Who’s vulnerable?

All children are considered vulnerable by virtue of their age and immaturity, but which adults can we consider ‘vulnerable’?

We think of adults as being vulnerable if they’re permanently or temporarily unable to care for themselves and their interests, either through a mental or physical cause. Vulnerable adults are open to risks of psychological and physical harm or being exploited for other people’s benefit.

We can think of the following groups of people as ‘vulnerable adults’:

  • older people who are physically or mentally frail
  • people with learning disabilities
  • people with a mental health condition such as dementia or personality disorder
  • people who are ill and need help to carry out normal daily functions
  • people with physical disabilities
  • people who have undergone a recent trauma – a bereavement, a divorce or loss of a job, for instance
  • people who, for whatever reason, are in abusive relationships or are homeless.

But we need to be careful about who we consider ‘vulnerable’. Just because someone is, for instance, older, or has a mental health condition or a learning disability, or has a physical disability, they are not necessarily ‘vulnerable’. Indeed, they may take great offence if you were to consider them so. We need to be wary of applying ‘labels’ to the people in our care.

We also need to recognise that being vulnerable isn’t necessarily a long-term state. People who come into hospital for operations, for instance, will be very vulnerable immediately before, during and after the operation when they are not able to care for themselves and rely on health care staff to protect them and ensure their well-being. But in the vast majority of cases they will soon be completely independent again, so the vulnerable state is only temporary.