Safeguarding practice in England where access to an adult at risk is obstructed by a third party: Findings from a survey

Jill Manthorpe*, Martin Stevens, Stephen Martineau, Caroline Norrie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
243 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose – Being able to speak in private to an adult about whom there is a safeguarding concern is central to English local authorities' duty under the Care Act 2014 to make enquiries in such cases. While there has been an on-going debate about whether social workers or others should have new powers to effect these enquiries, it has been unclear how common obstructive behaviour by third parties is and how often this causes serious problems or is unresolved. The purpose of this paper is to address this knowledge gap. Design/methodology/approach – A survey of local authority adult safeguarding managers was conducted in 2016 and interviews were undertaken with managers and social workers in three local authorities. Data were analysed descriptively. Findings – Estimates of numbers and frequency of cases of obstruction varied widely. Most survey respondents and interview participants described situations where there had been some problems in accessing an adult at risk. Those that were serious and long-standing problems of access were few in number, but were time consuming and often distressing for the professionals involved. Research limitations/implications – Further survey research on the prevalence of obstructive behaviour of third parties may not command greater response rates unless there is a specific policy proposal or a case that has “hit the headlines”. Other forms of data collection and reporting may be worth considering. Interview data likewise potentially suffer from problems of recall and definition. Practical implications – At times professionals will hear of, or encounter, difficulties in accessing an adult at risk about whom there is concern. Support from supervisors and managers is needed by practitioners as such cases can be distressing. Localities may wish to collect and reflect upon such cases so that there is learning from practice about possible resolution and outcomes. Social implications – There is no evidence of large numbers of cases where access is denied or very difficult. Those cases where there are problems are memorable to practitioners. Small numbers of cases, however, do not necessarily mean that the problem of gaining access is insignificant. Originality/value – This study addressed a question which is topical in England and provides evidence about the frequency of the problem of gaining access to adults at risk. There has been no comparable study in England.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)323-332
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Adult Protection
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Access
  • Adult safeguarding
  • Adults at risk
  • Hindering
  • Law
  • Power of entry


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