SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter is used with the kind permission of Milton Keynes SCB.
Also see: Further Information.
AMENDMENTIn February 2019, a link was added to 'Survival Guide to Child Protection for Roma Parents' guidance in the Local Resources.
A feature in Serious Case Reviews across Dorset, Poole and Bournemouth as well as nationally has been the lack of co-operation and/or hostile attitude of parents/carers and some older young people. 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. Accurate information and clear understanding of what is happening to a child is the main focus of all work with families. If families are deliberately preventing professionals from working with them it is important for workers to record and assess what areas of work are difficult to achieve and why.
In brief all workers who work with these families should be mindful of the following:
Some of the reasons why families find it difficult to engage include the following:
Parents may present in a number of ways on a continuum from hostility, threats and violence through to superficial and ineffective engagement. Behaviours may include:
Ambivalence can be displayed when people are consistently late for planned appointments or they always have an excuse for missing a visit. When discussion an uncomfortable topic such as a worker sharing concerns, the subject will be changed and dismissive body language is used. It may include agreeing to take action and then not doing so. Ambivalence is often evident where there is lack of progress in a plan.
Ambivalence is a common occurrence and does not necessarily mean it will be difficult to engage with the family. It can occur due to the family being unclear about what is expected of them or poor experiences with previous professionals.
Avoidance includes cancelling or missing appointments, not answering the door or cutting short visits due to other apparent important activities.
Avoidance is very common and often indicates that the service user is anxious about the prospect of involvement and wants to escape from the situation.
Refusal includes when families will not meet with workers or refuse for a child to be seen on their own.
Confrontation includes provoking arguments, challenging the professionals in a way that deflects attention from the safeguarding issues.
Confrontation can indicate a deep-seated lack of trust leading to a "fight" not "flight" situation. It is important in these situations that workers are clear about their role and purpose by demonstrating a concern to support the family. However at some point the parent's behaviour will have to be challenged safely so they are able to understand that professionals will not give up working with the family. This may require the professional/having to cope with confrontation until co-operation can be achieved.
Violence may be threatened or actually acted out. It may involve damage to property or physical harm to professionals. Adults and young people may have previous experience of getting their way through violence and intimidation.
Violence from service users may only involve a minority of cases but is the most difficult and challenging of hard to engage behaviours to work with. Risk assessments, information sharing across agencies and support from Police to ensure safety may be needed alongside persistent attempts to understand the situation and reach a point where work can be undertaken safely.
Some families will respond with threats of violence however the worker approaches the situation. In these instances it is important that Health and Safety procedures are followed; this will include support from the Case Manager. Professionals and the child's safety must be assessed and managed safely.
Threatening behaviour can be covert or implied and consist of :
Where there are actual threats or incidents of violence the incidents must be reported to the first line manager immediately and agency procedures followed in relation to supervision, support, recording and reporting incidents to the police.
Any response must take account of:
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.
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. Where an agency is aware of weapons being owned by service users this information will be accessible to inform risk assessments.
Identifying and working with service users, or their families, who are likely to be hostile or violent:
Often work with non engaging families can be successful if agencies work together. The following are some strategies for supporting families engage across agencies.
When the threshold is met to refer to specialist agencies, the following prompts will assist:
Making an effective, clear referral to another agency is essential and care should be taken to include:
Clearly communicating, to the service user, the need for the referral, what the service user might experience in engaging with the service and what the outcomes of the specialist service are likely to be (this might include):
Raising the confidence of service users in the specialist service (this might include):
Communicating to the specialist service any difficulties that might be encountered in engaging with the service user:
Communicating to the specialist service any strategies that have been, or could be, used to overcome difficulties with engagement:
Making an appropriate and personal invitation to the service user to the first session with the specialist agency:
Use of language:
On-going communication with the referring agency:
Any agency that receives a referral should ensure appropriate responses if service users fail to attend or repeatedly cancel and re-book appointments:
Appropriate responses to repeated failure to attend:
Identifying service users, or their family members, who are disguising their lack of co-operation and compliance:
Appropriate responses and procedures to be followed when service users or their family members make complaints (informal/formal) about individual service providers as a method of avoiding engaging with the specialist service:
The child may be desensitised to what is going on around then particularly if they live in an atmosphere of hostility and aggression. The child may protect the parent because they love then or are fearful of them. It is important that practitioners attempt to understand the child's situation and gather as much information as possible from workers who are having contact with the family. It is particularly important to gather and understand any information available from observing the parents and child together to understand if the child is acting compliant or frightened.
It is important to assess how far the non engagement is impacting on the assessment process and consider if this is placing a child at increased risk. Practitioners should always consider if the non engagement means that there is serious concern for a child's welfare. If this is the situation a referral should be made to Child Service's Social Care. If the child is already know to Social Care the non engagement may mean the case meets the threshold for a strategy discussion. Careful consideration should be given to the implications of poor access for multi-agency work with the family and good inter-agency communication should be maintained.
Legal advice will be sought to establish if there are legal interventions available.
Workers from different agencies need the opportunity to share information and discuss the best way forward when working with families who do not engage, holding a professionals meeting gives agencies the opportunity to share concerns and knowledge of the family and draw up an effective plan of working with the family which shares the decisions made from the meeting.
The most worrying scenario is when every agency cannot engage the family so every one withdraws. When the family only engages with some professionals it is important that information continues to be shared to avoid developing a collusive relationship.
There are times when agencies have employed all significant means to address non engagement. At these times, the non engagement should be discussed at a multi agency meeting that is called expressly for this purpose – practitioners can then share information and consult on strategies they have been used in an attempt to engage the child, young person or family.
The purpose of this meeting should not be to solely discuss care planning but to identify the underlying causes for non engagement and put a plan in place to address these. This meeting is also a useful opportunity to acknowledge the risks associated with non-engagement; it should be recognised that at times, non-engagement will increase risks for children and consequently will accelerate action.
Contingency plans should be considered as these meetings.
The importance of good multi agency communication should be maintained. It is also essential that agencies share information when they close cases if the reason is non-engagement as this too may increase the risks to the children in the family.
These meetings can be called by any agency.
The professionals meeting needs to support this not happening. During the meeting:
When the meeting is held it is important to ensue that the threat of risk is not exaggerated by group thinking. See flow chart for potential outcomes of the meeting.
If an agency intends to close a case, it is essential that there is communication with the Lead Practitioner for the child prior to closure so that the impact on the child can be understood and addressed. The Lead Practitioner can then work with practitioners that remain involved to ensure an effective Care Plan. Where the agency closing the case is the lead practitioner, a transfer of that responsibility will be agreed.
Only valid for 48hrs