When undertaking assessments and home visits, practitioners must be aware of the conditions that may lead them to become overly optimistic about a situation. Concepts of over-optimism and disguised compliance have received attention in recent contemporary literature. Professionals must develop “professional uncertainty” and remain sceptical of the explanations, justifications or excuses they may hear, according to Lord Laming. How does disguised compliance present itself within families?
1 Joint visiting
Try to develop effective, honest communication and engagement with families from the onset. Undertake a joint visit with another professional if they already have an established relationship with the family. Clarify with families their understanding and expectations of the visit and assessment process.
2 Reference historical information
If the family has a long history of social work involvement ensure previous case files have been accessed with reference to historical information about the family before the visit. Look for evidence of patterns of familial behaviour, risks and previous attempts to change as a result of intervention and support.
3 Plan the type of visit to be undertaken
Be prepared and decide what type of visit should be undertaken. Should the visit be announced or unannounced? Will you be able to ask questions in a safe environment for the child and parent/carer? Will you be putting the parents or carers at further risk? Will the child or vulnerable adult be able to express their feelings freely? If, as a practitioner, you become fearful during a visit think how a child may feel in a similar situation.
4 Communication skills
Practitioners need the skills and courage to ask difficult questions. Do not be diverted when asking challenging questions. Organisational support is needed for practitioners to process their feelings and reflect on their practice. Are there class or cultural differences that affect the assessment process and communication and engagement with families?
5 Verification and validation
Practitioners must look for evidence of change in behaviour and verify carers’ accounts through multi-agency information sharing. Clear, up-to-date accounts are needed from professionals. However, make families aware that checks are carried out with other agencies. Be aware of families splitting or allying with other professionals. Be sceptical of friends’ and families’ accounts of events.
6 Apply professional rigour
What are your observations from your visit? Pay attention to how it feels for you. Does the home situation feel risky? Apply rigour during your visit and ensure checks to a child’s bedroom, bedding and clothing, and general household conditions. This action may feel oppressive to the service user and it is important to explain why it is necessary to do this as part of the assessment. Undertaking this level of investigation and observation will help to validate or refute parents’ accounts.
Jayne Mumford is an independent social care consultant and trainer with more than 20 years’ experience in the public and voluntary sector.
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