7.5 Reluctant and Hostile Families
In the range of work undertaken by staff in all member agencies of the Norfolk Local Safeguarding Children Board, direct contact with children and their families is the main feature. The very purpose of these procedures is working in partnership with families to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.
Research evidence from a number of Serious Case Reviews demonstrates that when the partnership between professionals and parents and carers breaks down or fails to operate, the risks to the children can increase significantly.
A number of different factors come into play from the parents who are unable to engage with others because of their own circumstances, for example being unable to read and to tell the time, to the parents who are threatening and aggressive to any authority figures or officials at any time.
Similarly, some workers may have difficulties in dealing with particular circumstances and conflict. If they fail to recognise their own role in safeguarding the child, and management systems fail to identify any difficulties or obstacles, the child may be left unprotected and work may appear to be taking place when in fact it is not.
All agencies should have robust systems in place to assess risks to staff where any threats or assaults have taken place. Strategies for working with violent parents and carers should be put in place to protect staff and ensure that services continue to be delivered to the child.
What appears to be uncooperative behaviour may not be deliberate and may mask hidden issues in the family which prevents the parents from engaging with the workers.
The parents may be fearful of revealing personal information about such issues as their income, their immigration status or the simple fact that they cannot cope with getting to a meeting on time by themselves.
Alternatively, communication with parents about concerns and what needs to be changed may not have been clear or understood and expectations may need to be conveyed in a different way.
On the other hand, the behaviour may be deliberate and designed to hide child abuse. If workers have a poor understanding of the symptoms of mental ill health, drug/alcohol misuse or domestic violence and the consequent impact on the family, they may operate a lower level of expectation and the impact on the child may not be recognised.
Some parents may go to considerable lengths to avoid any contact with what they perceive as ‘outsiders’ as they attempt to keep control of their lives. This may involve actions from moving home or the child’s school to avoid agencies or playing loud music to cover up children crying for example.
All agencies must communicate with one another as it is unlikely that only one agency is experiencing difficulties with the family. The assumption must never be made that the child must be safe because one agency thinks another agency is seeing the child. This may not be the case, as several Serious Case Reviews have demonstrated. Considerations need to be given to calling a strategy meeting.
Serious Case Reviews have indicated that where parents have a reputation for hostile, bizarre or non-compliant behaviour, workers can feel uncomfortable and become anxious. Any suspicions of child abuse need to be thoroughly investigated, and issues with families who are reluctant or hostile need to be flagged with senior managers; appropriate supports and check need to be put in place for the worker so they can achieve the best outcomes for the child.
The worker might:
- Only do one ring at the doorbell;
- Only wait 5 minutes for a family to arrive for an appointment;
- Not challenge when appointments are missed or parents turn up late;
- Accept unlikely explanations;
- Not ask to see the child alone.
To confront parents may, in the mind of the worker, produce a violent response or lead them to believe any positive professional relationship will be lost. This may result in professionals colluding with the family and failing to protect the child.
As a consequence cases can drift as the focus is lost, and risks are not reduced or may be increased.
Effective communication and inter professional relationships can deteriorate resulting in “closed professional systems” where workers develop a fixed view and become less sensitive to conflicting information or observations.
Managers have a vital role in providing the environment and mechanisms to allow workers to explore the impact of working in such situations and the effect on their practice.
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.
Asking for support is not a weakness in practice. The worker should record their feelings so that other professionals are alerted to the issues and a multi-agency meeting is convened if necessary.
Where access to the child is denied, this should be regarded as an indicator of significantly increased risk and should be reported immediately to a line manager and legal advice sought.
In order to ensure that the welfare of children is effectively promoted by all member agencies, the issues and lessons learnt from Serious Case Reviews over time should form a regular part of inter agency training programmes.
All agencies should have policies in place which address the issues of violence against staff so that staff can feel confident in their agency‘s support as they carry out their duties.Regular line management supervision is essential to support staff in identifying cases where the parents failure to engage with the service is impacting on the safety of the child.
Visiting children and families with a colleague from the same team or another agency can help identify the particular difficulties in communicating with the family as well as provide the worker with another view of the circumstances.Regular record keeping with chronologies and frequent case summaries should be standard practice and will aid the analysis of information, allow for the recognition of developing patterns and promote effective case management.
During the assessment and enquiry stages, as well as the Initial and any Review Conferences and Core Groups, the parents’ capacity for change and capacity to meet the needs of the child are assessed and analysed.If the parent/carer does not have the ability or motivation to work with the agencies or actively undermines any plans or services provided, then this must be addressed by the workers and managers with the family in order to maintain the focus on safeguarding the child.