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An exploration of professionals’ decision making in the protection of vulnerable adults

  • Full or part time
    Dr M Kettle
    Dr S Grant
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

Project reference number: SHLS019024

The recent Care Inspectorate thematic inspection of Adult Support and Protection in Scotland highlights a number of key issues. A key quote from the report (Care Inspectorate 2018, p. 16) is,
“Adult protection work is complex and challenging. It is all about marginality and balance –The rights of adults at risk of harm to self-determination and choice must be balanced with the need to keep them safe and protect them from harm. Staff working in adult support and protection skilfully walk a tightrope between risk mitigation and positive risk enablement”.
Although staff skilfully walk that tightrope, little is known in research terms of how they negotiate that tightrope.
At the same time, adult protection is seen as being behind child protection in terms of:
• “the priority afforded to it
• maturity of the key underpinning processes
• commitment of the partners
• knowledge and skills of the frontline staff who carry out the critical work” (p.16)
The recent inspection has led to an increased level of activity at Scottish Government level. This proposal has been explored with Social Work Scotland, the umbrella body for Social Work in Scotland, who are extremely supportive and see this as an important area for exploration.

Any scanning of conference abstracts, specialist journals etc. also indicates that adult protection is behind child protection also in terms of the research agenda in terms of the resources dedicated to it. Further, there are additional complicating factors in terms of the more complex legal framework that is involved in adult social care, as well as the interface between adult support and protection and other aspects of adult social care, for example Self Directed Support. This proposal seeks to contribute towards redressing that balance and thus contributing to the better protection of vulnerable adults.

This proposal lends itself to a qualitative approach, and there are a number of options to be explored with the successful candidate, but the works of Gigerenzer (2000, 2008) on adaptive decision making, Hammond (1996) on the cognitive continuum and Klein (2017) on the recognition-primed decision model are likely to be influential.


This proposal seeks to work from the opening quote from the Care Inspectorate report about “tightrope walking”. An initial aim would be to:
• Explore the complexity of, and influences upon, decision making processes in respect of adult support and protection.
Objectives would include to:
• Deepen understanding of how social workers and other professionals make key decisions in respect of protecting vulnerable adults
• Identify and explore how people who are referred through ASP processes are involved in those processes
• Identify implications for practice.


The successful applicant will be likely to have a background in social work, nursing allied health or the psychology of decision making, and have a level of understanding of adult safeguarding. The successful applicant will hold the minimum of a first degree (2:1 or above) in a relevant discipline. Previous experience of qualitative research methodology is desirable.

Candidates are requested to submit a more detailed research proposal (of a maximum of 2000 words) on the project area as part of their application.

Research Strategy and Research Profile

Glasgow Caledonian University’s research is framed around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, We address the Goals via three societal challenge areas of Inclusive Societies, Healthy Lives and Sustainable Environments, and this project ties closely to the area of Inclusive Societies.

How to Apply

This project is available as a 3 year full-time PhD study programme with a start date of 1st October 2019
For information on how to apply and the online application form please go to
Applicants shortlisted for the PhD project will be contacted for an interview.

Funding Notes


Care Inspectorate, 2018, Joint Inspection of Adult Support and Protection, Dundee, Care Inspectorate.
Gigerenzer, G., 2000, Adaptive Decision Making, New York, Oxford University Press.
Gigerenzer, G., 2008, Rationality for Mortals, New York, Oxford University Press.
Hammond, 1996, Human Judgement and Social Policy, New York, Oxford University Press.
Klein, G., 2017, Sources of Power: How people make decisions, Cambridge, Mass, MIT Press.

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