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For adult siblings these are very tough issues to face – you may be living a long way from your brother or sister or may suspect that a family member is the one who might be responsible for causing harm. Whatever the situation it is important that you take action to find out what is happening and to protect your brother or sister.

What is safeguarding?

Safeguarding is a term that is used to mean the protection of vulnerable people, so that they can live their lives safely without the risk of abuse or neglect.

The first step is to be able to recognise when to be concerned. There are many types of abuse and it is important to be able to identify them.

  • Physical abuse – signs of physical harm, e.g. being hit or kicked
  • Sexual abuse – being forced to take part in unconsented sex
  • Psychological abuse – being threatened, intimidated, humiliated or over-protected
  • Financial abuse – preventing a person’s access to their own money, or being pressured into financial transactions or having their money used by others for the wrong purposes
  • Forced marriage – this is a crime where someone is forced through pressure or abuse into a marriage without their consent, or if that person has a learning disability and does not have capacity to give consent
  • Neglect – ignoring basic health or care including poor hygiene or inappropriate clothing
  • Discriminatory abuse – degrading or discriminatory practice, ignoring cultural and personal practices
  • Institutional abuse – repeated poor practice within an organisation

Take action on abuse

If your brother or sister is in immediate danger report this to the police straight away.

If there is no immediate danger we recommend that you take the following actions:

Keep records

  • Keep notes about the date and time of any incidents, who was involved and where it happened. Take photos if relevant and make copies of any useful documents such as care plans.
  • Keep a record too of your brother or sister’s moods and behaviour – they may show specific reactions to a member of staff for example, or there may be a change in behaviour over a period of time that may have worried you.
  • This may help you build a case if you need to and also firm up your evidence if you are worried about whether your concerns are real or not.

Report to the local authority

  • If there is no immediate danger, then you should report your concerns to the local authority in which your brother or sister lives.
  • In England and Wales each local authority has an Adult Safeguarding Team that investigates these issues.
  • In Northern Ireland you should contact the Adult Protection Gateway Service based in your local Health and Social Care Trust. For more information visit nidirect.
  • In Scotland you should contact the Adult Protection or Care team in your local council. For more information visit Act against harm.
  • If your brother or sister has a social worker or other key professional such as a residential service manager or learning disability nurse, you can raise the concerns this way too. It is the responsibility of all staff working with disabled people to recognise concerns and report poor practice or safeguarding issues.

Making a formal complaint

  • If the response you receive after raising your concern is unsatisfactory or if you feel it hasn’t been taken seriously, you can raise it as a formal complaint. Each local authority and service has a formal complaints procedure which they should have in writing or on their website which you can follow.
  • If your brother or sister’s care home or service is registered with the Care Quality Commission contact them with your complaint.
  • If having made a formal complaint you still feel that things have not improved or been acted upon, you can take your complaint to the Social Care Ombudsman or the Health Service Ombudsman.

Taking legal action

  • In most cases issues can be resolved through taking issues directly to service providers within the local authority or getting their support to change a situation for your brother or sister. However, there are some situations where the abuse or neglect may be so serious that it has caused serious injury, trauma or in rare cases, the death of a disabled person. In these situations more legal expertise needs to be sought.
  • You can contact a solicitor for more advice. There are some lawyers who specialise in human rights law or community care law for example who can guide you through the process.
  • Remember there may be time restrictions in taking a case to court, so if a case is serious you may want to get legal advice as soon as possible.

Getting further information and advice

You can get further information and advice from the following organisations:
Ann Craft Trust supports organisations to protect adults at risk and can advise family members on taking safeguarding action.

The Challenging Behaviour Foundation supports families of people with challenging behaviour and can advise on issues about inappropriate restraint or restrictive practices.

Inquest investigates the deaths of vulnerable people in state care (in England and Wales), including those of people with a learning disability or autism in NHS run institutions.

The Forced Marriage Unit has a helpline to provide advice and support for relatives of people who are victims of forced marriages.

Helping your brother or sister

If your brother or sister has experienced neglect or abuse, they may need some expert help and support to overcome the trauma and stress they have experienced. Your local community learning disability team or adult mental health team should be able to suggest a service they could be referred to or if necessary bring in some expert therapeutic support from outside the area. The charity Respond supports adults with learning disabilities who have experienced abuse or trauma.

My brother was abused by a member of staff in the residential service he lives in. Luckily he is verbal and was able to report the abuse and it was taken very seriously by the management of the home. The member of staff was removed and appropriate action was taken. But what was hard for me was the aftermath, my brother was just so angry and upset. He has a learning disability and just couldn’t understand why this had happened to him. Working with the staff where he lives, we managed to find some counselling from a service in another county. He also went on a body awareness course for people with learning disabilities. This really helped to improve his confidence and helped him slowly to move on from what had happened. Karen, adult sibling

Support for you

As an adult sibling you may be a key support for your brother or sister through this very difficult time and it is important that you look after yourself too. You may need to talk to other adult siblings or someone at Sibs about your experiences or you may need to see a counsellor in your own right to help you cope with what has happened.