3.9 Non Compliance by Parents or Carers
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
A feature in some Serious Case Reviews has been the lack of co-operation and/or hostile attitude of parents / carers. When there are child welfare / protection issues, a failure to engage with the family may have serious implications and non-intervention is not an option. This chapter provides definition and guidance and should be read in full.
Parents may present in a number of ways on a continuum from hostility, threats and violence through to superficial and ineffective compliance. Behaviours may include:
- Ignoring advice / role of the professional;
- Misinterpreting / minimising the child's needs;
- Non attendance at medical appointments;
- Effectively preventing the child seeing the professional (blatant or agreeing to appointment then ensuring it does not occur);
- Controlling discussion;
- Preventing meaningful contact with other parent / carer;
- Moving away;
- Manipulating and splitting professional relationships;
- Subverting change;
- Diverting discussions into arguments over e.g. the agenda;
- Use of complaints;
- Aggression and threats;
- Evidence of implements of violence (dogs, knives etc);
- Known history of actual violence.
It is helpful to be clear from the outset what is known about the family and parents / carers, so as to assess risks involved and potential strategies e.g. parents with learning difficulties or mental illness may need to have information, advice and expectations conveyed in an alternative way, possibly working with specialist colleagues.
Any written multi-agency plan must be reviewed regularly e.g. Child's Plan, reviewed at regular multi-agency meetings or Child Protection Conference and use measurable objectives within timescales and specific outcomes, with a clearly stated contingency plan.
Communication should be clear, so as to ensure that non compliance is not caused by any misunderstanding.
Where there are child protection concerns parents / carers will need to understand that lack of co-operation is unacceptable, although there may be some flexibility of the degree and type of co-operation.
It will be helpful to establish trust through active engagement, acknowledging that the family may see things differently and demonstrating a respect for their views, whilst confronting inappropriate attitudes.
All decisions and communications must be recorded clearly and shared.
Staff must recognise when the family is not engaging so as to avoid collusion or avoidance - early recognition of resistance and failure to achieve progress with plans and agreements for the child is critical.
Supervision should be used to explore the dynamics of any hostility or non-compliance and plan how best to address the situation including possible specialist assessments.
A manager must be consulted if access is ever denied or appointments repeatedly cancelled and/or 'forgotten'.
Effect of Non-Compliance or Hostility
In such situations, it is important to appreciate the significance for a child in the family i.e. it will enhance parent / carer's power and control and the child may fear reprisals if (s)he were to speak to professionals.
Professionals may feel extremely vulnerable when visiting hostile families, especially those who challenge effectively and are perceived as a threat and professionals need to recognise and avoid the risk of putting more effort into dealing with the resistance, than addressing the real problems facing the child(ren).
Action to Take When Non-Compliance or Hostility Recognised
Professionals should report non compliance to their managers and to the social worker.
If there are child welfare concerns, the Children's Services team manager should convene a meeting. Sharing agencies' approaches, in accordance with information sharing arrangements may assist in forming an action plan.
The multi-agency / Core Group meeting should address the non co-operation in the context of the child's written plan. Depending on the circumstances this meeting could be:
- The 1st meeting which will devise the plan;
- A review multi-agency meeting, brought forward if necessary;
- A professional Strategy Discussion where there are child protection implications that may need to be addressed by a Section 47 Enquiry or Initial Child Protection Conference;
- A Core Group meeting brought forward if necessary;
- A Review Child Protection Conference, brought forward if necessary.
Possible strategies include:
- Joint visiting with colleagues within or external to the agency, (requesting help from Police if there is a physical risk);
- Exploring the possibility of engaging other non hostile members of the family, if this does not increase the risk to anyone;
- Children's Services holding a Legal Planning Meeting to clarify options e.g. Child Assessment Order, Interim Care Order.
When there are Threats or Incidents of Violence
Where there are actual threats or incidents of violence they must be reported to the Children's Services Team Manager immediately and local 'Violence at Work' procedures followed in relation to supervision, support, recording and reporting incidents to the Police.
Any response must take account of:
- Risks to children and other family members;
- Personal safety issues for staff.
The experience of violence or threats to staff should be used as evidence of the situation of the family and included in assessments of the child's circumstances.
Note: Violence towards staff is a multi-agency problem. If one agency has information a parent / carer is known to be violent, it must alert other agencies of the risks posed. If agencies withdraw their services in isolation due to threats against staff and fail to alert one another to the circumstances a child may be left without being seen by any agency and therefore be at increased risk of suffering significant harm.