Why is Culture so important to Adult Safeguarding in Ireland?

In Ireland, most adults live independent lives which are free from abuse or the harm which can be caused by abuse. Unfortunately, there are some adults who may have been abused or are at risk of being abused. Within the social care and health care sector "safeguarding" is often only considered when responding to abuse concerns or allegations of abuse. However safeguarding actually means much more than this. In its broadest meaning safeguarding has a significant preventative component and means protecting people's health, well being, and human rights. It is about enabling people to live free from harm, abuse, and neglect (HSE, 2020). However, organisational culture and power relationships within care settings can work against a culture of raising concerns and protecting adults from abuse (Calcraft, 2005).

But what do we mean when we talk about the Culture within an organisation?

Workplace Culture is the character and personality of an organisation. It's made up of the organisation's leadership, values, traditions and beliefs, and the behaviours and attitudes of the people who work there. Having a positive workplace culture in a social care or healthcare setting is vital when delivering high quality care and support. Culture can also be hard to define and measure but embedded in culture are the hidden assumptions about the generally accepted ‘way we do things around here’. Culture can also be observed in the way staff behave and what they expect of each other. Establishing relationships with colleagues can be difficult for new staff, particularly if the culture of a team is a close knit one. Strong relationships within a team are often regarded as being a positive factor in delivering good care to service users, but this is not necessarily the case – it can also make challenging bad practice very difficult, particularly if powerful individuals are allowed to dominate a team (Calcraft, 2005).

In their ‘Driving improvement: case studies from nine adult social care services’, the UK Care Quality Commission (CQC, 2018) found that failing organisations tend to have cultures where staff are afraid to speak out, don’t feel they have a voice and aren’t listened to. The report went on to identify a number of services which had shown significant improvements in their overall inspection rating because they prioritised the development of a open and positive workplace culture.

The culture and leadership within organisations and the way staff are treated have an impact on front line practice. By working towards having a positive staff culture not only benefits and improves the lives of those living in our social care and health care services, but it will also be beneficial for the staff team who work there. A positive workplace culture gives everyone within it a sense of identity. This is important because it gives everyone a feeling of belonging and unity which can go towards ensuring the workforce and people who live in the service are loyal and proud to be part of the organisation. It also makes people feel part of a team which encourages them to be tolerant and respectful of each other’s views, strengths, and differences, and recognise the contributions and skills that everyone brings.

The building of a positive safeguarding culture is not just the responsibility of the organisation or employer, it is the responsibility of everyone. Culture is powerful and is key to safeguarding. By having an open and positive culture whereby every employee is constantly vigilant to the signs of what constitutes abuse, can speak freely and openly if they witness something which is of concern and is trained and qualified to be able to identify what constitutes the potential for abuse to occur, you are lowering the risk of the abuse occurring in the first place.

Maighréad Kelly Consultancy offers a range of supports for employers in the area of Safeguarding. Maighréad is an experienced safeguarding investigator and trainer. For more information on the services that Maighréad Kelly Consultancy provide go to www.maighreadkelly.com