A guide with global relevance

A guide with global relevance

Key points

What is the issue?

STEP Canada has launched a new client service resource: A Guide for Assisting Persons in Vulnerable Situations. 

What does it mean for me?

Advisors wishing to gain confidence in supporting clients may find the resources particularly helpful.

What can I take away?

A better understanding of the context of a client’s vulnerable situation and resources to help support them.


In September 2023, STEP Canada launched a new client service resource for its members: A Guide for Assisting Persons in Vulnerable Situations (the Guide).[1] Although members were encouraged to share the Guide with colleagues and allied professionals in Canada, much of the content is relevant to STEP members globally.

The Guide builds on STEP Canada’s Public Policy Committee 2021 Symposium, which sought to begin a cross-sector conversation about the challenges in finding and integrating resources needed to help clients in vulnerable situations. Symposium participants included STEP members from different sectors, financial institutions, financial regulators, healthcare providers, the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee, policing, service providers, advocates and more.

For the purposes of the Guide, clients in vulnerable situations refer to those who may be at risk of, or experiencing, compromised decision-making capacity, undue influence, abuse and/or neglect (mistreatment) or self-neglect. The symposium revealed what many working in this sector already know: client situations often involve one or more vulnerabilities; the situations are complicated by the client’s personal relationships and circumstances; and the solutions often involve or even require the engagement of a variety of sectors. In short, no one professional or sector can address these issues.

Frustrations and roadblocks identified by symposium participants included:

  • the different roles and responsibilities of the professionals, financial and social service providers, and public sector agencies involved;
  • the range of legislation and laws that apply generally, and across jurisdictions; and
  • the constraints on the scope of authority that applies to different service providers and sectors.[2]

The Guide is an outcome of the symposium. It seeks to:

  • establish a shared understanding of the issues discussed in the Guide;
  • consolidate information and resources for STEP members and others who wish to learn more about the issues facing their clients;
  • identify resources that may be available to assist advisors and their clients; and
  • offer case studies to support future conversations.

It is not possible to provide advisors with a roadmap. However, the Guide seeks to offer a compass to guide the advisor when navigating the law, support, services and planning options that may be available to assist a client. Although the Guide is written with Canadian practitioners in mind, many of the topics discussed are relevant to advisors in other jurisdictions and several international resources are included. The Guide may also be a useful resource as STEP Worldwide seeks to address the findings of STEP’s survey Loss of Mental Capacity: A Global Perspective.[3]

The Guide offers an overview of each, identifies resources for further study and is divided into sections so that readers can focus on topics of interest.

The Guide’s three objectives

The Guide begins with a summary of its three overarching objectives.

Objective one

Establishing a framework for understanding and appreciating a client’s vulnerable situation, including:[4]

  • Understanding the terms ‘vulnerable’ and ‘vulnerability’ for the purposes of the Guide. The Guide also makes a distinction between vulnerable circumstances and vulnerable situations to encourage readers to step back and take a careful look at the client’s situation. What can be controlled? What is out of their control?
  • Appreciating how ageism, ableism and unconscious bias can influence how one sees a client or interprets or perceives a client’s situation, circumstances or abilities.[5]
  • Having safe and supportive conversations with clients, caregivers and supporters to ensure the client does not become a victim of further mistreatment.

Objective two

Establishing the context within which vulnerable situations arise and may be addressed, including:

  • appreciating the range of federal, provincial and territorial laws and regulations that apply to the matters discussed in the Guide;[6]
  • recognising and distinguishing between two terms defined for the purposes of the Guide:[7]
    • risk factors that can, but do not necessarily, lead to being in a vulnerable situation;
    • red flags that may alert the advisor that a client is, or may be, in a vulnerable situation and in need of assistance; and
  • recognising how personal planning tools and other legal arrangements can be, and are, both used and misused.

Objective three

Identifying solutions and services that may be available to assist clients, including:

  • building an awareness of the range of possible steps and processes involved when trying to respond to, or assist with, a client’s vulnerable situation;
  • identifying resources and services available to assist advisors, clients, caregivers and supporters; and
  • locating information for further exploration or study on the subjects discussed in the Guide, including jurisdiction-specific laws, support and services.

A foundation for the future

The Guide is intended to be a resource to help readers develop a shared understanding of the issues that advisors and their clients may encounter. It provides a foundation for further discussion, exploration and learning.

It is hoped that this resource will be the first of many to support STEP members and allied professionals and service providers as they work to initiate cross-sector conversations and develop resources and tools to support their work with clients experiencing or seeking to prevent or minimise the risk of becoming vulnerable.

To download a copy of the Guide, visit www.step.org/guide-assisting-persons-vulnerable-situations

[1] Kathleen Cunningham was retained by STEP Canada to prepare the Guide under the guidance of STEP Canada’s Public Policy Committee and an expert advisory committee. She also assisted STEP Canada with the 2021 Symposium and prepared the Symposium’s final report, which documented the issues identified, and ideas STEP Canada might consider to support further discussion and engagement within STEP and across sectors.

[2] See the Guide, p.6. Although Canada’s legal system is complicated by the existence of both federal and provincial/territorial laws, regulations and services, the cross-sector issues remain between the legal, health, investigative, policing and other sectors.

[4] Section IV of the Guide reviews the challenges of terminology.

[5] Section VII provides brief discussions about, and identifies resources relating to, the issues of ageism, ableism and unconscious/implicit bias.

[6] Section V provides a general overview of the legal landscape in Canada.

[7] Section VI defines terms used in the Guide: vulnerable, vulnerability, risk factors and red flags.