Adult protection

Signs of harm

Who is at risk of harm?

An adult at risk of harm is a person (aged 16 years or over) who is:

  • unable to safeguard their own wellbeing, property, rights or other interests
  • at risk of harm
  • more vulnerable because they are affected by disability, mental disorder, illness or physical or mental infirmity

What is meant by harm?

There are many different types of harm, including:

  • physical - can include hitting, shaking, punching, pulling hair etc, locking them in a room or limiting their freedom
  • emotional/psychological - can include being made to feel scared or embarrassed, being intimidated or bullied, constantly criticised, not being allowed to see or talk freely to other people
  • neglect - can include not being given the correct medication or care, not allowed to see a doctor or other health professional, not allowed enough food or have proper heating, lack of privacy and dignity
  • financial - can include stealing, fraud, forcing to hand over money or goods, misuse of property or benefits or stopping someone getting their own money or possessions
  • sexual abuse - can include any sexual activity that the person does not understand or want, degrading or inappropriate photographs

How to recognise if someone is being harmed or is at risk of harm

There are a number of ways to recognise if an adult is at risk of abuse or neglect. Some of these include:

  • the adult themselves may advise they are being harmed or they may make a comment which leads you to suspect they are being abused or neglected
  • unusual, unexplained or suspicious injury
  • unexplained loss of weight or increased confusion
  • the adult may appear frightened of a particular person
  • being unable to spend time alone with the adult due to the insistence or presence of another
  • unexplained debts or reduction in assets may be indicators of financial abuse

Who can cause harm?

Anyone can harm. It could be a:

  • carer
  • relative
  • spouse/partner
  • friend
  • neighbour
  • volunteer
  • another service user
  • member of staff in a health/care setting

Where can harm happen?

Anywhere, this could be in the family home or any type of social or health care setting, hospital ward, care home, day service, social club or respite service.

The law

The Adult Support and Protection (Scotland) Act 2007 was introduced by the Scottish Government in October 2008. Part one of the Act deals with the protection of adults at risk of harm.

The Act can be used to deal with any harm, whether deliberate or not. It may also be used for adults at risk who are harming or neglecting themselves, or who are experiencing domestic abuse.


Customer Advice and Support Service

Address: Council Headquarters
Newtown St. Boswells

Telephone: 0300 100 1800