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Press Release: Social Workers (IASW) call on Government to safeguard adults at risk of abuse and neglect (National Adult Safeguarding Day, 19th November 2021)

On Ireland’s first National Safeguarding Day, the Irish Association of Social Workers call on Government to act without delay and introduce measures to safeguard adults at risk of abuse and neglect.  

The lessons of adult safeguarding failures in Ireland have been repeated over decades and across settings; in Leas Cross and Aras Attracta, in multiple HIQA reports and in ongoing investigations by the National Independent Review Panel, in the Grace case and Brandon case. It is abundantly clear that adults at risk of abuse and neglect are ‘falling through the cracks’ and are experiencing preventable harm, abuse and neglect in the gap of essential legislation and structures.  

Chairperson of the Irish Association of Social Workers (IASW) Vivian Geiran said “Today is Ireland's first Adult Safeguarding Day. It should mark a turning point in making some meaningful changes, to effectively safeguard those adults already at risk in our society, as well as those of us - or our loved ones - who might become more dependent and at risk in the future. All of us deserve that basic protection, care, and reassurance when we most need it. Currently, that does not exist’. Vivian Geiran continued ‘Social work is the named lead profession in adult safeguarding, and the IASW is clear: Frontline social workers are unable to safeguard adults at risk of abuse in our communities and care settings under the current framework 

The IASW welcomes Paul Reid’s recent acknowledgement that HSE culture, at times, is harmful to adults the HSE is tasked to protect. As lead professionals in safeguarding, social workers experience challenges working within this same culture and having professional autonomy to carry out investigations in an agency which often ignores, minimises or dilutes findings related to abuse.  

The time for hand wringing and solemn apologies has passed. The Government must act and introduce comprehensive legislation to safeguard adults at risk from abuse and neglect. On National Adult Safeguarding Day 2021, the IASW calls for: 

  • The introduction of comprehensive Adult Safeguarding Legislation which empowers, supports and protect adults at risk of abuse and neglect. 

  • The establishment of a Social Work led Independent Safeguarding Authority. 

The Department of Health and HSE have engaged in lengthy processes over several years in relation to the future of adult safeguarding in Ireland. The IASW has called for expediency in these processes, as in the absence of action, adults continue to experience preventable abuse and neglect. While awaiting comprehensive legislation, emergency measures must be introduced as a matter of urgency including: 

  • The mandatory reporting of all abuse and neglect of adults in care settings to the Gardai & Safeguarding and Protection Social Work teams. 

  • The urgent appointment of a Chief Social Work Office in the HSE. This must, after the harrowing events of Grace and Brandon cases, be a ‘one stop shop buck stops here’ office, with complete professional autonomy, responsibility and accountability for final decision making and management of safeguarding concerns. 

If we truly value adults at risk of abuse in our society, we should legislate to empower, support and protect them. The IASW has informed Government of the avoidable abuse and neglect of adults witnessed by frontline social workers in the gap of political action. We welcome the increased political focus on adult safeguarding in recent months and call on Government to urgently address the long delays in the development of legislation and the failure to introduce emergency measures. 

ENDS