Professional Curiosity and Safeguarding Adults

Professional Curiosity and Safeguarding

Lack of professional curiosity is increasingly being highlighted in Safeguarding Adults Reviews (SARs) nationally as a contributing factor to serious harm or deaths. 

What is professional curiosity?  

Professional curiosity is the exploration and development of a deeper understanding of what is happening with an individual or those around them. This is achieved through a robust understanding of an individual’s history, good communication skills, proactive questioning, application of legislation, identification of patterns of concern, ability to hold difficult conversations and respectful challenge. The primary feature of professional curiosity is the avoidance of making assumptions and taking information or a situation at face value. There are many barriers an individual may experience which will reduce the likelihood of them disclosing abuse or neglect directly. Therefor professional curiosity will enable the practitioner to more readily identify signs and indicators. 

Professional curiosity is not something that can or should be turned on and off or used at particular times. Rather, it should be seen as a way of life, a way of professional practice and a way of being – so that a curious approach permeates all aspects of the practitioners’ interactions (Research in Practice Professional curiosity in safeguarding adults December 2020). 

However, it is accepted that there are many barriers to effective professional curiosity. It is important that organisations and professionals are aware of these and take steps to reduce them to enable the development of a culture that supports the maintenance of professional curiosity 

Barriers to effective professional curiosity Disguised compliance 

The appearance of a caregiver, family member, or organisation cooperating with services in order to avoid raising suspicions, to alleviate the practitioner’s concerns, and, ultimately, to eliminate the professional’s involvement entirely. 

The ‘rule of optimism’ 

Practitioners rationalise new or escalating risk despite there being clear evidence that there should be concern. 

Not identifying accumulating risk 

Viewing each incident in isolation without context or consideration of an individual’s history and not considering the risk in relation to the cumulative effect of recurring incidents. 


The perception that actions become ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ and are an accepted part of an individual’s daily life. This leads to a lack of professional challenge or questioning. 

Professional deference 

Practitioner’s perception that another professional is of ‘higher status,’ hence, they are unwilling or afraid to challenge that professional’s view. 

Confirmation bias 

The search for evidence that supports or confirms the practitioner’s existing view and rejection of any evidence that may challenge their existing view as incorrect. 

Knowing but not ‘wanting’ to know 

Having a sense that something is wrong but not being able to form the feeling into a reasoned evidence-based view. 

Diagnostic overshadowing 

Attributing all the evidence in an individual’s life to their diagnosis rather than taking a broader view, considering relationships, environment, trauma, coercion, poor levels or inappropriate support etc. 

Remote working

An additional barrier to professional curiosity is remote working and it is important to recognise and act in relation to this when connecting remotely with both people who are at risk of abuse, neglect, and other agencies. It is important to consider that remote conversation can: 

  • Alter relationships 
  • Create a barrier to successful communication 
  • Create a reduced ability to read the non-verbal content of a conversation 
  • Create a wish to terminate the conversation as soon as possible due to anxiety, unwillingness or ability to use the required technology 
  • Enable difficult conversations to be terminated more easily 
  • Reduce ability for the professional to see the ‘whole’ picture and assess accumulating risk 
  • Reduces awareness of who else may be present during a conversation but out of sight 

In addition, remote working limits opportunities to model good professional curiosity by more experienced practitioners. When you are in ‘earshot’ of a conversation you can learn how to ask good questions. 

There are additional barriers that practitioners need to be aware of: 

  • Poor supervision and management support 
  • Complexity and pressure of work 
  • Preconceived ideas and values 
  • Lack of openness to new knowledge 
  • Fear of respectful challenge 
  • Fear of holding difficult conversations 
  • Lack of confidence in managing tension 
  • Discounting information that cannot be proven 

Organisational values that foster effective professional curiosity

The values of an organisation will have a significant impact on the likelihood that professional curiosity will thrive. Ensuring the workforce: 

  • Have time and capacity 
  • Approach practice from a strength-based perspective 
  • Ensure those with lived experience are actively involved in safeguarding 
  • Display competence in relation to recording which is supported through effective processes and procedures 
  • Are provided with good supervision and management support.  
  • Are legally literate and have a robust knowledge of safeguarding 
  • Are provided with effective training which provides positive impact at a service and organisational level and links to increased competence 

To find out more about how to cultivate professional curiosity at a strategic level join our Level 5 Safeguarding Adults accredited programme. 

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