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Personalised Safeguarding: A Quick Guide

Updated: Feb 15

The Making Safeguarding Personal (MSP) guide was established in 2012 by the Local Government Association to improve the choice and independence of social care service users. This approach was engaged by all councils in England through the Care Act, which aims to maximise independence and minimise the risk of harm. This guide will highlight some main examples from the MSP guide and examine its benefits and drawbacks.

Personalised safeguarding forms part of a wider personalisation agenda being promoted by local authorities. It is focused on the wishes of service users, though is dependent upon whether the individual has mental capacity or not, whether they live in a care home or their own home, and if they have access to a supportive social network.

Meetings with advocates are central to this approach, and these should be held in neutral places, or in a place chosen by the service user. Independent advocates may be more approachable to service users, so this service should be readily available.

The desired outcomes should be established from the beginning. This process can be complicated when the individual lacks capacity or does not agree that safeguarding is necessary. Personalised approaches can help practitioners to separate capacity issues from situations where individuals choose to continue taking risks.

The service user should always be asked whether their outcomes have been achieved, and whether their desired outcome has changed over time. This should always be recorded, along with outcomes, into regular case review processes.

In Central Bedfordshire, the local authority piloted network meetings[1] which involved family members and other individuals of importance to them. Service users were encouraged to identify people from their family and community who are important in their lives. Decisions could then be made about who should be invited to meetings.

Service users were asked to identify three ‘wishes’ (their desired outcomes), an indicator of feeling ‘safe’ (and whether this changed as a result of the meeting and resultant actions) and to identify personalised goals in terms of what was working or not in their lives.

As a result of this project there were unexpected positive changes, often in family behaviour. The approach was deemed particularly useful in addressing safeguarding concerns connected to acute carer stress. Positive results were dependent upon good communication skills and high-quality social work practice.

For this project the focus was on assessing risk and coming to a joint decision, rather than eliminating all possible risks. The duty of care is balanced against supportive risk taking, always taking into account mental capacity, as it is an individual’s right to put themselves at risk. There should be a culture of positive risk taking which supports frontline staff. Importance should be given to the individual’s voice and over-technical risk management processes should be avoided. Time should be devoted to the individual.

The approach supports positive outcomes through reducing risk-aversion among staff. This helps ensure that safeguarding interventions are proportionate, keeping individuals in control of their lives, and avoiding restrictions in their freedoms. In fact, maximising the control they have can minimise future risk and restore confidence which could have been undermined by abuse or neglect.

A 2014-15 evaluation[2] of MSP suggested that it cannot always be guaranteed that issues such as physical abuse, material abuse or neglect will be entirely solved. However, it is important for individuals to be aware of the available support networks.

This report recommends taking time to prepare people for meetings, involving advocates and not making assumptions about people’s ability to express their outcomes. The time between the ending of a safeguarding enquiry and the evaluation should not be too extensive, to avoid opening old wounds. Realistic outcomes should come from ‘negotiated’ or ‘agreed’ outcomes which take account of the broader context, such as the law and public interest.

Ongoing feedback is preferable. And good practice should be standardised and shared, using questionnaires and case auditing, in order to identify appropriate changes. Training is essential, especially relating to effective practice such as counselling, mediation, conflict resolution, advocacy, restorative justice, family group conferencing and motivational interviewing.

A resource signposting directory is recommended on a local or national level. Evidence should be gathered to define whether MSP is appropriate for certain types of abuse or individuals, and whether it should be adapted.

This report asked MSP staff and leads if they had observed any improvements. They highlighted a more effective implementation of the Mental Capacity Act, honest discussions about where people’s wishes cannot be implemented (such as when others are being harmed but they do not want police involvement), confidence in involving people in their safeguarding decisions, and an outcomes-focused approach with honest discussions about how these outcomes can be achieved.

Another 2016 report[3] into the technique highlights the benefits for professionals such as the use of ‘traditional’ social work skills, relationship-based practice and job satisfaction. Anecdotal evidence suggests empowerment for service users and professionals, with an increase in direct contact between them and a reduction in bureaucracy. The report also suggests sharing developments in reporting on outcome measures, which should ask ‘have we supported people to be any safer?’. Ideal measures of outcome and a reporting framework should be agreed nationally to provide a template for local authorities.

This report also noted changes in local authorities implementing MSP. These included fewer meeting of professionals, a move from process-led to user-focused practice, individuals being involved in meetings about them, more reflective supervision, more meetings with service users, more flexible timescales to suit service users, and a general change in processes and systems to keep people involved and informed.

Staff felt they were helping people to take charge of their own lives rather than going through a process, and saw it as a much-welcomed return to social work. 97% of social workers had reacted positively. There is also evidence that the approach reduces repeat referrals and is therefore more cost-effective (though it can involve more work at the start of a safeguarding referral due to the additional time spent engaging service users).

Barriers to the implementation of this approach include resistance to change by staff, difficulties in meeting high service demand, staff and resource cutbacks, and high staff turnover. Respondents mostly mentioned resources as being key to its implementation, along with training, establishing user-focused recording systems, clear bench-marking with other local authorities, and the availability of proven tool-kits and practical workshops.

While there seems to be considerable evidence that this approach can have positive benefits for social workers and service users alike, it clearly involves a considerable change in philosophy. However, given the right tools and know how, it has the potential to transform the culture of local authorities for the better.

[1] [2] Making Safeguarding Personal evaluation 2014/15 – an evaluation of the implementation of MSP in 2014-15. [3] Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (2016)Making Safeguarding Personal Temperature Check


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