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Protecting Vulnerable Adults

Adults at risk have the right to be kept safe from abuse and neglect.

Every individual has a right to:

  • a life free from fear
  • be treated with dignity
  • have their choice respected and not be forced to do anything against their will

Parents, guardians and carers have the main responsibility for keeping adults at risk safe and promoting their well-being. But parents, guardians and carers may have their own issues and problems and need extra support to do so.

Some adults at risk can be totally dependent on their parents, guardians or carers. They may or may not know it, and it can be hard for them to ask for help.

It’s everyone’s job to make sure that adults at risk get help when they need it, where parents, guardians or carers don’t seem to be managing to meet their needs. This can be happening within any kind of family, anywhere in Shetland.

Who are Adults at Risk?

"Adult" means an individual aged 16 years or over. Adults at risk have additional support needs and may be dependent on others. They might be:

  • Older people or people with illnesses who are dependent on the help of others
  • People with learning disabilities
  • People with a physical or sensory impairment
  • People with mental health problems
  • People unable to protect themselves from serious harm or being taken advantage of
  • People who are controlled or suppressed by dominant partners

Most adults with additional support needs manage to live their lives comfortably and securely, either independently or with assistance from caring relatives, friends, neighbours, professionals or volunteers. However, for a small number, dependence on someone may produce conflict, exploitation and harm.

What is harm?

"Harm" includes all hurtful conduct and, in particular, includes:

  • Physical harm - hitting, pushing, shaking, restricting freedom
  • Sexual harm - sexual activity without consent, sexual harassment, photographing
  • Financial harm - adversely affecting property, rights or interests (such as theft, fraud or extortion)
  • Neglect - denial of medical care, food, heating, privacy
  • Self-harm - If the adult engages or is likely to engage in conduct which causes self harm
  • Discriminatory harm - against age, race, culture, disability, gender, background or sexual orientation
  • Psychological harm - such as causing fear, alarm or distress, threatening behaviour, verbal abuse, controlling or bullying

Possible signs of harm are

  • Physical harm - unusual or unexplained injuries, a delay in seeking treatment for injuries or illness, sudden increase in confusion, unexplained deterioration of health or appearance
  • Sexual harm - unexplained changes of behaviour, becoming anxious or withdrawn, fear of another person
  • Financial harm - unexplained debt, not paying bills, another person using the adult’s possessions, bank account or property without his or her informed consent
  • Neglect - not having their basic needs met, such as adequate food or heating not being provided with adequate information about their rights or entitlements, or being misinformed, the adult at risk not receiving appropriate care
  • Self-harm signs may include unexplained injuries and signs of depression or low-self esteem (such as burning or cutting skin, punching themselves or an eating disorder)
  • Discriminatory harm - prejudicial actions or remarks to the adult at risk about age, gender, disability, race, colour, sexual or religious orientation
  • Psychological harm - people being anxious or afraid, misuse of medication - not giving medicines properly, unexplained changes of behaviour, becoming anxious or withdrawn, fear of another person, pressure by family or professionals to have someone moved into or taken out of care, hostile or unkind behaviour by a person

Financial Harm

What is financial harm? 

“Financial harm can lead to someone feeling under pressure to hand over money or possessions. It can involve exploitation of property or welfare benefits or stopping someone getting their money or possessions, stealing, cheating or fraud. It includes an adult being under pressure to re-write a will. (definition from Act Against Harm website http://www.actagainstharm.org/what-is-harm )

“The intentional or opportunistic appropriation of the income, capital or property of a vulnerable person through theft, fraud, deception, undue influence or exploitation ; including the hoarding of a vulnerable person's resources for future gain which is also a form of exploitation and may be associated with culpable neglect” Brown 2003 (quoted by Scot Gov)

Anyone can be the victim of a fraud and criminals can be very clever at targeting more vulnerable or older people through e mails, post or telephone. In some families it may be adults who are facing their own problems such as alcohol or drug misuse who may seek to take financial advantage of more vulnerable or older family members.  It is also important to remember that financial harm can also be connected to other forms of harm such as neglect and psychologically abuse.

Everyone should be aware that scams can take many forms.  People in Shetland report scammers pretending to be from all kinds of well-known organisations and businesses, including HMRC, TV Licensing and banks.  The scammer is trying all kinds of ways to get us to part with personal or financial information, in order to get their hands on our money.  Scammers can make it appear that they are calling from genuine phone numbers, which helps to make their story more plausible.  We recommend that you always check any suspicious phone call, email or text message with Trading Standards or Citizens Advice – and if you’re concerned about the security of your bank account then contact your bank right away.  If you have lost money to a scam, you should report it to Police Scotland on 101.

If anyone becomes aware of an adult who is being financially harmed then an adult protection referral can be made to Adult Social Work.

Help can also be found at the following sources:- Police Scotland – 101, also advice from your own local bank branch and www.safershetland.com

Action Fraud

Report a scam to Action Fraud. They provide a special service, alongside  Victim Support, for carers to report scams on behalf of a vulnerable victim. The victim must be one of the following:

  • under 17
  • have a mental health problem or learning difficulty
  • have a physical disability.

The website address is www.actionfraud.police.uk and the telephone number is 0300 123 2040.

Age UK


Shetland Islands Trading Standards- reporting scams, rogue traders and suspicious post or e mails can help stop other people from becoming victims of financial harm


Shetland Islands Citizens Advice Bureau are always happy to provide advice and support to anyone who is concerned about possible harm


Scottish Government – Act Against Harm


Think Jessica


National Trading Standards


Anti Bullying

Local contacts about Anti Bullying for everyone

National contacts about Anti Bullying

Action on Elder Abuse Scotland 


Scottish Older People's Assembly


Staying Safe on Social Media

Scottish Families affected by Alcohol and Drugs - Scottish Families Bereavement Service 

Call: 08080 10 10 11

Email: helpline@sfad.org.uk

Chat on our live webchat via our website: www.sfad.org.uk

If you are making a referral on behalf of someone else you can fill out our online referral form: https://www.sfad.org.uk/professionals/referral

If making a referral please ensure you have the permission of the person being referred.

You can find a printable leaflet on this service here: https://www.sfad.org.uk/content/uploads/2018/03/Bereavement-Leaflet.pdf  For hard copies of this, or any of our other leaflets, please contact info@sfad.org.uk

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What to do and who to contact?

If you are being harmed, or are concerned that someone you know may be at risk of harm you should speak to someone about it as soon as you can.

If you or the person being harmed is in immediate danger you should ring the police on 999, for non-emergency Police Scotland can be contacted on 101.

If it is less urgent, you can contact:

Social Work
Shetland Islands Council
Grantfield, Lerwick
Tel: 01595 744468 (availble 9am-5pm)
Out of hours Tel: 01595 695611

The Police
Lerwick Police Station
Market Street
Tel: 101

in an emergency call 999

 Useful Links

Advocacy Service: Independent Advocacy Service for Shetland

Local Office:  Joyce Horne, Support Co-ordinator for Shetland, 14 Market Street, Lerwick, ZE1 0DE
Tel: 01595 744524 / E Mail joyce.horne@victimsupportsco.org.uk

Act Against Harm: Adult Support and Protection http://www.actagainstharm.org/

Adults Support and Protection Day 2021 -Newsletter 

Alzheimer Scotland http://www.alzscot.org/

Age Scotland https://www.ageuk.org.uk/scotland/

Shetland Islands Council Trading Standards http://www.shetland.gov.uk/tradingstandards/

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If you are concerned about someone’s welfare, please tell someone who can help.

These are the phone numbers:

Duty Social Work
Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm:
01595 744468

Outside office hours:
01595 695611

Police: 101