Who is an adult at risk?


Who is an adult with Care & support needs?

An adult at risk previously known as vulnerable adult is used to describe anyone aged 18 and over:

People’s wellbeing is at the heart of the care and support system under the Care Act 2014. Adult safeguarding applies to all adults who have care and support needs and who are experiencing, or are at risk of, abuse or neglect, and are unable to protect themselves.

An adult with care and support needs may be:

  • An older person,
  • A person with a physical or learning disability or a sensory impairment,
  • Someone with mental health needs, including dementia or a personality disorder,
  • A person with a long-term health condition,
  • Someone who misuses substances or alcohol to the extent that it affects their ability to manage day-to-day living,
  • A carer, providing unpaid care to a family member or friend.

Care and support’ is the term used to describe the help some adults need to live as well as possible with any illness or disability they may have.

It can include help with things like:

  • getting out of bed
  • washing
  • dressing
  • getting to work
  • cooking meals
  • eating
  • seeing friends
  • caring for families
  • being part of the community

It might also include emotional support at a time of difficulty and stress, helping people who are caring for an adult family member or friend or even giving others a lift to a social event.

Care and support includes the help given by family and friends, as well as any provided by the council or other organisations.

Adult safeguarding applies whatever setting people live in, and regardless of whether or not they have mental capacity to make specific decisions at specific times.

People with care and support needs are not necessarily at particular risk of abuse or neglect, but they may become so at any point due to physical or mental ill-health, acquired disability, advancing age, financial circumstances or social isolation.

What forms does abuse take?

  • Physical abuse – including assault, hitting, slapping, pushing misuse of medication, restraint or inappropriate physical sanctions.
  • Domestic abuse – including psychological, physical, sexual, financial, emotional abuse, controlling and coercive behaviour;   and ‘honour-based’ violence.
  • Sexual violence – including rape, indecent exposure, sexual harassment, inappropriate looking or touching, sexual teasing or innuendo, sexual photography, subjection to pornography or witnessing sexual acts and sexual assault or sexual acts to which the adult has not consented or was coerced.
  • Psychological abuse – including emotional abuse, threats of harm or abandonment, deprivation of contact, humiliation, blaming, controlling, intimidation, coercion, harassment, verbal abuse, cyber bullying, isolation or unreasonable and unjustified withdrawal of services or supportive networks.
  • Financial or material abuse – including coercion to take extortionate loans and threats to recover debt, theft, fraud, internet scamming, coercion in relation to an adult’s financial affairs or arrangements, including in connection with wills, property, inheritance or financial transactions, or the misuse or misappropriation of property, possessions or benefits.
  • Modern slavery – encompasses slavery, human trafficking, forced labour and domestic servitude. Traffickers and slave masters use whatever means they have at their disposal to coerce, deceive and force individuals into a life of abuse, servitude and inhumane treatment.
  • Discriminatory abuse – including forms of harassment, slurs or similar treatment; because of race, gender and gender identity, age, disability, sexual orientation or religion.
  • Organisational abuse – including neglect and poor care practice within an institution or specific care setting such as a hospital or care home or in relation to care provided in one’s own home. This may range from one off incidents to on-going ill-treatment. It can be through neglect or poor professional practice as a result of the structure, policies, processes and practices within an organisation.
  • Neglect and acts of omission – including ignoring medical, emotional or physical care needs, failure to provide access to appropriate health, care and support or educational services, the withholding of the necessities of life, such as medication, adequate nutrition and heating.  Failure to follow agreed processes.
  • Self-neglect – this covers a wide range of behaviour neglecting to care for one’s personal hygiene, health or surroundings and includes behaviour such as hoarding that causes a risk of harm.

(reference Care Act guidance: paragraph 14.17)

Where does abuse happen?

Abuse can take place anywhere. It may occur when a vulnerable adult lives alone or with a relative; it may also occur within nursing, residential or day care settings, in hospitals, custodial situations, support services into people’s own homes, and other places previously assumed safe, or in public places.

Domestic abuse

Domestic abuse is the misuse of power and control by one person over another. The abuse can take many different forms. Please see our section on domestic abuse which will explain  the types of abuse in more detail and advise you on what to do, if you are being abused.


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