3.2 What is an enquiry?
An enquiry is the action taken or instigated by the local authority in response to a concern that abuse or neglect may be taking place.
- Begins when any action is taken by the local authority following receipt of a safeguarding concern. This could range from:
- an informal conversation with the adult, to
- a more formal multi-agency discussion, or
- if the adult lacks capacity or has substantial difficulty in understanding the enquiry, a conversation with their representative or advocate.
- Does not have to follow a formal safeguarding process.
- Should establish whether any action needs to be taken and, if so, by whom.
Note Additional safeguarding concerns identified in the course of an enquiry that relate to the same adult should not be classed as an additional or separate enquiry in relation to the local authority’s responsibility to report the numbers of enquiries undertaken to the Department of Health Information Centre.
A person-centred approach
There is no set process for conducting an enquiry.
An enquiry will always be person-centred, based on the individual nature of the circumstances of the adult, the safeguarding concerns affecting them, the outcomes they want to achieve, and actions agreed with them to address the safeguarding concerns.
This will be achieved through conversations with the adult or their representative, with perhaps some other individuals and / or practitioners involved in these conversations.
When should an enquiry take place?
Local authorities must make enquiries, or cause another agency to do so, whenever:
- abuse or neglect is suspected in relation to an adult, and
- the local authority thinks it necessary to enable it to decide what (if any) action is needed to help and protect the adult.
When a local authority receives or identifies information that constitutes a safeguarding concern its legal duty to undertake an enquiry is triggered.
The duty of enquiry begins at the point that the professional in the local authority decides the three key tests are met.
Once it is determined that there is a safeguarding concern, any actions subsequently taken by the local authority in response to this, including information gathering with the adult and other services and organisations, is part of the process of undertaking an enquiry under Section 42 of the Care Act (see: Initial enquiry).
The purpose of an enquiry
The purpose of the enquiry is to decide whether or not the local authority or another organisation, or person, should do something to help and protect the adult.
If the local authority decides that another organisation should make the enquiry, for example a care provider, then the local authority should be clear about:
- The need to know the result of this, and the outcomes of the enquiry for the adult.
- What action will follow if this is not done.
Objectives of an enquiry
The first priority should always be to ensure the safety and well-being of the adult.
The objectives of an enquiry into abuse or neglect are to:
- Establish facts.
- Ascertain the adult’s views and wishes.
- Assess the needs of the adult for protection, support and redress, and how these might be met.
- Protect the adult from the abuse or neglect, in accordance with their wishes.
- Make decisions as to what action should be taken with regard to the person or organisation thought to be the cause of risk.
- Enable the adult to achieve resolution and recovery.
The adult should experience the safeguarding process as empowering and supportive.
Who can carry out an enquiry?
Although the local authority is the lead agency for making enquiries, it may require others to undertake them. The specific circumstances will often determine who is the right person to begin an enquiry.
In many cases a professional who already knows the adult will be the best person. They may be a social worker, a housing support worker, a GP or other health worker such as a community nurse.
The local authority is responsible for ensuring that the enquiry is referred to the right place and is acted upon. The local authority, in its lead and co-ordinating role, should assure itself that the enquiry satisfies its duty under Section 42 to decide what action (if any) is necessary to help and protect the adult, and who will undertake any actions. The local authority must also ensure that any actions are taken.
If the local authority has asked another organisation to make enquiries, it is able to challenge that organisation if it considers that the process and / or outcome is unsatisfactory.
Ensuring enquiries are effective
Professionals and other staff need to handle enquiries in a sensitive and skilled way to ensure distress to the adult is minimised.
It is likely that many enquiries will require the input and / or supervision of a social worker, particularly the more complex situations, to support the adult to realise the outcomes they want and to reach a resolution or recovery. For example, where abuse or neglect is suspected within a family or informal relationship, it is likely that the input or oversight of a social worker may be needed.
Personal and family relationships within community settings can prove both difficult and complex to assess and intervene in. The dynamics of personal relationships can be extremely difficult to judge and re-balance. For example, an adult may choose to be in a relationship that causes them emotional distress which outweighs, for them, the unhappiness of not maintaining the relationship.
Whilst an enquiry may frequently require the input of a social worker, other aspects of the enquiry may be best undertaken by others with more appropriate skills and knowledge. For example, health professionals should undertake enquiries and treatment plans relating to medicines management or pressure sores.
What will the enquiry cover?
The scope of the enquiry, its nature, who leads it and how long it takes will depend on the particular circumstances of the adult and the safeguarding concern.
How will an enquiry begin?
The enquiry will usually start by asking the adult their views and wishes. This will often determine the next steps to take. Everyone involved in an enquiry must focus on improving the adult’s well-being and work together to achieve that aim.
Timescales set by the local authority for responding to safeguarding concerns
Wherever there may be an immediate serious or life threatening risk to an adult, emergency services should be contacted.
The appropriate timescale for responding to the safeguarding concern, and for contacting the adult, needs to be determined by the local authority at the outset, and the rationale for this evidenced and recorded.
Where there appears to be significant risk to the adult due to the abuse or neglect they are, or may be, experiencing, contact with them should be within 24 hours.
In all other cases contact should be within three working days.
‘Contact’ is any form of direct communication with the adult, by any member of staff working for the local authority, or other agency or organisation that the local authority has determined would be appropriate to undertake this role.
The Enquiry Manager should ensure the reasons for decisions made in relation to the timing of contact with the adult and who will contact them is clearly recorded.
Deciding who should contact the adult on receipt of a safeguarding concern
The local authority must take into account the following when deciding whether it is appropriate to request a member of staff from another agency or organisation to discuss the safeguarding concern with the adult:
- The nature and seriousness of the abuse or neglect that the adult is, or may be, experiencing, the impact this may have on their well-being and safety, and the risk the abuse or neglect poses to them or others.
- The adult’s personal circumstances and any preferences they have previously expressed regarding contact, including any representative or advocate the person may wish to have.
- Any particular communication needs the adult may have, including the need for an interpreter.
- Who would be the best person or organisation to contact the adult. Usually this is likely to be a member of staff who knows them, however, this should never be a person who could potentially be involved in the abuse or neglect.
- What skills, knowledge and experience the member of staff might need depending on the nature of the safeguarding concerns.
- What would be the most proportionate response to the safeguarding concern, and whether certain factors should influence the timing of the contact with the adult. For example, delaying contact for a short period until a practitioner the adult trusts is available (this should always be balanced against any potential increased risk to the adult if contact with them is delayed).
Contacting the adult
Where contacting an adult in response to a safeguarding concern is delegated to another organisation, the local authority must be clear regarding the expectations of that organisation and practitioner who will be speaking directly with the adult, and what this should cover.
Contact with the adult following receipt of a safeguarding concern should wherever possible be face-to-face. This is because:
- It may not be possible to assess the potential for an adult to speak freely or without duress, or to do so without potentially increasing risk to them. For example, if a person thought to be the cause of risk may be present.
- It may not be known if the adult has any communication support needs or if they may have other support needs such as issues in relation to capacity to make informed decisions.
Contact with the person should take account of:
- The nature and seriousness of the abuse or neglect that they are or may be experiencing.
- The adult’s personal circumstances and any preferences regarding contact they have previously expressed.
- How this can be done to ensure the adult is able to express their views as freely and clearly as possible.
- Situations where there are concerns regarding the adult’s ability to speak free from duress or coercion. For example, where there are concerns about possible domestic violence, practitioners should, where possible, discuss and agree with the adult how future contact can be made safely. This may include agreeing a code sentence or word if the adult is unable to speak freely.
Contacting an adult by other means, for example, by telephone or minicom would be appropriate when information about their circumstances clearly indicates that such contact would not pose a potential risk or difficulty.
Timescales for undertaking and concluding enquiries
Timescales for undertaking and concluding enquiries into safeguarding concerns will be determined on an individual basis based on the circumstances of the adult, the outcomes they wish to achieve, and the risks involved. Progress should be monitored and reviewed regularly to avoid any undue delays.
Principle of no delay
A principle of no delay applies to responses to all safeguarding concerns, and enquiries and actions undertaken to address concerns. This will be informed by risk assessments and time frames for some activity.
Agencies and organisations must have local processes in place to ensure enquiries and actions remain timely and focused, with systems to monitor progress to ensure no delays occur, and to review their continued appropriateness.
This should include clear guidance regarding situations that may affect identified timescales. For example, a delay until a person the adult trusts or has identified that they wish to be their representative returns from holiday. The local authority or other agencies would still need to ensure any immediate actions that may be required to support the adult in keeping safe in the interim are agreed with them.
Availability of resources is not seen as an acceptable reason for delay where an adult is, or may be, experiencing abuse or neglect.
There must also be clear and agreed local multi-agency escalation processes in place to address any delays should these occur.
Proportionate responses to concerns in relation to timescales
Responses to safeguarding concerns must always be person-centred, focused on the outcomes the adult wishes to achieve, and proportionate to the concern.
Wherever possible a safeguarding concern should be resolved at the earliest point through actions agreed with the adult at the start of the enquiry. Where this is possible, the safeguarding concern will be resolved through initial enquiry actions.
Ensuring timescales for concluding enquiries remain as timely as possible
While there are no prescribed timescales for concluding enquiries the following must always be in place:
- Clear systems for monitoring the progress of enquiries against agreed timescales, including where enquiries are made by other agencies and organisations.
- Clear recording of the reasons for decisions regarding the timescales for enquiries and, if the timescales need to be reviewed, the reasons for this, the adult’s views and agreement regarding this, and the measures in place to ensure the timescales will be achieved.