Although I left frontline homelessness services several years ago, I still remember the feelings of worry, frustration and sadness that came with trying to support people living in unsafe situations and experiencing significant risk. Supporting individuals who had spent many years sleeping rough, I witnessed the suffering that comes with neglect and self-neglect, impaired capacity and exclusion from services.
Maybe I am not alone in feeling that, as a homelessness practitioner, my observations and experiences of working with individuals in these circumstances were not taken seriously by other services. Referrals sometimes went unanswered and misunderstandings about homelessness and complex needs could often blur how behaviours were understood by those with less experience of working with our client group. The phrase “lifestyle choice” was something I heard too often.
Although some of those I supported did pass away, I was never involved in a formal review of what had happened and what could have been done to reduce the risk of serious harm or death. And this isn’t surprising. Safeguarding Adults Reviews (SARs) were only introduced through the Care Act in 2014, and the Government’s Rough Sleeping Strategy (2018), describes how they were rarely used in cases of people who slept rough. Learning about what statutory and voluntary sector agencies could do to prevent harm and death of people sleeping rough, and the lessons and examples of good practice, were being missed.
The Strategy set an intention to work with Safeguarding Adults Boards to ensure that SARs were used in circumstances of people sleeping rough who met the criteria. 48 reviews are known to have been undertaken providing the best evidence we have to drive positive practice. Our new resource summarises the learning from the reviews and recommendations for improved practice, and was discussed in more detail by the author in a recent webinar.
However looking back at my experiences as a frontline worker, I now also realise how ill equipped I was to effectively make referrals and advocate for those that needed more support than I could provide. Despite having safeguarding training, I don’t think I had the skills and knowledge to frame my concerns in a way that could be fully understood by busy colleagues in statutory services. And I certainly didn’t know enough about the legislation, guidelines and evidence base to draw upon when my attempts to make referrals were rebuffed. I’ve come to learn that this is called ‘legal literacy’; the knowledge and understanding about the duties and powers of adult social care provision.
So whilst I may have been frustrated with my failed attempts to bring in statutory support, I now know that there was more I could have done to present the important information I had in a way that was connected to the legislation there to protect people. There are now fantastic tools to help homelessness practitioners, and those they support, present their needs and wishes in a way that can be understood clearly by Adult Social Care.
So although as I write this blog in sadness, remembering those I worked with who were sadly lost, I am filled with hope that the increased use of SARs and the potential to upskill the homelessness workforce to not only understand social care legislation and duties, but to be strong advocates using it, will mean that across the country there are less cases of serious harm and death due to abuse or neglect amongst people sleeping rough or experiencing homelessness. Please read and share our resources on the Care Act, Safeguarding and SARs – so we all have as much knowledge as possible to get this right.