How to… deal with intimidating families

Ray Braithwaite offers guidance on managing highly resistant behaviour

Ray Braithwaite offers guidance on managing highly resistant behaviour

Two serious case reviews published in July highlighted a key issue facing child protection social workers: in both situations, the parents or carers used intimidation and disguised compliance to keep social workers at arm’s length. The wrong decisions were made and crucial signs of abuse were missed.

Intimidation has many forms ranging from the more obvious threats, such as shouting and use of abusive language, to the less obvious use of silence, creating a powerful presence and constant bullying. Some family members will even imply that their social worker is incompetent or displaying inappropriate behaviour, and request a replacement.

Here is a guide to managing highly resistant behaviour.

1 Always ensure you are safe

Find out whether you can access training on managing aggression. Take responsibility for your own personal safety and follow procedures such as visiting in pairs, carrying a mobile phone, having a call-back procedure at the end of your visit and parking your car facing the way you intend to leave.

2 Identify resistant behaviour yourself

Keep factual notes with dates and descriptions of any behaviour that indicates intimidation. Look back at the case history on a regular basis to see if there is a recurring pattern. Time spent reading case information is always useful and may reduce the amount of time you need to invest in working with the family further down the line.

3 Consider a fresh approach

If possible, find out what any previously allocated social workers or other staff did to manage resistant behaviour from that particular family. Was their approach successful? If not, you may need to find another way to work with the family, using the following as a guide.

4 Be open with the family

If you think a parent or carer is using resistant behaviour, tell them as soon as you recognise it. Use straightforward, jargon-free language and back up your argument with dates and examples. Some examples you could relay to the family include:

● Agreeing to keep appointments and not doing so

● Hostility or non co-operation

● Agreeing to undertake individual actions and failing to achieve or complete them

● Putting little effort into making changes work

● Co-operating with some services but not making important changes

● No significant changes identified at reviews

● Changes do occur but as a result of the input of workers and not the parent or carer.

5 Establish or re-establish a written contract with the parent or carer

Identify a set of alternative behaviours you consider acceptable and achievable using the SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed. Be clear with the parent about the reason for your visits. Let them know you will be making unannounced visits and will want to see other parts of the house, such as where the child slept the night before.

6 Outline reasons why the parent or carer should co-operate

Talk through what the service user has to gain from co-operating and offer something, if possible, which may be perceived as a reward for compliance. This may include compliments and recognition, child minding or baby sitting to allow parents additional free time, a Yoga or massage session for the parent, financial incentive or additional social work input. Equally important is to detail the negative consequences of continued resistant behaviour.

7 Remember the child is the focus

On each visit, make sure you see and talk to the child away from the carer or parent, if the child’s age and ability permits. Again, make unannounced visits and look in other parts of the property, not just the room you are shown into.

8 Keep to a fixed timetable, and have a plan of action of changes do not occur

Monitor any changes and provide positive feedback to the parent or carer on each visit, clearly outlining any improvements. Identify any lack of progress, identify reasons for the lack of progress and help the family identify ways of overcoming these. The importance of good-quality, reflective supervision cannot be over-stressed here, because it is within such sessions that the social worker can identify progress or the lack of it.

Ray Braithwaite is a freelance trainer specialising in aggression and stress

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