Vulnerable adults ‘falling through the cracks’ due to poor safeguarding laws, UCD research finds

Posted 12 December, 2019

Vulnerable people in Ireland have been left at risk due to a lack of adequate safeguarding legislation, according to new UCD research.

A report by Dr Sarah Donnelly, from UCD School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social, shows laws aimed to protect adults who are vulnerable to abuse and harm are falling short in some cases.

The ‘Falling Through the Cracks’ study reveals a number of complex challenges facing social workers and healthcare professionals working in Ireland.

It found four key areas in need of readdress:

  • Adults who can't and are denied the chance to express their will and preference.
  • Coercive control.
  • Failure to provide any health and social care services.
  • Poor information sharing due to data-protection barriers.

Dr Donnelly, and her co-researcher Dr Marita O’Brien, found GDPR rules are being interpreted too rigidly by some state agencies and hampering efforts to share information between social workers.

The UCD study also described how early intervention is difficult due to a lack of services and resources, such as home care; noting the HSE has no statutory obligation to provide such support.

It also found in many areas there were too few social workers available to carry out safeguarding measures to keep vulnerable adults safe, and that there was an underreporting of abuse.

For the report, researchers interviewed social work practitioners and professionals involved safeguarding processes, including medical, primary care, disability and mental health workers, as well as dementia advisors and SAGE advocates.

The ‘Falling Through the Cracks’ report was commissioned by Senator Colette Kelleher, who said the absence of ‘Adult Safeguarding’ legislation in Ireland is impacting on vulnerable adults.

In 2017, Senator Kelleher introduced the Adult Safeguarding Bill in the Seanad with the aim of putting in place additional protections and supports for adults who may be unable to protect themselves.

Included in its measures was mandatory reporting where an adult has experienced, or is at risk of experiencing, abuse or harm. It would have also established a National Safeguarding Authority.

By: David Kearns, Digital Journalist / Media Officer, UCD University Relations