The importance of independent advocates in speaking up for vulnerable people has been highlighted by a Berkshire safeguarding case review about the financial abuse of an elderly man.
The review found that most of the good practice in the case related to the role of the man’s advocate, who ‘had fought to ensure that the safeguarding concerns were acted upon’.
Numerous failings were found by the review, including a ‘significant lack of professional curiosity’ by social workers, a lack of consistency with the man haing seven social workers over five years, and social workers discussing concerns with the man in front of the the alleged perpetrator.
Daniel (not his real name) is a 76-year-old man who needs a wheelchair to get around.
In 2012 he had a fall and stroke, which affected his mental and physical abilities, and he was discharged home with ongoing support from a home care agency, as well as a woman named Ellen (not her real name) who claimed she was his niece.
After care agency workers raised concerns about Daniel’s welfare, including possible financial abuse of Daniel by Ellen, a council-led safeguarding enquiry was open and closed with no actions. Checks had confirmed that Ellen was not his niece or any family relation.
In 2013, multiple concerns were raised with social services about Daniel, including lack of food, no hot water, and a broken toilet and washing machine at his home, and bruising on his body. At the end of 2013 Daniel was moved into a care home with a plan to sell his home to pay for the care home fees.
Despite concerns that had been previously raised about Ellen, various social workers continue to involve her with Daniel’s care planning and the sale of his house and also allowed her to be present at their meetings with Daniel.
In July 2015, Daniel was allocated an independent advocate, who pursued concerns with police and continually chased the local authority to take action to protect Daniel.
In late 2017, the national Court of Protection agreed that Daniel should have an official ‘deputy’ to manage finances on his behalf, because he was not capable of doing so by himself.
In January 2018, Ellen was arrested and released pending investigation. As of January 2019, police said they were challenging a Crown Prosecution Service decision not to charge Ellen due to lack of evidence.
The advocate successfully requested that Daniel’s case met the statutory criteria to be formally review and published, in order to learn lessons and improve the way vulnerable people are protected from abuse in the future.
The review report states that ‘persistence from Daniel’s advocate led to the suspect being arrested’, and the man’s advocate had a ‘good understanding of police procedures’. Overall, the responsible council failed to comply with the Care Act and Mental Capacity Act, the review adds.
The review was carried out by the West of Berkshire Safeguarding Adults Partnership Board – a statutory, multi-agency body that oversees practice by adult social services and safeguarding teams at Reading Borough Council, Wokingham Borough Council and West Berkshire (and other organisations, like the NHS). However, the board does not name which council was at fault in its review report.
The man was legally entitled to an independent advocate via new legislation called the Care Act which came into effect in 2015.
Reading Voice, the advocacy arm of Healthwatch Reading, has been providing Care Act Advocacy to vulnerable people in Reading since 2015, and also provides independent mental health advocacy to Reading patients under section at Prospect Park Hospital, and advocacy to Reading people wanting to make a complaint about the NHS or adult social care services.