Why Do We Talk About Safeguarding All Adults, Not Just “Adults at Risk”? A Discussion for Sport and Physical Activity

Why Do We Talk About Safeguarding All Adults, Not Just Adults at Risk

What do we mean when we talk about safeguarding in relation to adults taking part in sport or physical activity? Who are we safeguarding and what are individual’s and organisation’s roles and responsibilities?

There is still a lot of confusion out there when it comes to safeguarding adults. The confusion mounts when we add the term ‘adults at risk’ to the mix too. Are we safeguarding “adults at risk” or are we safeguarding all adults? And is there a difference?

The Background to Safeguarding Adults in Sport and Activity

The Ann Craft Trust has worked with sport and physical activity organisations across England for many years. We initially provided the safeguarding adults expertise for the sector wide Safeguarding Adults in Sport Steering Group that lobbied for more awareness on the subject. The Care Act 2014 set guidance for safeguarding adults in England. After this, Sport England funded the Trust to advise on National Governing Body and Active Partnership responsibilities for safeguarding adults at risk.

Through our work, we have listened to organisations, participants and athletes. We have also widened our remit, and now receive grants from UK Sport and Sport Wales. This has given us a broader picture of what safeguarding adults looks like in the sport and physical activity sector.

The Ann Craft Trust recognises that organisations must have policy and procedures to support Adults at Risk. We are also aware that many have concerns regarding the safety, welfare and wellbeing of adults that do not fit that ‘Adults at Risk’ definition. We cannot ignore these concerns.

Who is an adult at risk?

The definition of an ‘adult at risk’ comes from legislation relating to adults. An adult at risk is an adult whom a local authority, usually adult social care team, has a duty to enquire about and support should they become aware of concerns about them being at risk of, or experiencing, harm or abuse.

Previously, these adults would have been seen as ’vulnerable adults’. But we do not use this terminology any more. Instead, we consider:

  • Whether someone has a need for care and support.
  • Whether they are experiencing, or likely to experience, abuse or neglect.
  • And, because of their care needs, they may need support from the local authority to help them stay safe.

The problem with ‘adults at risk’

The fact the term ‘adult at risk’ is becoming more known in sport and physical activity settings is great. It means people are becoming more aware of their responsibilities in keeping adults safe, and that some people may need additional support to keep safe.

However, only a small percentage of adults meet the ‘adults at risk’ definition. If we only concentrate on developing safeguarding adults at risk policies and procedures, we are not looking at the needs of the majority of adults who attend sport and physical activity sessions. Most do not fit into that definition at the moment.

And that is key to the definition. No one is an adult at risk forever. There are so many factors that can influence and change the level of care of support someone needs. An individual’s ability to protect themselves can also vary over time, depending on their circumstances.

Think about it for a minute. What would happen if you only commit to safeguarding someone who would be considered an adult at risk? Would you overlook a large proportion of adults? This would surely create a big gap in your safeguarding processes, and in your duty of care responsibilities.

What about those who don’t meet the definition, who may still be experiencing harm and abuse?

Safeguarding adults is about creating an environment that keeps all adults who are part of a sport or activity organisation safe from harm.

So, what are your responsibilities when it comes to safeguarding all adults?

Organisation responsibilities – a brief outline

Organisations should work to creating a safeguarding culture where everyone is treated equally. You should welcome and encourage feedback. And you should be open and transparent in your processes, putting a focus on individuals and their safety, welfare, and wellbeing.

This includes ensuring you have policies, procedures, and codes of conduct in place to share expectations of behaviours. You should also have the means to manage concerns or inappropriate behaviour should they arise. If someone raises a concern, you are responsible for following this up appropriately, and for taking action where needed. You are also responsible for referring concerns on to external agencies when necessary.

Individual responsibilities- a brief outline

If you are an individual involved in sport and activity, you are also responsible for taking action if you have a concern. This involves passing your concern onto the relevant person in your activity or organisation. Normally, this would be your Welfare Officer or Safeguarding Lead.

If you know the person you are concerned about, you could have a chat with them. But you should only do this if you feel comfortable doing so, and you feel it won’t put them at increased risk of harm. You can ask them if they are OK. You could say something like, ‘I’ve noticed…. and I am worried about you’. Encourage and support them to seek help. Let them know the organisation has a safeguarding lead who can help too.

Is there a difference in safeguarding an adult and safeguarding an adult at risk?

The difference is in the process you follow. If someone meets the definition of an adult at risk, a Local Authority has a legal duty to make an enquiry about them. So if you think an adult has a need for care and support, and is at risk of, or is experiencing abuse or neglect, and needs help with keeping themselves safe, you would be following your ‘adults at risk’ procedures.

But if someone doesn’t meet the definition of an adult at risk, but they are experiencing abuse or neglect, you can still ask your local authority Safeguarding Adults Team for advice. They may be able to signpost to other support services. You should also still follow your organisation’s safeguarding procedures, which should set clear processes to follow. Normally this would include discussing the situation with the adult concerned, and advising them on what you can do to help. You might also signpost them to external support organisations.

The overall aim is the same regardless of whether someone meets the definition or not: helping to reduce and protect people from harm and abuse. 

So the simple answer to the question ‘Why do we talk about safeguarding all adults, not just adults at risk?’ is this:

Everyone has a human right to be safe from harm and abuse. We cannot ignore athlete and participant concerns because they do not fit the narrow definition in legislation.

Therefore, it is important that we commit to creating safer cultures in sport and physical activity that safeguard all adults, not just those who may meet the definition of an adult at risk.

Creating Safer Cultures in Sport and Activity

#SaferCultureSaferSport is a campaign for sport & activity organisations to create safer cultures. Where welfare, safety & wellbeing is at the heart of values & actions.

Learn more about this campaign, and find out how you can get involved, on our dedicated #SaferCultureSaferSport hub.