July 2019

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Disguised Compliance and Avoidant Families – Tips

Disguised Compliance and Avoidant Families – Tips

 “Adults who deliberately exploit the vulnerability of children can behave in devious and menacing ways. They will often go to great lengths to hide their activities from those concerned for the well-being of a child. Staff often have to cope with the unpredictable behaviour of people in the parental role…And It is a job which carries risks, because in every judgement they make, those staff have to balance the rights of a parent with that of the protection of the child” (Lord Laming 2003:13)

When you receive a new family or allocation

 At the point of the start of the work- check information from within and without your agency:

Check any indicators of such previous behaviours: Forms of resistance:

  • Resistance
  • Non co-operation
  • Avoidance- not answering door, phone etc.; attending nursery/school/Health Visitor appointments?
  • Disguised compliance

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What were the nature and contents of these exactly? What forms did they take? 
  • How did previous workers/agencies try to deal with these? Were they effective or not? Why? 
  • How and when will you raise such matters in supervision/with your manager?
  • How and where will you record what you are concerned about?

Having difficult conversations

Consider the following:

  • How will you introduce yourself and your role to the parent(s) and child?
  • How will you in particular raise the issue of how you might take into account how the parent(s) engage with you and allow you to engage with the child (ren) in relation to any possible resistance?
  • What might alert you i) initially and ii) over time to   any possible resistance?
  • The parents are refusing to let you see the bedrooms/speak to the child on their own. What now?
  • Parents with learning difficulties- fear of being judged as inadequate /bad parents, and losing children- and has a reality to it; so conceal.
  • Parents with substance misuse and or mental health problems
  • Issues of cultural sensitivity versus cultural relativity.


What behaviour/talk from/dynamics within the family might alert you to resistance as a problem?

  • Ambivalence: parents are often late for appointments, or repeatedly make excuses for missing them; changing the conversation away from uncomfortable topics (avoidance) and/or when they use dismissive body language.
  • Splitting- within families, with workers, and within worker support/monitoring mechanisms- good worker/bad worker, good agency/ bad agency
  • Denial- not allowing easy contact with child, especially on own; refusing to acknowledge abuse/problems
  • Displacement activity- into more habitual, familiar behaviour/talking- housing/benefits/neighbours etc.
  • Disguised compliance: Seeming to want to please us/ go along with our plans... But...?
  • Avoidance- not answering the door as opposed to not being in; frequently/always saying child with relatives/friends

Parents distracting us may:

  • Praise us /distract us by other means OR
  • Play the victim (e.g. Baby Peter Connelly)

Workers may be viewed as

  • Kindly
  • ‘Gullible’
  • Wishing to make things ‘OK’, without challenging the abusive dynamics.

Be alert to:

  • Who seems to be allowed to speak, controlled by whom?
  • Who seems to be allowed to be with you alone, controlled by whom?
  • What non-verbal communication between family members/ family members and you might alert you to dynamics of keeping secrets/controlling what is said to workers, by whom?
  • How might you be seen from within the parents’ views/strategies to keep you at bay?
  • How might you be seen from within the child’s views/strategies to keep you at bay?
  • Rule of optimism- dual role, care/control Adult to Adult communication- expectations of honesty to and from worker and parents, and ideally set out in the planning/agreement meeting notes/CP conference minutes, so demonstrate all agencies are saying this, to try to avoid splitting. Do try to do this in a way which depersonalises it from yourself as an individual making criticisms of the parent – we know that being non-judgemental is key to achieving engagement, and the parents feeling that you are concerned about them as people (see C4EO), whilst also at the same time your making clear that the well-being and the welfare of the child is paramount to the concerns of the agency you represent.


  • “Our areas of concern are... (State clearly, and by doing so, depersonalize from you- these are all the agencies expectations in order to be able ensure child is safe and well) 
  • “We know it is difficult to be open with us because of your worries about our role/what we are trying/maybe planning to do… (Acknowledge dual role/what agencies powers are- but also in most, no orders, etc.) 
  • “where we need to get to for you and your child is…”- (be specific in treatment of child, engagement with agencies- if concerned at not engaging, agencies will need to consider plans again (and this should be in agreement recorded with the other agencies involved)
  • “What needs to change for you and us (agencies) to be assured the child is safe and well?”


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