Collaborative problem solving for community safety
Collaborative problem solving for community safety

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Collaborative problem solving for community safety

4 Identifying vulnerability

4.1 The importance of identifying vulnerability in community policing

Watch the following video.

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We have our annual conference today. We're holding it at Sunningdale. This year the theme of the conference, the entire conference, is vulnerability in all its forms. And as we know from the work we did on demand, the biggest shift in police work in recent years as well as online work is the move towards policing vulnerability and protecting people who might be vulnerable for a whole range of reasons.
We think this is hugely important, and I hope the way we have designed the day and the speakers and the workshops that we will all be able to move on further in improving our skills and professionalism in the area of vulnerability.
So we have the Home Secretary speaking-- very positive about the work at the college. Talked about some additional funding to help us do more work around vulnerability, including a licence to practise.
You have the power to make a real difference to the experience vulnerable people have of our policing system with the college at the centre supporting police professionalism and driving reform. And central to this reform agenda, as I have announced today, will be the establishment of a licence to practise, which will ensure that only those officers who are qualified to work in high-risk areas like child protection, are able to do so
We then had probably the most powerful presentation I've ever seen at a conference which was delivered by the mother of Breck Brednar, who was murdered having been groomed online. And Lorin, his mother, came to speak at the conference today. And in a deeply moving way, explained what had happened to her son, how she had contacted the police, what had not gone well, and the lessons we could all learn from it.
We then broke into a whole series of workshops at the conference-- some focusing on perpetrators, offenders, and how we prevent them from committing more harm, issues around mental health and how mental health can be a big aspect of vulnerability, issues around victim care and how we protect people who are vulnerable and keep them within the system and keep them safe. And we'll bring that all back together this afternoon with a panel. And I will summarise the learning from the day.
It's been very powerful. There have been some moments today that have really, really, really made me reflect. I hope you leave here also reflecting on the shared learning that we've brought together in the room.
But in many ways, we've got the converted here today. And I think it's an opportunity to give them the best current knowledge for them as champions then to take it out into the wider policing world.
PHIL MILLS: I thought it was really interesting listening to the talk about the Breck Foundation and the real importance of call handling and the information and then the follow-up as to what we're telling people that have make contact with us and what that means and the training for staff that are involved in that call handling.
It just strikes home to me that everything we are trying to do around THRIVE and just recognising that vulnerability is just so crucial.
It's about not just ticking boxes but putting into practise what you preach and really in relation to training supports.
And Dr. Ian Hesketh with the internal dimension on vulnerability and well-being being, I think that is crucial as well. So we shouldn't forget that.
And as a line manager, I need to be aware of where people are perhaps not coping and do the right thing by them.
It was an exciting opportunity to listen from the fairly newly appointed Home Secretary and for her to talk about some national policing issues around vulnerability. Also to hear about some of the exciting practise that will be forthcoming through the licence to practise and the College of Policing and some of the efforts that they make in their own national standards in policing as well.
I thought it was really well-organized. I think if you're not a member of the College of Policing, you should join up because this was really good. All the other support is valuable to you. And that it just helps you do your day job. So I would recommend any of the conference. People just come along and spend the day here and enjoy it really.
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As we can see from the interviewees in this short video clip, identifying vulnerable people is a key part of community policing. Speaking at the November 2016 conference of the College of Policing, College CEO, Chief Constable Alex Marshall, asserted that ‘Vulnerability is a priority for everyone in policing and it is important that we protect the most vulnerable in society and the officers and staff carrying out this essential work’

But what is vulnerability? While there are many working definitions the one most commonly referred to comes from the 1997 Who Decides? report. In that report a vulnerable adult is defined as a person…

who is or may be in need of community care services by reason of mental or other disability, age or illness and who is or may be unable to take care of him or herself, or unable to protect him or herself against significant harm or exploitation.

Lord Chancellor’s Department, Who Decides?, 1997

When it comes to children, definitions of vulnerability are similarly diverse and often vary depending on the context of application. A more ‘plain English’ description is given by the Child and Maternity Health Observatory:

A vulnerable child… is one who is not within the social care system, but where there are warning signals that the child is becoming at risk of harm. The child and his or her family is likely to be receiving help from one or more agencies, and while no single agency has identified a significant risk to the child, when information from all agencies is pooled, the picture that emerges indicates that there are many factors having a negative impact on the child. While inter-agency data sharing to resolve child protection concerns is established, data sharing to identify these children who are earlier on in the process tends not to happen routinely in a similar way.

ChiMat Identifying Vulnerable Children, 2013

Police officers, social workers and other community-based professionals may have to use their professional judgement to intervene in people’s lives. One of the reasons is because an individual may be deemed vulnerable in some way and may even need some decisions made on his or her behalf. It is important to note that this idea of ‘vulnerability’ is often challenged by people using services and groups representing them – on the basis that this term does not acknowledge people’s strengths and emphasises only one negative aspect of their lives.

Activity 6 Identifying vulnerability in your community: At risk groups and behaviours

Timing: Allow 15 minutes for this activity.

As highlighted by the definitions above, one challenge when discussing ‘vulnerability’ is recognising who exactly is vulnerable and the indicative behaviours.

Think about who you would include under the category of ‘vulnerable people’ in the community in which you live or work, and why. You may be able to draw upon your own work experience, or your experiences of receiving services.


Those involved in community safety work will inevitably find themselves working with a range of groups who may be categorised as vulnerable, including children, older people, people with physical, mental or learning impairments, people who are unwell or caring for dependents, people who have drug or alcohol problems, and offenders.

This is quite a lengthy list, but does this mean that they are ‘vulnerable’? This question is difficult to answer partly because of the different ways in which the word ‘vulnerable’ is understood. Does it, for example, include people who, despite being able to understand their needs and make decisions for themselves, would be at risk of physical or emotional harm if they did not receive services? To what extent do you think that vulnerability is simply the result of social disadvantage or lack of opportunity?


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