7.5 Reluctant and Hostile Families

7.5 Reluctant and Hostile Families policy updated March 2018.


1. Definition

Families can present with a wide range of uncooperative behaviours towards professionals. Professionals may come in to contact with families whose compliance is apparent rather than genuine, or those who are more obviously reluctant, resistant or sometimes angry or hostile to their approaches.  In extreme cases professionals can experience intimidation, abuse, threats of violence and/or actual violence.

Parents may:

Hide information

Mislead professionals

Be manipulative

Behave in ways which are frightening for professionals

Parents may also demonstrate:

Ambivalence: they are not sure of need to change or are ‘stuck’ at a certain point

Denial / avoidance: they are not willing to acknowledge the abuse and/or purposely avoid professionals

Unresponsiveness: they show no demonstrable improvements despite apparent compliance

Violence/hostility: more serious resistance is when families actively display anger at professionals.

2. Recognition and Understanding

  • Ambivalence – people are always late for appointments or make excuses for missing them, divert conversations away from uncomfortable topics, use dismissive body language.
  • Avoidance – people avoiding appointments, missing meetings, cutting short visits.
  • Confrontation – people challenging professionals, provoking arguments, making complaints about professionals, not answering the door.
  • Violence – people threaten or use actual violence
  • 3. Risks

    • Hostility may result in agencies backing off leaving the child unprotected
    • Splitting of professionals occurs when those professionals appease (good cop) and those oppose (bad cop) leading to a break down in multiagency collaborative working
    • Professionals blame each other
    • Professionals may collude with the family
    • The professionals not under the threat can end up holding up all the responsibility and increasing the risk to themselves
    • Feeling under threat can make it feel personal for professionals
    • There is no unified and consistent plan developed
    • Professionals feeling ‘approved’ may feel personally gratified as the family ’ally’ but then become unable to recognise /accept risks or problems

    4. Ensuring Effective Multi–Agency Working

    • Professionals should routinely consider the potential implications of threats, violence and hostility on any other professionals or agencies involved and ensure concerns / risks are shared.
    • Professionals should ensure effective communication and information sharing within own service and across agencies is critical to avoid the loss of focus on the child, reduce risk, minimise ‘professional paralysis’, minimise ‘fixed thinking’ and/or de-sensitisation to information about a family and/or observations.
    • Professionals need to be aware of their own responses when working with families i.e. ringing the doorbell once, only waiting 5 minutes for a family to arrive for an appointment, not challenging missed or late appointments, accepting unlikely explanations, accepting the parents’ version of events in the absence of objective evidence, focusing on less contentious issues such as housing / benefits, filtering out or minimising negative information.
    • Professionals should undertake visits to the family with a colleague or another agency to inform joint assessment, professional analysis and decision making to underpin the development of a robust plan
    • Professionals should ask to see the child alone (if age appropriate) and should consider the following: whether the child is keeping ‘safe’ by not telling, has learned to appease or minimise or is blaming themselves. Observations should also include the child’s responses to the care-giver/s. This is to ensure that in cases with non-verbal children their ‘voice’ is heard.
    • Professionals should be respectful and supportive of other professionals’ experiences and be prepared to challenge. This may include referring to the NSCB Resolution of Professional Disagreements and Escalation Policy
    • Maintain accurate records with chronologies to aid recognition of developing patterns of behaviour and promote effective case management
    • Professionals should also record their feelings in response to working with a family to help support the analysis of the impact
    • Files and computer records should clearly indicate risks to professionals and mechanisms to alert other colleagues to potential risks.
    • Joint assessments should include clear evidence that the parents’ capacity to change has been fully explored and that this is re-visited regularly.
    • Managers should ensure supervision is in place to support staff in identifying cases where parents fail to engage with the service and to assess the impact of this on the safety of the child. A clear action plan should be drawn up detailing how any identified risk can be managed or reduced. Professionals and supervisors should keep asking themselves the question: What might the child have been feeling as the door closes behand a professional leaving the family home?
    • Managers should ensure robust risk assessments are in place. Consideration should be given for example to: the time of the visit (not at the end of day or in the dark), joint visiting arrangements, access to mobile phones, arranging visits at a neutral venue, clear reporting procedures if a worker does not return from a visit, seeking advice from police, mental health services.
    • Professionals should have access to multiagency training on working with parents who present with challenging, dangerous or evasive behaviours.
    • All agencies should have policies in place which address issues of violence against staff so staff can feel safe and confident to carry out their duties with the support of their agency.