Sociocultural constructions of the adult at risk prompt important theoretical and practical implications for adult safeguarding. Reformulations of the meaning of practice with adults at risk have been provoked by legislative, policy and procedural changes underway in the Irish context. These include the implementation of the Assisted Decision-Making Capacity Act (2015) with corresponding changes regarding informed consent and mental capacity; long anticipated ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCPRD) (United Nations, 2006); and advancement of the Adult Safeguarding Bill 2017. The concern is that procedural, legislative and policy advancement must not outpace critical accounts that critique changes underway. Therefore, this paper presents theoretically informed critical commentary, based upon an over-view of pertinent literature, concerning the notion of the adult at risk in contemporary Ireland. Context is established through discussion of the history of adult safeguarding in Ireland and development of public and policy awareness of the notion of the adult at risk. Following this, three themes are addressed. Firstly, the shift towards a more robust and detailed legislative and policy context around adult safeguarding is appraised. Secondly, the necessarily problematic nature of mediating between autonomy and protection in safeguarding work is explored. Third and finally, a perceptible paradigm shift from a medical model to social and human rights approaches to working with adults at risk is considered. To inform concluding discussion, the Habermasian notion of the “public sphere” (1962) is re-deployed for the present era as a useful conceptual framework, towards understanding the contemporary discursive construction of the adult at risk.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.