THEY call it ‘safeguarding’ now.
The local authority has a responsibility to protect all sections of its 401,500-strong community from abuse and neglect and is constantly updating its tactics for dealing with such abuse.
Websites imply that the local authority’s main energies are directed towards the protection of children – the Child Safeguarding Board taking most of the hits.
In the light of the Shannon Matthews, Charlie Senior and Sanam Navsarka cases in our area alone, this is not surprising.
You have to work down the web list to find the Adult Safeguarding Board, though its work is no less significant.
Part of the Kirklees team’s remit is to protect the growing number of vulnerable over-65s in the borough from trouble.
This can be viewed in the light of a major study by the charity Action on Elderly Abuse, which this week reckoned that nationwide, 340,000 cases of abuse of the elderly go unreported each year.
There is no evidence that abusers of the elderly are more or less active in Kirklees than elsewhere.
But voluntary and local authority workers believe they have everything in place to prevent abuse now and in whatever circumstances the future brings.
The issue was brought sharply into focus by the case of Violet Smith, the Alzheimer’s patient who suffered severe burns after being left on a commode filled with hot water.
The Batley nursing home where she was staying has now accepted it was at fault for what happened, but a nurse and two care assistants were cleared of wilfully neglecting Violet after a Leeds Crown Court judge this week directed the jury to return a verdict of not guilty.
All three worked together at Carlinghow in Batley, a specialist care home for elderly people with dementia.
During the seven-day trial at Leeds Crown Court the jury heard how in January, 2008, the 87-year old grandmother from Heckmondwike had to undergo significant skin grafts at Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield. She died two months later following a chest infection.
Its insurers have now accepted liability as part of a civil claim being brought by legal experts at Irwin Mitchell on behalf of Violet’s son Rodney Smith.
Mr Smith said: “What my mother had to go through was horrific – made all the worse by the fact that no one could explain to her why she was in such pain.
“Her Alzheimer’s meant she had no idea what had happened to her and of course meant she could not tell us.
“She screamed the place down in agony every time her dressing was changed in hospital or she had to be moved.
“It was so very distressing for both of us and it’s a five week experience that will haunt me forever.”
Pat Akerman, of Calderdale and Kirklees Age Concern, said abuse of the elderly could happen institutionally and in a domestic environment and could be averted by compassionate vigilance.
“Abuse like this can result in death. It’s very serious,” she said.
“It’s important that people are aware of elder abuse and prevent it from happening by letting the local authority, Age Concern, or Action on Elderly Abuse know.”
A Kirklees spokesman said: “The council takes its safeguarding responsibilities very seriously and hosts a multi-agency group who oversee such matters.
“Within adult social care we work closely with partners and have robust procedures in place to follow up allegations of abuse or neglect against vulnerable people.”
Adult Safeguarding Board regularly updates its policies. In addition to its responsibilities for monitoring its own care facilities for the elderly, it contracting section visits independent homes regularly, checking standards and gauging financial assistance levels.
Care management process looks after the individual’s changing needs in care.
In addition, the Government’s CSCI, the Commission for Social Care Inspection, independently registers and inspects premises which specialise in care of the elderly.
One care worker told us: “We believe we have the mechanisms in place to prevent abuse of the elderly. We see our core business as safeguarding vulnerable adults.”
It is the truth that the significant majority of abuse of the elderly takes place in their own homes, and is committed by their own relatives.
Unless that abuse is severe enough to merit the intervention of medical or social services, Action on Elder Abuse – and possibly Kirklees Adult Services – may still be looking at the tip of an appallingly large iceberg.