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Last week we were reviewing our safeguarding policy in the light of a new and much more intellectually able Service User coming to live with us. We wanted to ensure she could have as much freedom, control and responsibility possible over her life, including independently managing her pocket money and even purchasing items for herself online.
In order to allow her to learn about money management and budgeting, we agreed to operate a very ‘arm’s length’ approach when supporting her in the community. We undertook a risk assessment and considered the potential problems that might arise.
Irregularity in the news
A couple of news stories over the last month caught my eye and these were pertinent to our discussion.
“A deputy care home manager is facing a possible prison sentence after she admitted defrauding 25 residents out of almost £17,000. Denise Nichols, of Kiveton Lane, Rotherham, admitted taking £14,646.84 from residents at the Wensley Street Care Home in Sheffield.” (BBC News; 2nd January 2014) – This relates to a care service for up to 30 adults with learning disabilities whose staff member had misappropriated funds.
“A learning disability charity has repaid £60,000 to 12 care home residents in Hampshire following claims of financial irregularities. The allegations centred on the way staff at Mencap's Dolphin Court made purchases on behalf of its dependents.” (BBC News; 24th December 2013) – This concerns the use of Service Users’ money for staff entertainment on a holiday.
We need to be aware that the controls we place on financial management are essential to avoid this type of activity. Staff need to be trained to recognise the potential for abuse and ensure the culture of the organisation reflects this understanding. All transactions must be accounted for and all records clear and accurate. Team members must appreciate that even casual use of pocket money needs an audit trail, and why.
Safe practice and risk management
It’s important that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater here; greater independence is the goal for people with learning disabilities and we need to help them by enabling freedom and choice over access to money and using it. However, the key concerns must always be security and the protection of vulnerable people.
Consider the use of individual risk assessments around the levels of freedom and support your service users need. Make sure everyone understands how to afford independence whilst guarding against abuse, to respect individual rights and behave responsibly and with integrity.
Ginny Tyler – QCS Learning Disability Expert Contributor