By Fiona Sherwood-Johnson and Kathryn Mackay

Journal of Social Work 

Review written by Dr David Wilkins

What question does this study focus on?

This study considers how the knowledge base for adult safeguarding policy and practice can be developed through collaborative dialogues between policymakers, professionals, service users, carers, researchers, educators, and students. The article starts from the perspective that despite its obvious importance, the knowledge base for adult safeguarding is limited, and the views of service users and carers have been under-represented in research. 

How did they study it?

The study was based in Scotland where, much as in Wales, there has been a concerted effort in recent years to ensure that social services are more responsive to the wishes and views of citizens, with important policy changes made in order to promote choice and human rights perspective on practice. 

What did they find?

The authors draw on their experiences of undertaking a range of research projects in the field of adult safeguarding, and their efforts to promote the participation of service users and carers. Reflecting on these projects, they identify two themes based on evaluative approaches (in simple terms, questions about what works) and exploratory approaches (questions with a broader focus).

For evaluative approaches, the paper highlights the importance of causing no (further) harm. When researching adult safeguarding, many of the service users (and carers) involved will have experienced different forms of abuse or neglect. Understanding how services can respond to this effectively is important, but not at the cost of causing further harm, for example from trauma resulting from revisiting difficult experiences. There is also the question of informed consent. Some adults involved with safeguarding services will have dementia or learning difficulties. Learning from their experiences is vital, but gaining informed consent is not necessarily straightforward. Some gatekeeping processes, whereby professionals help to contact service users and carers on behalf of the researchers, may inadvertently end up excluding some people and certain groups. One key message is that service users and carers tend not to understand adult safeguarding processes as being wholly distinct from other professional activities. For exploratory approaches, the authors found that working with service users and carers at an early stage helped to inform their research questions and make them more relevant, as well as leading to the use of more creative methods. 

What are the implications?

The paper highlights the complexities and limitations of much of the research in fields such as adult safeguarding, which by its nature is often tentative and exploratory. Yet policymakers and sometimes practitioners are often looking for research that provides clear answers, perhaps even simple answers, to what are very complicated and complex problems. Research rarely provides ‘how to’ messages for practice, and there is a risk that indefinite and somewhat speculative findings are metamorphized into something more certain and concrete once they are disseminated into policy and practice. 

Review written by

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Dr David Wilkins