Safeguarding investigations: Three top legal tips for care homes

Under the Care Act 2014, local authorities are legally required to carry out safeguarding investigations if they have reasonable cause to suspect that a person receiving care and support within their jurisdiction is either experiencing, or at risk of, abuse or neglect.

Safeguarding investigations can lead to contract suspension or termination, CQC investigation and enforcement action or even police involvement and criminal prosecution. Care homes that find themselves the subject of a safeguarding investigation should consider three key points.

Neil Grant

Here Neil Grant, a partner at law firm Gordons Partnership, gives his advice.

  1. Be an active participant, not a spectator
    Where safeguarding investigations are local authority led, try to take a proactive approach. Ensure that the local authority discloses full particulars about the allegations and respond to allegations and enquiries promptly. The local authority may ask you to lead on the investigation, in which case carry out a detailed review of the facts and the evidence. It may be necessary to suspend staff members or, if the issues are clear cut and serious, to terminate their employment and make necessary referrals to other bodies such as the Disclosure and Barring Service.

Where investigations are police-led, seek clarity about the nature and scope of the enquiries. Police investigations may take some time and you should seek assurances that the matters are being investigated diligently in accordance with an indicative timescale in order to avoid delays.

2 Consider the suitability of the service user’s’ placement at your care home

Assess the care needs of those named in safeguarding investigations in order to reach a view on whether you can meet their needs safely and effectively. Finding more suitable accommodation may be in the best interests of the individual or individuals concerned

3.Review and respond to the investigation report
Care homes have the right to review and challenge investigation reports, so check the safeguarding process to ensure the local authority delivers it in good time.
If the care home has been unfairly treated, for example, not being provided with adequate information or time, or allegations are being presented as facts without evidence, then consider obtaining legal advice. This will ensure the care home’s position within this process is properly reflected and defended.

Naturally it is important that the right decisions are made for individuals named in safeguarding investigations, but also that outcomes are fair for the care homes concerned.

Safeguarding can be an ill-defined process, particularly when local authorities do not clearly identify what the issues are or fail to share the evidence they have. Investigations should be conducted over an indicative timescale, as set out in the safeguarding procedures of the relevant local authority, but despite this can go on for many months.

A lawyer adds rigour to the process by ensuring the local authority is held to account and follows its own safeguarding procedures. The presence of a lawyer also takes some of the emotion out of the proceedings, with the focus on rational and calm enquiry based on collaboration and cooperation.  

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