Adult protection data and connectivity: a study of the relationship between social deprivation and adult protection referrals in Northern Ireland

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Background: There is a growing realization globally that certain adults such as older people or individuals with learning disabilities or mental illness are subject to abuse, harm or exploitation. International research into adult protection is limited and tends to consider causes and solutions at an individual micro level. There are major gaps in knowledge and understanding of adult protection particularly around theorising adult protection, and developing policy and practice responses. In this innovative project we gathered and analysed the ‘big data set’ of social work adult protection referrals to explore the relationship and impact of deprivation, considering wider structural issues such as poverty, unemployment and service provision, on adults who are in need of protection.

Methods: Building on the methodologies used for mapping inequalities in child welfare intervention rates across the UK (Bywaters et al., 2020), we investigated the relationship between area level deprivation and adult safeguarding interventions across Northern Ireland (NI). We accessed routinely gathered adult protection referrals and case details, and linked the postcode of the referral to Super Output Area (SOA) and Multiple Deprivation Measures (MDM) for community and residential cases. The MDM includes ‘domains’ of deprivation: Income; Employment; Health; Education; Access to services; Living environment; Crime and Disorder. Data were analysed for all available entries made into the social work referral recording system between 2015 and 2022 in relation to adult protection referrals, screenings, investigations and planning. Data on area level deprivation decile were linked through the service-user postcode, and then mapped to referral/intervention data through the unique service user ID. Both relative and absolute measures of inequality (Ratio of Inequality, Slope Index of Inequality and Relative Index of Inequality) were calculated to examine trends. Service user data were accessed remotely on a secure online platform and analysed using SSPSS and STATA.

Findings. The community referral data showed trends towards rates of adult safeguarding referrals and interventions decreasing as area level deprivation decreased. Comparing the most and least deprived categories, we found that community referral/screening rates were higher in areas of greatest deprivation than in areas of least deprivation. The same patterns were apparent for both gender and age, with referral and intervention rates for females and those aged 65+ years being consistently higher across deciles. Data for institutional settings (currently undergoing analysis) follows a similar pattern.

Conclusions and implications: Social Workers are increasingly focused on the protection of adults from abuse, with limited research to understand the role played by societal issues and inequalities. This project has enabled the connection of routine gathered administrative data to identify and explain inequalities in adult protection across Northern Ireland. These findings will inform policy and practice in Northern Ireland, and show how routinely collected administrative data can develop data driven policy and practice at national and local level, focusing attention on poverty and material inequality and prompting service providers and policy makers to consider the features such inequality and its impact on the risk of abuse.
Period18 Apr 2024
Event title13th European Conference for Social Work Research 2024
Event typeConference
LocationVilnius, LithuaniaShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational