Could curiosity save lives? An exploration into the value of employing professional curiosity and partnership work in safeguarding adults under the Care Act 2014

Date03 October 2019
Publication Date03 October 2019
AuthorHelen Thacker,Ann Anka,Bridget Penhale
SubjectHealth & social care,Vulnerable groups,Adult protection,Safeguarding,Sociology,Sociology of the family,Abuse
Could curiosity save lives? An exploration
into the value of employing professional
curiosity and partnership work in
safeguarding adults under the
Care Act 2014
Helen Thacker, Ann Anka and Bridget Penhale
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to consider the importance of professional curiosity and partnership
work in safeguarding adults from serious harm, abuse and neglect.
Design/methodology/approach The paper draws on a rangeof materials including: review of published
materials inrelation to professional curiosity,reports from adult seriouscase reviews (SCRs) and safeguarding
adult reviews (SARs); relevant materials drawn from the SAR Library, thematic reviews of SARs and Google
searches; observations from practice and experience. It also refers to the relevant academic literature.
Findings Lessons from SCRs and SARs show that a lack of professional curiosity and poor coordination of
support can lead to poor assessments and intervention measures that can fail to support those at risk of
harm and abuse. There are a number of barriers to professionals practicing with curiosity. Working in
partnership enhances the likelihood that professional curiosity will flourish.
Practical implications There are clear implications for improving practice by increasing professional
curiosity amongst professionals. The authors argue that there is a scope to improve professional curiosity by
utilising and developing existing partnerships, and ultimately to help reduce the number of deaths and
incidents of serious harm.
Originality/value The paper considers the importance of employing professional curiosity and
partnership work in safeguarding adultspractice, so enabling practitioners to better safeguard adults at risk
of abuse and neglect.
Keywords Collaboration, Partnership work, Professional curiosity, Safeguarding adult review,
Safeguarding adults, Serious case review
Paper type General review
Professional curiosity and partnership work have been emerging themes, increasingly identified
in learning from adult serious case reviews (SCRs) and safeguarding adult reviews (SARs) (Braye
et al., 2017; Preston-Shoot, 2017). Whilst the notion of professional curiosity is not new in social
work practice, limited literature on the subject exists in key adult social work texts and the
broader literature. For example, although thematic reviews covering SARs on dementia and care
home settings highlight the importance of partnership work through greater engagement with
health, social work and care home staff, professional curiosity is not mentioned as a particular
issue (Manthorpe and Martineau, 2016, 2017). In his analysis of SCRs and SARs, (n¼37)
relating to self-neglect between 2013 and July 2017, Preston-Shoot (2017) identified that failure
to employ curiosity at both the individual direct practice level and organisational level led to
Received 3 April 2019
Revised 26 July 2019
Accepted 16 August 2019
Helen Thacker is based at Adult
Social Services, Norfolk County
Council, Norwich, UK.
Ann Anka is based at the
School of Social Work,
University of East Anglia,
Norwich, UK.
Bridget Penhale is based at the
School of Health Sciences,
University of East Anglia,
Norwich, UK.
VOL. 21 NO. 5 2019, pp. 252-267, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1466-8203 DOI 10.1108/JAP-04-2019-0014
failings to protect those in need of some support/assistance/protection from adult safeguarding.
Braye et al. (2017) also identified that practitioners often failed to employ concerned curiosity
when determining service user autonomy in self-neglect practice. A lack of curiosity has also been
recognised for some time in SCRs when a child dies or is seriously harmed (Brandon et al., 2012).
The reviews held following the high-profile deaths of Victoria Climbie, Peter Connelly and Daniel
Pelka have all called for greater scrutiny and professional curiosity amongst professionals from
statutory agencies. Yet there remains limited discussion of the skills needed to engage in
professional curiosity practice in core social work textbooks and practice literature. Further, most
lessons to be learned detailed in reports from SCRs and SARs highlight a lack of coordinated
systems of support for those needing protection, as well as poor inter-professional and
interagency collaboration by the agencies required to protect those in need of protection from
abuse and neglect. In their analysis of SARs (n¼27), Braye and Preston-Shoot (2017) identified
that a lack of shared approaches to practice was a factor in 23 of the 27 SARs analysed, and
issues with interagency communication and information sharing were factors in 23 of the 27
SARs. Stevens (2013) noted that: in practice, differing professionals may not fully understand
each others roles and responsibilities and both thresholds and scope of adult abuse are still not
universally agreed. Earlier, Perkins et al. (2007, p. 9) commented that resource pressures,
insufficient information sharing and a lack of clarity about roles and responsibilitieshindered
multi-agency work in this area. Whilst understanding the importance of working in partnership
has deepened in recent years, evidence drawn from SARs frequently cites the need for greater
partnership and more coordinated working in order to safeguard adults with care and support
needs (Preston-Shoot, 2017).
This practice paper draws from a review of SARs and SCRs, which were accessed through the
SAR library, reviews of SARs and Google searches, and a thematic analysis of the SARs reviewed
that were relevant to the themes of this paper. The paper contributes to the body of knowledge in
this area of practice by focusing on the relevance of professional curiosity and partnership work in
safeguarding adults. It does so by drawing from the broad literature and observations from
practice, including lessons to be learnt from a number of published SCRs and SARs. The
discussion is contextualised in safeguarding adult practice, policies and law in England. However,
the practice issues discussed have more universal application. Practitioners outside of England
may wish to draw from the practice discussions and apply relevant content, taking into account
the context of their own local and national policies and law.
What is professional curiosity?
There is no clear definitionof professional curiosity,most writers identify a numberof characteristics
associated with the term. Burton and Revell (2018, p. 1512) note that the notion of professional
curiosity appears to be assumed and lacking in clarity. Writing in relation to young people,
Williams and Chisholm (2018, p. 203) suggest being professionally curious entails: asking
questions that give and solicit information without being intrusive or making the [service user] feel
threatened. These should be open-ended and allow for additional probing. Practice literature
suggests that professional curiosity relates to the capacity and communication skills needed to
explore and understand what is happeningwith an individual or family. It is aboutenquiring deeper
and using proactivequestioning and respectful challenge, understanding ones own responsibility
and knowing when to act,rather than making assumptions or takingthings at face value (Brighton
and Hove Safeguarding Childrens Board, 2017; Norfolk Safeguarding Adults Board, 2018).
Policy and legal context
Engagement in practice that includes professional curiosity and partnership work is embedded in
safeguarding adult policies and the Care Act 2014, the main statutory framework which guides
safeguarding adult practice. It is expected within the British Association of Social Work
Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF, 6) (BASW, 2018, p. 26) that those entering social
work education and the profession will: apply imagination, creatively and curiosity to practice.
Drawing from Peterson and Seligmans (2004) work, Sekerka et al. (2014, p 710) defined
curiosity as: a capacity to want to explore possibilities [] choosing to seek out additional
VOL. 21 NO. 5 2019

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