Children’s social workers want national guidelines to help them cope with hostile and intimidating parents, according to a survey carried out by Community Care and children’s services consultancy Reconstruct.
The survey of more than 600 frontline workers revealed 73% felt national guidelines would be of use while two-thirds felt the issue was not taken seriously enough by either local or national government.
When asked why they thought national guidelines would be useful most workers felt it was the only way managers would be forced to deal with issues and clarify what was acceptable behaviour by parents.
“It feels like parents are allowed to abuse us,” said one worker.
Many pointed out that other agencies such as the NHS operated a “zero tolerance” approach to threatening behaviour to staff and felt social workers should be granted the same respect.
They survey revealed that more than half (51%) of all respondents did not have or did not know of any protocols in their organisation on dealing with hostile parents.
While 59% highly rated the support their team leader gave them when dealing with hostile parents, more than a third said the support their organisation gave them was poor or very poor.
“Something needs to be done. Local authorities do not prioritise this because managers do not face up to the problems directly. Instead there is a general attitude that social workers need to ‘toughen up’ and ‘get on with it’,” one respondent stated.
Another added: “There is an unspoken expectation that social worker’s should tolerate aggressive behaviour from service users and that somehow it is our fault if threats spill over into actual physical violence or if we feel affected by such behaviour.”
‘Parent was so hostile I felt physically sick’ – Anji Kerr, social worker with Hertfordshire Council
“The worst case of this type I’ve had involved a parent who was so hostile that it made me feel physically sick after seeing him.
He was from an ethnic minority community and he frequently accused me of racism and made official complaints. Each time they were followed up as they should be and each time I was exonerated. One time he even cursed me and wished me dead in a crash.
At meetings he would swear and finger point across the table. It made me and the other professionals involved feel sick and really down for days.
I have two hostile parents in my caseload at the moment. One took offence at a report I wrote about a year ago and will not let it go.
The other, who has a child on a protection plan, tells me to get off her doorstep and refuses to talk to me. It makes it difficult to do the job.
I can’t fault my managers though. They’ve been really supportive. With the parent who cursed me it affected me so much that I requested reflective supervision to go over the case and see how I handled the situation. It was really helpful.
Hostility from parents is to be expected due to the nature of the job, but there are ways of managing it. One thing we have is an individual working agreement with clients, spelling out what they can expect of us as a council and what we should expect from them.”
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