Last updated: 01.03.23

What are the 6 Principles of Safeguarding?

Safeguarding is something that you’ll come across whilst working in a wide variety of industries, including education, health and social care. There are a lot of different safeguarding practices and processes in place that help to identify and protect individuals that may be at risk of abuse or neglect, and each of these is informed by the key principles of safeguarding.

If you work in an industry or a role where you have safeguarding responsibilities, knowing the key principles of safeguarding is a major part of understanding how best to enact these obligations. In this article, we’re going to go through each of the six safeguarding principles, explaining a little about what each means in context, as well as giving some examples of where they might apply.

Why Were the 6 Principles of Safeguarding Created?

The Care Act 2014 is a piece of government legislation that deals with protecting and safeguarding adults. It’s a broad-ranging document that considers both carers and those who require care, and when it came into force in 2015, it replaced much of what had gone before. 

As part of this, the government created six key principles of safeguarding, which are the important elements of any good safeguarding policy in any organisation, business or even community. While the Care Act, and the principles, are primarily focused towards safeguarding adults, many of the themes are also appropriate when it comes to protecting children from abuse, neglect and harm as well.

What are the Principles of Safeguarding?

There are 6 main principles of safeguarding as outlined in the Care Act; empowerment, prevention, protection, proportionality, partnerships and accountability.


One of the most important elements of safeguarding is empowerment, which was traditionally missing from legislation and guidelines around protecting vulnerable people in the past. 

Empowerment in safeguarding is all about giving individuals as much freedom and power over decisions made about themselves as is reasonably possible. Even those who are vulnerable can have an influence on how they are treated, which ranges from ensuring that they have given consent to giving them choices about how they might want to deal with a situation or approach their safeguarding needs in the future.

Upholding the principle of empowerment isn’t always easy depending on the care environment, but those who regularly ensure that they’re keeping people they care for informed, and consult them wherever possible, are appropriately following this principle. As care pathways develop, empowerment will likely become increasingly important, with more options given to vulnerable adults.

It’s also important to remember that empowerment isn’t just about giving people a choice; it’s also about giving them the confidence to make those decisions. This comes about by providing strong support and reassurance and ensuring that they have all of the information that they need to come to a decision.


Preventing neglect, harm and abuse is the core function of safeguarding, which makes prevention the most important element of safeguarding. 

It is far better to take steps to prevent safeguarding issues from occurring rather than dealing with the situation when they do. Just as with healthcare and medicine in particular, the outcomes are far better when safeguarding issues are prevented altogether.

Prevention can be achieved through numerous methods, but excellent foresight and planning are essential. Organisations that have a sound safeguarding policy in place will be able to do a lot when it comes to identifying risks before they become an issue and notifying appropriate services so that situations can be dealt with before they cause anyone major harm. 

If we think about security in a nursing home, for example, prevention of unauthorised access or exit to or from the premises is hugely important, and doing so correctly will ensure that a large number of safeguarding risks never become a problem. Putting locks on doors, keeping visitation records, and issuing visitor passes are all examples of preventative safeguarding measures in the context of premises security.


Protection refers to the core act of giving vulnerable people care and support when they need it. From physical to psychological abuse, the Care Act insists that those who deal with safeguarding be fully ready to give people protection through a range of different services and interventions. 

An official safeguarding policy is important here, because individuals need to know what the correct protective response is to the situation. Anyone working with children or vulnerable adults should know either how to protect those that they care for, or which authority to go to in order to get support for this.

Protection is one of the more serious elements of safeguarding because it sometimes requires significant action - even prosecution of those at fault in some cases. Often, the people that need protection in safeguarding are the ones that are unable to protect themselves or seek out appropriate protection, so safeguarding professionals need to be prepared to intervene.


There is no one-size-fits-all approach to safeguarding, particularly as many elements of it are hugely sensitive in nature. As a result, proportionality is considered an element of safeguarding, meaning that it’s important that every case is dealt with individually and with all the facts taken into account, without excessive intrusion.

Proportionality in safeguarding means that intervention, support or even just investigation should be done with the least amount of intrusion as possible. This is true when planning preventative safeguarding measures that involve a particular person or when dealing with problems or dangers that may have arisen.

When dealing with friends and family in safeguarding situations, proportionality is especially important. If neglect, abuse or harm is suspected to be occurring within a family, the response must be correct. Excessive reaction to the situation can sometimes cause more harm than good, which is why proportionality is seen as being very important for care workers and other people working for local authorities. 

Those who work on the front lines of care, such as someone working as a carer for the elderly, may not be directly involved with the response to an issue of safeguarding. But even if their remit is primarily in regard to reporting, this doesn’t mean that they don’t need to be aware of this principle.


Safeguarding should be a communal process rather than the sole responsibility of certain individuals. There are many reasons for this, with the most important being that safeguarding is simply more effective where partnerships are created and incorporated into practice.

Where the whole community is more involved, it’s more likely that those who deal with safeguarding will be effective in their roles and that neglect, abuse and harm are less likely to happen and more likely to be discovered. This is why a multi-agency approach is used so often when dealing with a safeguarding complaint.

Safeguarding doesn’t always involve people who spend most of their time in care. Vulnerable adults may only have limited contact with those who are mindful of safeguarding, which means that it’s really important for safeguarding staff to build partnerships and relationships with other people that the individual does come into contact with. The better-linked everyone is, the more effective the service.

Partnerships should form between safeguarding services in order to uphold this safeguarding principle. Safeguarding is something that care workers, healthcare workers, social workers and others have to think about, and when their clients and patients overlap, it’s important that information is shared and actions coordinated for the best effect.


Following on from the communal aspect of safeguarding is accountability. Accountability in safeguarding means that while named employees are most responsible for safeguarding, it’s up to everyone to do their part. 

Anyone relevant should be accountable for the role they play in safeguarding, and responsibility should not be shirked. In more serious cases where neglect, abuse or harm has occurred, authorities and the courts can become involved, which means that it’s incredibly important that all safeguarding processes are documented and responsibilities are clear. Where people are not accountable and assume that someone else will take responsibility, a safeguarding policy can be ineffective.

Related to this is the issue of transparency. All actions pertaining to safeguarding should be made clear to relevant authorities, and parties involved should be kept informed too. While information about safeguarding cases is often sensitive and needs to be managed properly, it should not be inaccessible to those who should have it or need to have it.


What does safeguarding mean?

Safeguarding is a term that describes the measures taken to protect people’s health, well-being and rights, particularly children, the elderly and vulnerable adults. These measures allow all people to live in freedom from abuse and harm, especially those that may not be able to protect or advocate for themselves.

Which legislation supports the principles of safeguarding?

The Care Act 2014 is the key piece of safeguarding legislation that outlines the six principles on which all safeguarding practices are based. The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act (SVGA) 2006 is another important piece of legislation which led to the establishment of the Disclosure and Barring Service, an organisation that protects people by screening individuals that want to work with children or vulnerable adults.

The Health and Social Care Act (2012) contains a regulation that makes it a legal requirement to protect adults from abuse and neglect within the health and social care systems. The Mental Capacity Act (2005) similarly upholds the key safeguarding principles by outlining how best to support people struggling with mental health or capacity. 

Why are the 6 principles of safeguarding important?

The six principles of safeguarding ensure that people’s health and well-being are protected by creating systems that prevent abuse and neglect from occurring. These principles are important because they define a clear set of priorities that safeguarding professionals should uphold and establish the most effective ways to keep people safe from harm.


If you are already involved in safeguarding work then you will likely already be upholding the key principles of safeguarding in your actions and the processes that you use in your role. Anyone that has a safeguarding responsibility should be aware of these principles and their importance in different safeguarding actions, as this will help you to keep them central to your work.

If you feel you need more information about safeguarding or would like more formal training on the subject, we have a number of online safeguarding training courses to choose from. We’re very pleased to be able to offer a wide array of relevant courses, including those that deal with both adults and children, as well as many issue-specific programmes.