not the local authority is meeting any of those needs) and;
  • is experiencing, or at risk of, abuse or neglect; and
  • as a result of those care and support needs is unable to protect themselves from either the risk of, or the experience of abuse or neglect.

These adults for example may:

  • Be frail due to age, ill health, physical disability or cognitive impairment, or a combination of these
  • Have a learning disability
  • Have a physical disability and/or a sensory impairment
  • Have mental health needs including dementia or a personality disorder
  • Have a long-term illness/condition
  • Users of substances or alcohol
  • Unable to demonstrate the capacity to make a decision and is in need of care and support.

This list is not exhaustive.

Types of abuse may be one-off or multiple incidents, and affect one person or more. Repeated instances of poor care maybe an indication of more serious problems and of what we now describe as organisational abuse.

Abuse can occur in any relationship and may result in significant harm, or exploitation of, the person subjected to it.

It may be caused by anyone who has power over the person. The person responsible for the abuse is very often well known to the person being abused and could be; a spouse; partner; son; daughter; relative; friend; carer or neighbour; a paid carer or volunteer; a health worker; social care or other worker; another resident or service user; an occasional visitor or someone who is providing a service. It can be caused by a person deliberately intending to harm or neglect, failing to take the right action or through their ignorance. It can involve one or a number of people.

Adult abuse is when something is said or done to an adult at risk that makes them feel upset, hurt or frightened. Abuse is not always intentional but it causes harm so something should be done to stop it from happening again.


Abuse is any action that harms another person

The following is a list of the types of abuse and neglect that can occur:

  • Physical abuse – including assault, hitting, slapping, pushing, misuse of medication, restraint or inappropriate physical sanctions.
  • Domestic violence – including psychological, physical, sexual, financial, emotional abuse; so called ‘honour’ based violence.
  • Sexual abuse – including rape, indecent exposure, sexual harassment, inappropriate looking or touching, sexual teasing or innuendo, sexual photography, subjection to pornography or witnessing sexual acts, indecent exposure and sexual assault or sexual acts to which the adult has not consented or was pressured into consenting.
  • Psychological abuse – including emotional abuse, threats of harm or abandonment, deprivation of contact, humiliation, blaming, controlling, intimidation, coercion, harassment, verbal abuse, cyber bullying, isolation or unreasonable and unjustified withdrawal of services or supportive networks.
  • Financial or material abuse – including theft, fraud, internet scamming, coercion in relation to an adult’s financial affairs or arrangements, including in connection with wills, property, inheritance or financial transactions, or the misuse or misappropriation of property, possessions or benefits.
  • Modern slavery – encompasses slavery, human trafficking, forced labour and domestic servitude. Traffickers and slave masters use whatever means they have at their disposal to coerce, deceive and force individuals into a life of abuse, servitude and inhumane treatment.
  • Discriminatory abuse – including forms of harassment, slurs or similar treatment; because of race, gender and gender identity, age, disability, sexual orientation or religion.182
  • Organisational abuse – including neglect and poor care practice within an institution or specific care setting such as a hospital or care home, for example, or in relation to care provided in one’s own home. This may range from one off incidents to on-going ill-treatment. It can be through neglect or poor professional practice as a result of the structure, policies, processes and practices within an organisation.
  • Neglect and acts of omission – including ignoring medical, emotional or physical care needs, failure to provide access to appropriate health, care and support or educational services, the withholding of the necessities of life, such as medication, adequate nutrition and heating
  • Self-neglect – this covers a wide range of behaviour neglecting to care for one’s personal hygiene, health or surroundings and includes behaviour such as hoarding.


Where does abuse happen?

Abuse can happen anywhere at any time in any of the following places:

  • In your own home or someone else’s home
  • In a carer’s home
  • At a Day Centre
  • In care homes
  • In hospital
  • At work
  • At college
  • In a public place


Who might be an abuser?

Abusers could be anyone, including:

  • a partner, relative or family member
  • a volunteer
  • staff
  • another service user
  • a neighbour
  • a Carer
  • a friend or
  • a stranger