Professional Curiosity (1)

The importance of professional curiosity in safeguarding adults

Published: 09/12/2020

Author: Helen Thacker, Dr Ann Anka and Bridget Penhale

Professional curiosity is a concept which has been recognised as important in the area of safeguarding children for many years. More recently however, Safeguarding Adult Reviews (SARs) have highlighted a similar need for professional curiosity in safeguarding adults with care and support needs (Braye et al 2014; Preston-Shoot 2017).

A Research in Practice briefing, written for senior leaders from organisations who are represented on Safeguarding Adults Boards (SABs), considers professional curiosity in safeguarding adults. The briefing draws from research and published SARs to examine the nature of professional curiosity and the enablers that strategic leaders can put in place to create the conditions for cultures of curiosity to develop and grow in their organisations.

The structure and service values of an organisation or partnership will have a deep impact on the likelihood that curiosity will thrive. The briefing examines eight key areas that strategic leaders could focus on to develop the conditions for professional curiosity to flourish.

  • Involving people who use services – learning about what is important to people so practice can be adapted to meet their needs and outcomes (Local Government Association, 2020a).
  • Time and capacity – reviewing efficiency, and reducing stress and pressure on professionals to create space for reflection (Local Government Association, undated resource).
  • Structure and working practices – maximising opportunities for contacts with managers and colleagues through informal discussions particularly using telephone, video conferencing or other electronic systems to support curiosity when working remotely (Cooper, 2019). Using strengths-based practice frameworks which encourage a focus on the individual and their situation (Social Care Institute for Excellence, 2015).
  • Supervision and support – providing good quality supervision which offers reflection, critical analysis and respectful challenge (Broadhurst et al, 2010; Revell and Burton, 2016).
  • Legal and safeguarding literacy – enabling practitioners to make appropriate connections between legal rules and their professional practice (Preston-Shoot and McKimm, 2013; Preston-Shoot 2017).
  • Learning and development – providing programmes of learning and development that create conditions for curiosity to be optimised and maintained (Kashdan and Fincham, 2004; Mantell and Jennings, 2016).
  • Open culture – encouraging and enabling challenge to existing norms from frontline professionals and promoting innovative practice (Mantell and Jennings, 2016).
  • Partnership working – bringing together different perspectives, sharing information, identifying an individual to coordinate activities, building a picture, managing difficulties between professionals (Thacker et al, 2019).

These are examined further within the strategic briefing and key messages and actions that can be taken to develop a culture of curiosity are provided.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that systems known to support curious practice can disappear. The crisis presents additional challenges for professionals carrying out face-to-face risk assessments where there are safeguarding concerns. It imposes restrictions on full observations and assessments of the adult’s environment, including for those experiencing coercive control and when Mental Capacity Act 2005 assessments are required.

Creativity and curiosity are important when using telephone or video-conferencing not only to conduct safeguarding adult enquiries due to the significant challenges in assessing the full extent of risk, harm, abuse and neglect within the environment, but also for managers carrying out supervision. Domakin (2020) describes how managers can continue to support their teams while working remotely and provides links to useful resources. The Royal College of Nursing (2020) issued guidance including an emphasis on the increased need to exercise curiosity around language and interactions with those with dementia, recognising the additional demands on adults and their carers during the pandemic.

The option to temporarily suspend most of the duties owed to adults with care and support needs under the Care Act 2014 easement introduced by schedule 12 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 is another example that has real implications for professional practice. However, this does not mean that we should stop our pursuit to be professionally curious. The Care Act 2014 easement guidance makes clear that support should be provided to avoid breach of conventional rights. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC, 2020a) has implemented an ethical framework for adult social care to support ongoing planning and decision-making during the COVID-19 crisis.

Aimed at planners, strategic policymakers and professionals with statutory responsibilities in adult social care, the framework draws attention to the importance of being able to respond to and adapt to change; a key attribute of a professionally curious person. The values underpinning the ethical framework for adult social care mirror the six principles of safeguarding adults (DHSC, 2020b) and other existing legislative frameworks and thus strengthen existing ethical bases for using curiosity within professional practice. The British Association of Social Workers (2020) has also produced guidance on ethics and the Local Government Association (2020b) has collated guidance from a range of sources which support organisations and professionals to exercise curiosity during the pandemic.

It is important to remember that curiosity is required to support professionals to question and challenge the information they receive, identify concerns and make connections to enable a greater understanding of a person’s situation.

Helen Thacker, Dr Ann Anka and Bridget Penhale

Helen Thacker is the Head of Service, Safeguarding for Norfolk County Council Adult Social Services Department. Dr Ann Anka is a Lecturer in Social Work at the University of East Anglia. Bridget Penhale is a Reader in Mental Health of Older People at the University of East Anglia.

Professional Curiosity In Safeguarding Adults Sb Coverimage

Professional curiosity in safeguarding adults: Strategic Briefing

This Strategic Briefing draws from research and Safeguarding Adults Reviews to examine the nature of professional curiosity and the enablers that strategic leaders can put in place to create the conditions for a culture of curiosity in their organisations.
View the briefing


Braye S, Orr D and Preston-Shoot M (2014) Self-neglect policy and practice: building an evidence base for adult social care.

British Association of Social Work (2020) Covid-19 Pandemic – Ethical Guidance for Social Workers.

Broadhurst K, White S, Fish S, Munro E, Fletcher K and Lincoln H (2010) Ten pitfalls and how to avoid them: What research tells us. NSPCC.

Cooper J (2019) 11 tips to improve hotdesking for social workers. Community Care online

Department of Health and Social Care (2020a) The Ethical framework for Adult Social Care.

Department of Health and Social Care (2020b) Care Act guidance: care and support statutory guidance

Domakin A (2020) Supporting remote and online supervision during COVID-19

Kashdan T and Fincham F (2004) ‘Facilitating curiosity: a social and self-regulatory perspective for scientifically based interventions’. In: Linley P and Joseph S (eds) Positive psychology in practice. John Wiley and Sons Inc, New Jersey.

Local Government Association (undated) Efficiency resources

Local Government Association (2020a) Making Safeguarding Personal Toolkit (version 4). 

Local Government Association (2020b) COVID-19 safeguarding adults FAQs

Mantell A and Jennings M (2016) ‘Nosey Parkers? Professional curiosity in nursing and social work’. Paper presented at Network for Psychiatric Nursing Research NPNR Conference, Nottingham, South Bank University, London, 15-16 September.

Preston-Shoot M (2017) What difference does legislation make? Adult safeguarding through the lens of Serious Case Reviews and Safeguarding Adult Reviews

Preston-Shoot M and McKimm J (2013) ‘Exploring UK medical and social work students’ legal literacy: comparisons, contrasts and implications’. Health and Social Care in the Community 21, 3, 271–282.

Revell L and Burton V (2016) ‘Supervision and the Dynamics of Collusion: A Rule of Optimism?’ British Journal of Social Work 46, 1587–1601.

Royal College of Nursing (2020) Remote consultations guidance under COVID-19 restrictions.

Social Care Institute for Excellence (2015) Care Act guidance on strengths-based approaches

Thacker H, Anka A and Penhale B (2019) ‘Could curiosity save lives? An exploration into the value of employing professional curiosity and partnership work in safeguarding adults under the Care Act 2014’. Journal of Adult Protection 21, 5, 252-267.