Social workers' power of entry in adult safeguarding concerns: Debates over autonomy, privacy and protection

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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
299 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore debates about the powers social workers may need to undertake safeguarding enquiries where access to the adult is denied. Design/methodology/approach – The paper takes as a starting point a scoping review of the literature undertaken as part of a study exploring social work responses to situations where they are prevented from speaking to an adult at risk by a third party. Findings – A power of entry might be one solution to situations where social workers are prevented from accessing an adult at risk. The paper focuses on the Scottish approach to legal powers in adult safeguarding, established by the Adult Support and Protection Act (Scotland) 2007 and draws out messages for adult safeguarding in England and elsewhere. The literature review identified that debates over the Scottish approach are underpinned by differing conceptualisations of vulnerability, autonomy and privacy, and the paper relates these conceptualisations to different theoretical stances. Social implications – The paper concludes that the literature suggests that a more socially mediated rather than an essentialist understanding of the concepts of vulnerability, autonomy and privacy allows for more nuanced approaches to social work practice in respect of using powers of entry and intervention with adults at risk who have capacity to make decisions. Originality/value – This paper provides a novel perspective on debates over how to overcome challenges to accessing adults at risk in adult safeguarding through an exploration of understandings of vulnerability, privacy and autonomy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)312-322
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Adult Protection
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Autonomy
  • Duties
  • Powers of entry
  • Privacy
  • Safeguarding
  • Social work
  • Vulnerability


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