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Understanding risk and harm

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Adults at risk

An adult who may be at risk of harm or abuse is defined as any adult who:

  • Has care and support needs and
  • Is experiencing, or is at risk of, abuse or neglect and
  • Is unable to protect themselves because of their care and support needs.

Local authorities also have safeguarding responsibilities for carers and a general duty to promote the wellbeing of the wider population in the communities they serve.

Safeguarding duties apply regardless of whether a person’s care and support needs are being met, whether by the local authority or anyone else. They also apply to people who pay for their own care and support services.

An adult with care and support needs may be:

  • An older person
  • A person with a physical disability, a learning difficulty 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

Types of abuse and neglect

Types of abuse and neglect are described in more detail in the Policy Definitions section 3.4 of:

Safeguarding adults: West Midlands multi agency policy and procedures - Version 2 November 2019


Adult safeguarding acts to stop harm being caused by other people. Harm takes many forms, including:

  • Hate crime
  • Domestic abuse
  • Honour-based violence  
  • Female genital mutilation
  • Forced marriage
  • Human trafficking
  • Exploitation by radicalisers who promote violence.
  • Abuse by another adult at risk
  • Allegations against carers who are relatives or friends