8.38 Uncooperative or Hostile Parents
- Impact on Assessment
- Impact on Multi Agency Work
- Response to Uncooperative Families
- Dealing with Hostility and Violence
There can be a wide range of uncooperative behaviour by families towards professionals. From time to time agencies will come into contact with families whose compliance is apparent rather than genuine, or who are more obviously reluctant or sometimes angry or hostile to their approaches.
In extreme cases, professionals can experience intimidation, abuse, threats violence and actual violence. The child's welfare should remain paramount at all times and where professionals are too scared to confront the family, they must also consider what life is like for a child in the family.
All agencies should support their staff by:
There are four types of uncooperativeness:
Impact on Assessment
Accurate information and a clear understanding of what is happening to a child within their family and community are vital to any assessment. It is important that focus on the children is not lost.
Engaging with a parent who is resistant or even violent and / or intimidating is more difficult. The behaviour may be deliberately used to keep professionals from engaging with the parent or child, or can have the effect of keeping professionals at bay. There may be practical restrictions to the ordinary tools of assessment (e.g. seeing the child on their own, observing the child in their own home etc). The usual sources of information / alternative perceptions from other professionals and other family members may not be available because no-one can get close enough to the family.
Professionals from all agencies should explicitly identify and record what area of assessment are difficult to achieve and why, and record what plan of action is to be taken.
The presence of violence or intimidation needs to be included in any assessment of risk to the child living in such an environment.
Impact on assessment of the child
The professional needs to be mindful of the impact the hostility to outsiders may be having on the day-to-day life of the child. Professionals and their supervisors should keep asking themselves the question: what might the children have been feeling as the door closes behind a professional leaving the family home?
Professionals in all agencies should consider:
Impact on assessment of the adults
In order to assess to what extent the hostility of the parent(s) is impacting on the assessment of the child, professionals in all agencies should consider whether they are:
Drawing up a written contract
When assessing uncooperative parents a written contract should always be used that explicitly states the safeguarding concerns, the action that the parents / carers should take and the consequences of continued lack of co-operation.
Impact on Multi Agency Work
Sometimes parents may be hostile to specific agencies or individuals. If the hostility is not universal, then agencies should seek to understand why this might be and learn from each other. The risks are of splitting between the professionals / agencies, with tensions and disagreement taking the focus from the child.
Where hostility towards most agencies is experienced, this needs to be managed on an inter-agency basis otherwise the results can be as follows:
Ensuring effective multi-agency working
Any professional or agency faced with incidents of threats, hostility or violence should routinely consider the potential implications for any other professional or agency involved with the family in addition to the implications for themselves and should alert to the nature of the risks. Information sharing is crucial to protect professionals and children (see Information Sharing and Confidentiality).
Supervision and support
Each agency should have a supervisory system in place that is accessible to the professional and reflects practice needs. Supervision discussions should focus on any hostility being experienced by professionals or anticipated by them in working with families and should address the impact on the professional and the impact on the work with the family.
When working with families who may be uncooperative or hostile, it is vital that professionals remain child focused and consider the impact on the child and the child's perspective on what is happening.
Professionals in different settings and tiers of responsibility may have different thresholds for concern and different experience of having to confront difficult behaviour. It is vital the differing risks and pressures are acknowledged and supported.
Working with hostile and uncooperative parents is complex and for meetings to be successful the following questions should be considered:
Although working with hostile families can be particularly challenging, the safety of the child is the first concern. If professionals are too scared to confront the family, consider what life is like for the child.
Response to Uncooperative Families
When a professional begins to work with a family who is known, or discovered, to be uncooperative, the professional should make every effort to understand why a family may be uncooperative or hostile. This entails considering all available information, including whether a Common Assessment has been completed and whether a Lead Professional has been appointed.
Families may develop increased resistance or hostility to involvement if they perceive the professional as disrespectful and unreliable or if they believe confidentiality has been breached outside the agreed parameters.
Professionals should be aware that some families, including those recently arrived from abroad, may be unclear about why they have been asked to attend a meeting, why the professional wants to see them in the office or to visit them at home. They may not be aware of roles that different professionals and agencies play and may not be aware that the local authority and partner agencies have a statutory role in safeguarding children, which in some circumstances override the role and rights of parents (e.g. child protection).
Professionals should seek expert help and advice in gaining a better understanding, when there is a possibility that cultural factors are making a family resistant to having professionals involved.
Professionals who anticipate difficulties in engaging with a family may want to consider the possibility of having contact with the family jointly with another person in whom the family has confidence. Any negotiations about such an arrangement must be underpinned by the need for confidentiality in consultation with the family.
Professionals need to ensure that parents understand what is required of them and the consequences of not fulfilling these requirements, throughout. Professionals must consider whether:
Dealing with Hostility and Violence
Despite sensitive approaches by professionals, some families may respond with hostility and sometimes this can lead to threats of violence and actual violence.
It is critical both for the professional's personal safety and that of the child that risks are accurately assessed and managed.
Threats can be covert or implied (e.g. discussion of harming someone else), as well as obvious. In order to make sense of what is going on in any uncomfortable exchange with a parent, it is important that professional are aware of the skills and strategies that may help in difficult and potentially violent situations.
Making sense of hostile responses
Professionals should consider whether:
Impact on professionals of hostility and violence
Working with potentially hostile and violent families can place professionals under a great deal of stress and can have physical, emotional and psychological consequences, which may impact on their capacity to make effective decisions.
Keeping professionals safe
(Also refer to Violence Towards Staff Procedure)
Professionals have a responsibility to plan for their own safety, just as the agency has the responsibility for trying to ensure their safety. Professionals should consult with their line manager to draw up plans and strategies to protect their own safety and that of other colleagues. There should be clear protocols for information sharing (both internal and external). Agencies should ensure that staff and managers are aware of where further advice can be found.
If threats and violence have become a significant issue for a professional, the line manager should consider how the work could safely be progressed, document their decision and the reason for it.
Managers have a statutory duty to provide a safe and working environment for their employees under the Health and Safety at Work legislation.