What being an Appropriate Adult involves
An Appropriate Adult is responsible for supporting a child (under 18) or ‘mentally vulnerable’ adult who is being detained by police or is being interviewed voluntarily. 'Mental vulnerability’ includes conditions such as mental illness, autistic spectrum disorders and learning disabilities.
The role of an Appropriate Adult is to ensure that the child or vulnerable adult understands their rights and what is happening to them, and to help with communication between them, the police and others involved in custody proceedings.
Most of the time, a family member, friend or other supporter will act as Appropriate Adult. However, sometimes there is nobody suitable who can do this, and in this situation an independent Appropriate Adult will be called in.
In Sheffield, Barnsley and Doncaster, our independent Appropriate Adults are all volunteers who are recruited, trained and supported by Sova.
For more information about the role, visit the National Appropriate Adult Network website.
The case study below is from one of our volunteer Appropriate Adults, Sinead. She explains how she supported a young woman, “C”, during her time in police custody.
"At 7.30pm I was asked to attend the South Yorkshire Police Investigation Centre on Shepcote Lane in Sheffield to support a 17-year-old female (“C”) who had been arrested on suspicion of racially aggravated affray.
This was only my third callout since completing my training and I was still a little apprehensive about the intimidating nature of the custody environment as well as the seriousness of the alleged offence. However, I overcame this by reminding myself that my role need not be over-complicated, that I am there to ensure that service users’ rights are respected and upheld and that their welfare and understanding of what’s happening is my main concern.
On my introduction to C I instantly noticed her vulnerable state. The police suspected she had been taking psycho-active substances (AKA ‘legal highs’) and was experiencing the awful side effects of withdrawal. She appeared to be in a lot of pain and mentioned that she was feeling very nauseous. She was also acting aggressively towards the custody staff.
When we were able to talk privately, C calmed down and I realised that she felt comfortable in my presence. I explained my role to her and she was very grateful for my help during such a difficult time in her life. She again started to feel unwell and was sick. She declined the offer of a nurse so I comforted her as best I could until the solicitor arrived. C then had a private consultation with her solicitor.
It was now time for the police interview. C again became aggressive towards the officers, who told her she would be going back to her cell to calm down as soon as the interview was over. I didn’t think that sending her back to her cell would be good for her health or wellbeing so I politely asked the custody staff if she could stay with me in a consultation room whilst we awaited the decision of what would happen next. The Custody Sergeant agreed and C was very happy to sit with me. I kept our conversation uncomplicated to ensure she didn’t get herself ‘worked up’ again and on leaving the consultation room the custody staff remarked that she seemed a lot more content.
As a result of the alleged offence, C wasn’t allowed to return to her accommodation. I waited with her until an alternative had been arranged and I was satisfied the police would transport her there. I left the Investigation Centre at 10.30pm."
Why people volunteer as Appropriate Adults
People volunteer as Appropriate Adults for many reasons, not least because they want to help vulnerable people at a stressful and difficult moment in their lives. Most find it a very interesting and rewarding role, as shown by the fact that some of our volunteers have been doing it a long time – as long as 20 years!
The experience of volunteering as an Appropriate Adult also builds up knowledge and skills that can be useful elsewhere in people’s lives. For this reason we regularly have volunteers who are interested in pursuing careers working in criminal justice, with vulnerable adults or with young people.
What we ask from our volunteers
There is no specific knowledge, experience or qualifications you need to have before applying to be a volunteer Appropriate Adult. However, you do need to be capable of supporting vulnerable people in what can be an intimidating and pressurised environment, so all volunteers need to be non-judgemental, tactful, reliable, trustworthy and assertive, with very good written and oral communication skills.
You need to be age 18 or older. You would need to complete an enhanced criminal record (DBS) check, but having a criminal record would not necessarily rule you out; we consider everyone on a case-by-case basis.
The ‘on call’ rota is divided into blocks of four hours. We ask volunteers to commit to being available for at least one block per week for at least 12 months, following training.
The training and support our volunteers get
We provide full training to all our new volunteers which thoroughly explains the context and the role and responsibilities of the Appropriate Adult. There is the option of completing a workbook and getting a Level 2 Award accrediting your training. After this, new volunteers ‘shadow’ some call-outs with more experienced Appropriate Adults.
On an ongoing basis, volunteer Appropriate Adults receive supervision, support and refresher training from Sova project staff.
The role is unpaid, but you can claim to get travel expenses reimbursed.
We always want to hear from people who are interested in volunteering as an Appropriate Adult. Please register your interest via the Sova website.
For general enquiries about Appropriate Adult services in Sheffield, please contact us.