Meet the unsung heroes who protect Oxfordshire’s vulnerable adults

Meet Fay Brown, Rickie Osamoh and their colleagues from a crucial Oxfordshire County Council team who work to protect adults that may be at risk or be facing circumstances that threaten their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.  

They are members of the county council’s adults safeguarding team. It was recently National Safeguarding Adults Week, making now a good time to showcase the instrumental role the team plays in ensuring the safety of some of Oxfordshire’s most vulnerable residents.

As well as actively supporting cases when it is in individuals’ best interest to do so, Fay, Rickie and their fellow team members also provide important support, guidance and advice to partner organisations across the county. The whole team wants people throughout Oxfordshire to know that safeguarding is everybody’s responsibility.

Understanding communication methods

Like many support services in health and social care, professionals must understand the various different communication needs and abilities of the people they support. But with safeguarding, the need to communicate and get to the core of potential risks is much more immediate.

Practice Manager Rickie said: “Communicating with individuals who might have a health or disability need, or have other vulnerabilities, isn’t just about verbal or physical communication. It can – and often is – much more nuanced than this.

“Body language is hugely important. We recently supported an individual who was under a great deal of distress. However, because he had limited verbal capacity, communicating what had occurred was extremely challenging. When a member of our team met with the individual, they quickly identified that he best communicates through body language and vocal sounds.”

The open-mindedness of the safeguarding team meant that the individual then had autonomy to communicate his situation in the best way for him. Identifying and understanding these communication methods is key to working quickly, and in the best interests of the individual.

Putting the individual first

Approaching situations with a mindset of putting the individual first is crucial. That means assessing circumstances based on the risk or potential risk, and through the perspective of those involved – rather than letting outside, less obvious factors influence decision making.

When it comes to safeguarding adults, that could be anything from an individual’s appearance, accent or even their ability to communicate. And according to the county council’s team, an individual’s age often features as a challenge.

Team Manager Fay said: “We’ve frequently seen how age can factor into safeguarding decisions and it’s something we are not afraid to address. To get to the root of issues and make decisions in the best interests of those involved, we must be able to understand what might be informing someone’s behaviour. And we can’t do that without first being aware ourselves.”

The county council operates scenario-based training sessions with the safeguarding team, placing common – and uncommon – assumptions and judgements at the centre of the conversation. Importantly, the team is taught how to identify if a bias might be informing decisions and what to do if that is the case.

This commitment to equality and integrity ripples through the team’s work, and how it approaches cases from the perspective of those most vulnerable or at risk. And how it approaches team wide learning.

“We encourage open discussion in our training to learn from one another’s experiences and develop our skills and understanding as a team,” said Fay.

Support through collaboration

What’s the one thing the safeguarding adults team wants everyone to know? That safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility.

The team says that it’s a common misconception that safeguarding is only conducted by select professionals; we all have a part to play in the protection and safety of others.

That’s something that is prioritised across all adult social care teams.

Melanie Pearce, Principal Support Worker at the county council, and Service Manager of the Safeguarding Adults Team, said: “The dedication of the safeguarding team, and its commitment to the safety and wellbeing of Oxfordshire’s residents is truly remarkable.

“It’s clear that the skills and expertise of these professionals stretch far beyond what many commonly believe about safeguarding. They embody the values we hold at Oxfordshire County Council in protecting our residents, and it’s a clear reminder that we must continue to expand our idea of what it means to support vulnerable or at risk adults.

“We work very closely with support teams across the county council and other partners in Oxfordshire. Giving vulnerable adults the best possible support means working collaboratively towards that shared goal and understanding that we are all accountable for the safety of residents.”

And according to the team, these strong partnerships also support ongoing learning.

“At any one time, we can have a number of teams and professionals involved in supporting someone facing risk, and it’s important we work with one another with a shared goal,” Melanie continued.

“We regularly meet with our partners to ensure we’re speaking with them outside of the realms of crises. These conversations give us the opportunity to share our knowledge, become better informed about services across the county council and Oxfordshire, and look at ways we can work together more effectively.”

If you’d like to find out more about safeguarding adults in Oxfordshire, you can visit the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Adults Board website: osab.co.uk

If you would like to report a safeguarding concern, you can do so through the Oxfordshire County Council’s website.

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