5.12 Practice guidance: Working with Hostile, Non-Compliant Clients who use Disguised Compliance within the Context of Safeguarding Children

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This chapter was added to the manual in May 2016 and should be read throughout.


1. Introduction

The nature of child protection work is such that parents and carers may at times feel angry and react in a hostile or threatening way towards workers who are involved with them and their families. Employers have responsibilities under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations and the Workable Regulations 1992. These responsibilities should be made known to all staff during induction periods.

Employers should have in place practical day-to-day procedures to support staff who are working with families.

2. Purpose of this Guidance

To assist staff and their managers working with hostile/threatening and non-compliant parents/carers and those who use disguised compliance.

To help workers and their managers identify where these actions may be impacting on the care of the child/children and possible child protection issues.

To assist with those situations where families are unable or unwilling to engage with workers to effectively promote and safeguard the welfare of children.

3. Guidance - First Principles

Workers have a right to feel safe, to be heard when they voice fears and concerns and to know that the response should include appropriate action being taken.

Workers in Surrey serve a diverse population with differing needs. Practice needs to be inclusive to reflect these differences.

Workers should be aware that interpretation of communication may lead to a misinterpretation of compliance; behaviour may seem to be non-compliant where in fact the issue may be the way in which workers are communicating.

Confidentiality must not compromise the welfare and protection of children. “Working Together to Safeguard Children” states that agencies should have arrangements in place to work effectively with other organisations to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, including arrangements for sharing information.  

Where non-compliance is an issue, sharing information across agencies can assist in forming a plan to address this.

4. Definitions

For the purpose of this guidance the following broad definitions are being used:

  • Hostile and threatening behaviour; behaviour which produces damaging effects, physically or emotionally, in other people;
  • Non-compliant behaviour; involves proactively sabotaging efforts to bring about change or alternatively passively disengaging;
  • Disguised compliance; involves clients not admitting to their lack of commitment to change but working subversively to undermine the process.

5. Recognition of Potential Hostility and Non Compliance

Ask yourself: What were the reasons for the parents’ behaviour? Are there other possibilities besides the obvious? Could their behaviour have been a reaction to something I did or said rather than to do with the child?”

Ask yourself: Have the parents understood the situation and do they understand what they are being asked to do and why is it required of them.

Ask yourself: Do they need another family member or advocate to support and help them understand.

 Factors associated with hostility and non-compliance includes:

  • Isolation;
  • Stress and violent experiences in childhood;
  • Disinhibiting effects of alcohol and certain drugs;
  • Mental Illness;
  • Some psychotic states;
  • Learning disability;
  • Medical or social history indicating a low tolerance of frustration and the potential for violence.

Situations associated with hostility and non-compliance includes:

  • Child protection enquires;
  • Removal of a child into care;
  • Domestic violence;
  • Previous threats of violence;
  • Presence of weapons; and
  • Potentially dangerous animals (snakes/dogs);
  • Professional interventions e.g. questioning beliefs;
  • Siblings can provide an obstruction by taking the focus away from the issue.

6. Recognition of Disguised Compliance

Factors, which may indicate and evidence, disguised compliance:

  • No significant change at reviews despite significant input;
  • Parents/carers agreeing with professionals regarding required changes but put little effort into making changes work;
  • Change does occur but as a result of external agencies/resources not the parental/carers efforts;
  • Change in one area of functioning is not matched by change in other areas;
  • Parents/carers will engage with certain aspects of a plan only;
  • Parents/carers align themselves with certain professionals; and
  • Child’s report of matters is in conflict with parents’ report.

7. Clients using Disguised Compliance

Workers may believe they have engaged in a positive way with parents/carers in addressing risk and working towards change however this may not be the case. As a consequence the following may happen:

  • Cases can drift;
  • Risks are not reduced;
  • Risks may actually be increased; and
  • Workers may fail to recognise significant issues of concern and misinterpret vital information and lose inter-agency communication;
  • The child therefore remains in a high risk, unprotected environment.

8. Hostile and Threatening Clients

Ask yourself: Did I feel safe in this household? If not, why not? If I or another professional should go back there to ensure the child(ren)’s safety, what support should I ask for? If necessary, put your concerns and requests in writing to your manager. (Assessing Risk in Child Protection. Cleaver, H., Wattam, C. and Cawson, P (1998))

When workers are involved with families who have a reputation for hostile or bizarre behaviour, or where the worker feels uncomfortable, suspicions of child abuse may not always be as thoroughly investigated or followed through as they might otherwise have been.

For example:

  • Only one ring at the door bell;
  • Only waiting 5 minutes for family to arrive for an appointment;
  • Not challenging when appointments are missed or client turns up late; and
  • Accepting unlikely explanations.

To challenge parents/carers may, in the mind of the worker, produce a violent response or affect the possibility of any positive professional relationship.

This may result in professionals colluding with the family and failing to protect the child.

Workers may also misinterpret the behaviour of parents/carers. What may appear to be defensive/uncooperative behaviour may be designed to mask hidden issues in the family such as domestic violence, mental ill health, and drug or alcohol misuse. Workers should be aware of their level of assumption and expectation.

9. Case Management

The following areas are essential for good case management:


Workers must always follow their agency procedures and the procedures contained in this manual, which have incorporated the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families.

Inter-agency Communication

  • All agencies must work together to ensure that the welfare of the child is maintained with clear lines of communication and joint working where appropriate;
  • If any worker feels uncomfortable or unhappy about working with a family, they must consult immediately with a supervisor, so that the problem can be shared. The worker and their manager should record safety issues so that other professionals are alerted and a multi-agency meeting convened if necessary. Managers should encourage staff to express feelings of discomfort and promote good reflective practice;
  • Where there is the presence of a contributing factor, inter agency joint visiting must be considered. In addition to the consideration of visiting with a colleague from the same team and acknowledging that workers in some agencies are more competent in working with families with particular needs or behaviours.

10. Supervision

Managers must consider the following matters:

  • Routine, regular supervision;
  • Review of previous reports;
  • Peer mentoring; and
  • Group supervision.
This page is correct as printed on Monday 15th of July 2024 09:04:41 AM please refer back to this website (http://surreyscb.procedures.org.uk) for updates.