Considerations in the pastoral care of vulnerable adults

In church ministry, the boundaries between work and private life can be difficult to distinguish clearly. These guidelines are not for application to informal friendships arising from church membership, but rather to relationships formed when services are more formally offered by or on behalf of the church. Church workers, paid or voluntary, are expected to endeavour to uphold Christian values in both public ; and private ; areas of their lives.

  • Where possible, arrange visits to a person ;s home beforehand rather than cold-calling ;. This is especially important the first time you visit e.g. at the beginning of a planned programme of visiting. Avoid times or places to meet (including your own home) when you and the vulnerable person will be alone.
  • Make clear from the outset what is being offered (e.g. bereavement counselling) and discuss with the person how s/he would like to be supported, within the structure of the service offered.
  • Consider carrying a form of identity that links you to the church so that the vulnerable person can, if s/he wishes, check you out before letting you in to their home.
  • On a home visit, leave a card or note with your name, role and contact number so that the person, or a carer, knows who you are and how to contact you.
  • Keep a written note of all visits and 1:1 work with adults in a work journal or diary. Log all visits made: times, dates, the purpose of the visit and any concerns that arose.
  • Include the reason for the visit or session, and a note of any concerns that arose.
  • Respect a person ;s independence. Always knock before entering a person ;s room or home; consider the appropriateness of initiating or receiving physical contact when greeting someone.
  • Do not assume that the use of first names rather than the more formal Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms is acceptable; always ask.
  • Someone who lacks capacity to act for him/herself in one area of life may nonetheless be quite capable in other areas; ensure participation and inclusion wherever it is possible. Remember also that, as the Mental Capacity Act 2005 makes clear, every adult who has capacity retains the right to make decisions that others may deem to be unwise.
  • In conversation, consider the appropriate level of language for the needs of the vulnerable adult and be aware of any special difficulties e.g. use of hearing aids, speech impediment or learning disability. Where communication skills are impaired, ask the adult if he or she is comfortable involving a member of the family or a friend to help communication, and let the adult choose who this should be.
  • Where you are seeking to find out the views of a person, or you are asking him or her to make a choice, offer clear unbiased choices and allow the person time to consider and express a decision.
  • Respect the person ;s right to personal space and privacy. Particular consideration should be given when assisting someone to use the toilet; balance the need for physical assistance with the need for dignity and privacy, and involve the person in any decision to either assist or to leave a door unlocked etc.
  • Consider the potential difficulties of home visits and discuss with fellow workers how risks to the vulnerable adult, and to the visitor(s) can be minimised. Remember to:
  • Be sensitive to a person ;s own beliefs and faith; do not try to persuade the person to adopt your own views.
  • When dealing with financial affairs, be very cautious. Honesty, integrity and transparency are all vital. Do not engage in any activity that involves a personal financial gain; do not canvass for church donations from those who may be vulnerable, e.g. the recently bereaved.
  • Do not accept gifts, other than small unsolicited tokens of thanks or birthday/Christmas gifts that are of low value (i.e. an ordinary box of chocolates). Tell a colleague or your supervisor about any gift, even a small one.
  • Be sensitive to any signs of a developing dependency upon you that might be inappropriate, especially where the person ;s vulnerability has arisen in a time of personal crisis. Where you feel an inappropriate attachment might be forming, seek advice from an appropriate source (e.g. the incumbent, the co-ordinator, Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser or Diocesan Safeguarding Officer).
  • If ever you feel that you are moving out of your depth in a relationship with a vulnerable person, or you do not feel competent to deal with a developing situation, step back and seek advice. Make sure you know your routes to support if you are in difficulty.

In working on behalf of the church with an adult who is vulnerable, it would never be appropriate to promise total confidentiality. Always make clear that, although you will keep matters confidential if you possibly can, you reserve the right to share information with appropriate people if you feel someone is at risk of significant harm.