Vulnerable Adult – What and Who is it?
In 1992 the Department of Health and the then, Social Services
Inspectorate, published the findings of a survey of two social services
Departments in relation to abuse. This publication found there to be a lack
of assessments in large numbers of ‘elder abuse’ cases and little evidence of
During the nineties’ concerns had been raised throughout the UK regarding
the abuse of vulnerable adults. The social services inspectorate published
Confronting elder abuse (1992) and following this, No longer afraid (1993).
‘No longer afraid’ provided guidelines for responding to, what was
acknowledged at that time, as ‘elder abuse’. It was aimed at professionals in
England and Wales and emphasised clear expectations that policies should
be multi-agency and include ownership and operational responsibilities.
This guidance gave local authority Social Service departments a co-
ordinating role in the development and implementation of local vulnerable
adult policies and procedures.
In 2000, the department of Health published the guidance No Secrets. The
purpose was aimed primarily at local authority social services departments,
but also gave the local authority the lead in co-ordinating other agencies i.e.
police, NHS, housing providers.
The aim of No Secrets was to provide a coherent framework for all
responsible organisations to devise a clear policy for the protection of
vulnerable adults at risk of abuse and to provide appropriate responses to
concerns, anxieties and complaints of abuse /neglect
It defined a vulnerable adult as ‘a person aged 18 or over’ and ‘who is or
may need community care services by reason of mental or other disability,
age or illness; and who is or may be unable to take care of him or herself, or
unable to protect him or herself against significant harm or exploitation’
The groups of adults targeted by ‘No Secrets’ were those “who is or may be
eligible for community care services”. And within that group, those who
“were unable to protect themselves from significant harm” were referred to
as “vulnerable adults”.
Whilst the phrase “vulnerable adults” names the high prevalence of abuse
experienced by the group, there is a ‘recognition that this definition is
The definition of a vulnerable adult referred to in “Who Decides” issued by
the Lord Chancellors Department is a person: “who is, or may be in need of
Community Care Services by reason of mental or other disability, age or
illness: and who Is, or may be unable to take care of him or herself, or
unable to protect him or herself against significant harm or exploitation”
(Law Commission Report 231, 1995)
There are however broader definitions of vulnerability which are used in
different guidance and in the more recent Crime and Disorder Act (1998) it
refers to ‘vulnerable sections of the community and embraces ethnic
minority communities and people rendered vulnerable by social exclusion
and poverty’ rather...