This week is adult safeguarding week – an opportunity for us all to raise awareness of the importance of safeguarding, and build understanding of how safeguarding issues affect all of us. The theme for the week is ‘building safer cultures’. That means reflecting on what our organisations can do to make sure safeguarding best practices are being upheld in a meaningful way.
Sabrina Solomon is The Advocacy Project’s designated safeguarding lead, playing a fundamental role in building a safer culture for those we work with. Sabrina sat down for a Q&A, explaining why this is such an important part of our advocacy work.
Could you share the story of your career so far? How did you get into advocacy?
I studied psychology and sociology at Lancaster University and then trained to be a teacher. I only taught for a short while, as I felt my strengths and passions lay elsewhere. After having my daughter I decided to retrain. I saw it as a real opportunity to reinvent myself and thought hard about what I wanted to do.
I knew improving conditions for mental health patients was really important to me, so I decided to start working as a volunteer advocate. This was before the introduction of Independent Mental Health Advocacy as a statutory right for people receiving in-patient treatment.
That led to me working as a frontline advocate for around eight years, across a wide range of settings including acute mental health, community and forensic advocacy. I then reached a point where I felt I could use my experience to benefit others more strongly – taking all my knowledge and the things I’ve learned to support other advocates to deliver high quality advocacy. At that point I became a manager, and I’m now in a senior leadership role.
You’re now our designated safeguarding lead. Why is this topic so important to you?
Ultimately my passion for safeguarding is to be able to support people who are in greatest need to stay safe. This stems from having worked as a frontline advocate before safeguarding legislation came into place. When the Care Act was introduced it gave us a legal basis for safeguarding work – before that, I remember being on mental health units and seeing some really terrible practices. I’ve seen things that may not meet the threshold of a crime, but also don’t constitute a safe living environment.
Thankfully, due to the Care Act, we now have much better mechanisms in the UK for keeping people safe.
How do you help to improve safeguarding within The Advocacy Project?
I’m responsible for continuously developing our safeguarding policies and practices. I try to innovate as much as possible – for example, we’re currently working on changes to our database that will allow us to capture more information and see trends in the concerns being raised.
I’m strengthening people’s skills to write meaningful referral forms, with the right level of detail that means the local authority can take swift action. I support staff to thoroughly understand the indicators that point towards abuse, and the reasons behind our processes.
The important thing for us as an organisation is to keep innovating, and keep building on what we have in place. We’re currently focused on projects to build awareness of safeguarding in the community – making it easy for the layperson to understand safeguarding and take action to protect themselves and others.
What is your advice to those looking to improve their own safeguarding practices?
It’s so important to be in tune with the people you are working with. We work with people who can’t always tell us when they’re being abused, or maybe don’t recognize their treatment as abuse because it’s so insidious. This means we need to be open and show professional curiosity: if something doesn’t sit right, you need to talk it through with your manager straight away.
It’s imperative that all of us working in the sector are aware of the requirements of the Care Act. My practice has evolved as the legislation and guidelines have evolved. It’s really important to keep updated about different types of abuse – for example, modern slavery, radicalisation and cuckooing – and indicators that abuse may be happening.
Safeguarding is everybody’s business. We all have safeguarding responsibilities in our professional lives and our personal lives. We are accountable for keeping people in greatest need safe.