The majority of adults who are, or are believed to be, at risk of harm will be people for whom the application of the three-point criteria will be relatively straightforward. This will lead to consideration of options for intervention whether under the provisions of the Act and/or other relevant legislation.
As mentioned in the "unable or unwilling" section in the Code of Practice, there are, however, a number of people for whom straightforward application of the three-point criteria is not possible, and some may remain in situations which continue to compromise their health, wellbeing and safety. All adults who have capacity have the right to make their own choices about their lives, and these choices should be respected if they are made freely. Many people affected by trauma and adverse childhood experiences remain able to safeguard their own wellbeing. However, for some, the complexity, severity and persistence of post traumatic reactions may impact to the extent that these individuals repeatedly take decisions that place them at risk of harm.
Equally, issues with their sense of self and interpersonal relationships, seriously affecting all or many of their relationships across many areas of life, can severely compromise their ability to safeguard. These safeguarding challenges can be associated with patterns of chronic difficulties in experience of emotions, emotional expression and/or regulation, and associated coping strategies such as self-harm, care-seeking and use/misuse of alcohol and drugs.
As part of an assessment – which may require significant time to undertake - it is crucial to understand the person's decision-making processes. Consideration should be given to any factors that may have impacted upon the adult with the effect of impinging on, or detracting from, their ability to make free and informed decisions to safeguard themselves. This could therefore mean that, in some circumstances, they should be regarded as unable to safeguard themselves.
Trauma informed practice is an approach to care provision that considers the impact of trauma exposure on an individual's biological, psychological and social development. Delivering services in a trauma informed way means understanding that individuals may have a history of traumatic experiences which may impact on their ability to feel safe and develop trusting relationships with services and professionals.
Trauma informed practice is not intended to treat trauma-related issues. It seeks to reduce the barriers to service access for individuals affected by trauma, and to promote understanding of the impact of trauma on individuals.
Key principles of a trauma informed approach are:
Taking a trauma informed approach to adult support and protection practice enables all those who perform any of the functions under the Act to better understand the range of adaptations and survival strategies that people may make to cope with the impacts of trauma. Practitioners should be alert to the need to view behaviours that compromise health, wellbeing and safety as adaptations that may have played a useful role in the individual's life in helping them to survive, and cope with, their experiences of trauma. Examples of such adaptations can include: maintaining contact with an alleged harmer; use of drugs or alcohol; self-harm; hoarding, and avoidance of places and people, including professional relationships and services, which may trigger reminders of prior traumatic experiences. As above, in these circumstances, some people's ability to take and action decisions about safeguarding themselves may effectively be compromised.
The 2017 Transforming Psychological Trauma: A Knowledge and Skills Framework for the Scottish Workforce details the specific range of knowledge and skills required across the workforce, depending on their and their organisation's role and remit in relation to people who have experienced trauma. Those with direct and frequent contact with people who may be affected by trauma should be equipped to 'trauma skilled' level of practice. Those professionals with regular and intense contact with people affected by trauma and who have a specific remit to respond by providing support, advocacy or specific psychological interventions, should have adequate training and experience to practice at 'trauma enhanced' level. Practitioners with responsibilities under the Act should be trained to the appropriate levels, as noted in The Scottish psychological trauma training plan (page 22). This is to ensure their adult support and protection practice reflects the in-depth knowledge and understanding required to intervene in the lives of those affected by trauma.
Taking a trauma informed approach can result in better outcomes for people affected by trauma and seek to address the barriers that those affected by trauma can experience when accessing support. Adopting a trauma informed approach to adult support and protection work is good practice, even when applied to individuals who have not experienced, or been significantly impacted by, psychological trauma.
Professionals involved in the identification, support and protection of adults at risk of harm may wish to make use of the resources provided by the National Trauma Training Programme. For more information on trauma-informed practice, practitioners can also access the trauma-informed practice toolkit produced by Public Health Scotland.
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