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What to do if you suspect your parent is being abused

When we see images of neglect and abuse in the news we hope and pray that it won’t happen to our parents.

We often have to trust their wellbeing to strangers, at home or in a care or nursing home. What do we do if we suspect that our parents are being subjected to physical, emotional or financial abuse – not just from strangers but possibly from people that they know and trust?

We’ve gathered tips from various safeguarding organisations on what to do if you suspect abuse in your parent’s care home.

What is considered abuse?

The charity Hourglass, previously known asAction on Elder Abuse (AEA) defines abuse as a “single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to the older person”.

The Department of Health says abuse can take 6 different forms:

  • Physical – hitting, pushing, being handled roughly, restrained or deprived of basic needs
  • Psychological – humiliation and intimidation as well as threats, exclusion and harassment
  • Neglect – ignoring care needs and withholding food, warmth and access to medication
  • Discrimination – racism, sexism, abuse based on disability, slurs and derogatory comments
  • Sexual – acts of any kind that have not been consented to or could not be consented to
  • Financial – theft, exploitation, misuse of funds and pressurised financial transactions

What are the signs of abuse?

The signs may be obvious if physical abuse has occurred but symptoms of psychological or discriminatory abuse can be more difficult to discern especially if your parent is embarrassed of the abuse and hiding the signs.

The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) defines the signs as follows:

  • Physical – unexplained injuries, bruising, unusually shaped burns, malnutrition and bed ulcers
  • Psychological – inability to sleep, loss of appetite, anxiety, confusion or fearfulness
  • Neglect – unexplained weight loss, inappropriate clothing and poor physical condition
  • Discrimination – uncharacteristic expressions of anger, withdrawal or low self-esteem
  • Sexual – unexplained changes in behaviour, torn or soiled clothing and intimate injuries
  • Financial – missing personal possessions, missing funds or inability to pay for care

How does abuse happen?

There are many reasons a care home worker may come to abuse an elderly resident, in some cases unintentionally. AEA suggest that poor staffing levels as well as lack of training, poor communication of care needs and lack of awareness of procedures and policies on abuse can all be contributing factors in cases of abuse.

What do I do when I find out about the abuse?

Whether you witness the abuse first hand, there are signs of abuse you recognise, a member of staff reports the abuse to you or their superior or your parent tells you first hand it’s important to take the right steps to ensure their abuser is brought to justice for the harm they’ve caused your parent.

If your parent confides in you about their mistreatment it can be upsetting for both of you. Letting them know they have your support is an important step to ensuring your parent feels safe again. Reassure them that you’ll take what they’ve told you seriously and act on it in their best interests.

The SCIE have a comprehensive list of dos and don’ts on their website to help you address the situation with your parent and handle it appropriately.

Where should I report abuse?

According to Age UK if your parent is being abused you should report it to their local social services department. This will be part of their local council and will have an emergency number to call should you need to make a safeguarding referral out of office hours.

A safeguarding referral, also known as an adult safeguarding alert, should be recorded and dealt with immediately by the appropriate member of the social care team. Depending on the severity of the allegations and the level of risk to your parent they will determine whether there should be an investigation or whether other arrangements for advice and support need to be made.

If you’ve reported the abuse to your parent’s care home manager, a charity like Age UK, the police or the Care Quality Commission they will all be able to make a safeguarding referral to social services on you and your parent’s behalf and should do so if they have reason to believe your parent is at risk.

It’s also worth contacting the charity HourGlass, either through its website or its helpline (open Mon-Fri 9am-5pm) on 0808 808 8141.

How do I keep my parent safe?

Protecting your parent if you suspect abuse of any kind is of the utmost important. If you’re concerned for their safety or that a criminal offence has been committed you should call 999 to report it to the police before seeking further action against their care home via social services.

Certain forms of sexual and physical abuse are considered a criminal offence and will be subject to a criminal investigation whereas institutional abuse could be down to neglect or poor professional practice and are subject to investigation by the Adult Safeguarding Board.

If you choose to proceed with a criminal investigation of your parent’s abuse it’s worth bearing in mind that this could put emotional strain on them as well as you, especially if they have to testify against their abuser in court.

What can I do to protect my parent?

Removing your parent from their care home may also be an option especially if the care staff are being investigated by social services as a result of your safeguarding referral.

Local authorities and care professionals have a duty to uphold the Human Rights Act 1998 which relates to abuse of privacy and personal care needs as well as the 2010 Equality Act which protects your parent from discrimination of any kind.

If your parent has dementia or perhaps is unable to make important decisions for themselves they are protected under the 2005 Mental Capacity Act which outlines that actions made on behalf of your parent must be in their best interests.

All these different forms of legislation are in place to protect your parent and can be cited as evidence of wrong-doing or poor care in a case against their abuser.

The government’s policy on Adult Safeguarding states that local authorities need to take leadership in instances of elder abuse ensuring that the necessary steps are taken to protect your parent. Prevention, Protection and Accountability are 3 of 6 principles they’ve set down for social care departments to work by in order to make sure your parent’s abuser is punished appropriately. For more information you can read the full policy here.

While your parent may not experience financial abuse if they’re in a care home it’s always good to make sure that your parent has the proper paperwork in place. A Power of Attorney can help to protect your parent from financial abuse providing the person they’ve trusted to act as their advocate doesn’t take advantage of their position.

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3 years ago

Where do I turn to ? Mum had dementia and was in a “ reputable “ West Sussex Care Home …in Jan 21 I was told she refused to eat so would be made comfortable but her food and hydration would be stopped I was told she was dying so I was allowed to visit …I panicked and arranged hydration via a GP and when visiting I brought food and drink…( without telling the head nurse or carers ) mum drank and ate everything as if she was starving ..she recovered and from being almost unresponsive she got back to… Read more »

Reply to  Tina
2 years ago

Hello Tina

It is so sad to hear of your experiences and I am sorry for your loss.

May I ask if you obtained any form for justice for your mum?

We too are going through a similar situation in our father was neglected in his Brighton Nursing Home 

Charlene Gorham
Charlene Gorham
3 years ago

I live in a care home and I am being abused by the staff and manager and sue Annie

Susan Millar
Susan Millar
2 years ago

Hi there, my dad has been a victim of financial abuse since 30th March 2021. It was xxxxx home carer xxxxxxx stole money from from my dad and she pinned the blame on me and she said that I stole the money from my dad and I didn’t. She is a pest and a liar and thief. She said that she is robbing from the elderly and she laughed and found it funny. It’s not funny at all. I reported her to xxxxx and they sacked her from her home carer job for doing inappropriate behaviour of theft to my… Read more »

Matt R
Matt R
9 months ago

My mum has Alzheimer’s and my dad has systematically maneuvered myself and my sisters out of her life. We’ve discovered that he’s neglecting her care (personal hygiene, feeding, keeping the house clean, etc.) as he is cheating on her behind her back. Even though we’re available to go live with her when he goes on holiday with his new woman he shoves her in a care home without telling us about it. He won’t divorce her because he has a lot of money and can’t bear the thought of having to give her half of it. We’ve tried reporting him… Read more »

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