3.3.4 Working Effectively with Resistance, Obstacles and Hostility to Engagement


The Child Safeguarding Annual Report 2020


This document was amended throughout in October 2021.

1. Introduction

There are many reasons why a family may respond with resistance including a history of trauma and poor experiences with services. It is important to understand the underlying issues giving rise to reluctant or sporadic engagement, particularly where parental consent is required for engagement.

Different families respond to professionals in different ways.  From time to time all agencies will meet families who deflect attention from improving outcomes for their child, or who are more obviously reluctant, resistant, angry or hostile toward agency approaches. In extreme cases a worker may experience intimidation, abuse, threats or actual violence. In all cases, workers and services must consider what it must be like for a child or young person living in the household and/or community and prioritise the welfare of the child.

Every effort should be made to engage families even when there are obstacles. The 2020 annual report of the Child Safeguarding Review Panel endorses relation-based practice that recognises the importance of effective relationships between practitioners and families in creating the motivation and opportunity for change. The report supports seeking understanding of non-engagement and adapting services and processes to meet the needs of families who need support.

However, where children are being groomed or are experiencing abuse from within their families or communities, they and/or their families may try to deliberately conceal that by being evasive, untruthful, hostile or manipulative. Such behaviour has been recorded in multiple Serious Case Reviews where the outcomes have been tragic. Therefore missed appointments, blocking of communications, cancelled visits and open hostility should all be seen as indicators of avoidant behaviour that requires proactive follow-up.

This procedure addresses:

  • The causes and presentation of resistance;
  • The impact on the worker and their assessment of risk;
  • Strategies workers can utilise to improve engagement;
  • Required steps to maintain child-focus, keep children safe and promote their wellbeing;
  • Guidance for workers to keep themselves safe;
  • The responsibility of managers to provide a safe and supportive working environment.

SCSP runs the following training relevant to this procedure:

  • Working with hostility and resistance in families (5 day);
  • Trauma Informed Practice (2 hour workshop);
  • Professional Curiosity (2 hour workshop).
*This procedure should be considered alongside individual practitioner codes of conduct. It is not intended to replace in-house self-defence / safety training in place within organisations.

2. Recognising and Understanding

Resistance can take the following forms:

  • Ambivalence can be seen when people are always late for appointments, or repeatedly make excuses for missing them; when they change the conversation away from uncomfortable topics and when they use dismissive body language. Ambivalence is the most common reaction and may not amount to uncooperativeness. No service user is without ambivalence at some stage in the helping process. We are all ambivalent about the dependency involved in being helped by others. It may reflect cultural differences, not being clear about what is expected, or be about poor previous experiences of involvement with practitioners. Ambivalence may need to be acknowledged, but it can be readily worked through;
  • Avoidance is a very common method of uncooperativeness and includes avoiding appointments, missing meetings, and cutting short visits due to other apparent important activity (often because the prospect of involvement makes the person anxious and they hope to escape it). Extreme avoidance may include not answering the door, as opposed to not being in. They may clearly have a problem, have something to hide, resent outside interference or find staff changes difficult. They may face up to the contact as they realise the worker is resolute in their intention, and may become more able to engage as they perceive the worker's concern for them and their wish to help;
  • Confrontation includes challenging practitioners, provoking arguments, and often indicates a deep-seated lack of trust leading to a 'fight' rather than 'flight' response to difficult situations. Parents / carers may fear, perhaps realistically, that their children may be taken away or they may be reacting to them having being taken away. They may have difficulty in consistently seeing the worker's good intent and be suspicious of their motives. It is important for the worker to be clear about their role and purpose, demonstrate a concern to help, but not to expect an open relationship to begin with. However, the parent / carer's uncooperativeness must be challenged, so that they become aware that the worker / agency will not give up. This may involve the worker experiencing multiple displays of confrontation;
  • Violence threatened or actual violence by a small minority of people is the most difficult of uncooperative behaviours for the worker/agency to engage with. It may reflect a deep and long-standing fear and projected hatred of authority figures. People may have experience of getting their way through intimidation and violent behaviour. The worker / agency will need to be realistic about the capacity for change in the context of an offer of help with the areas that need to be addressed.

2.1 Reasons for Not Cooperating

There are a variety of reasons why some families may be uncooperative with practitioners, including:

  • Impact of traumatic history;
  • Wanting to maintain privacy;
  • They have something to hide;
  • They don't think they have a problem;
  • Resenting outside interference;
  • There are cultural differences;
  • They do not understand what is being expected of them or don't have the resources / skills to carry it out;
  • Poor experience of professionals and services (current or past);
  • Difficulty managing staff change;
  • Dislike or fear of authority figures;
  • Anger and aggression are normalised for the family;
  • Fear that their children will be taken away;
  • Fear of being judged to be poor parents because of substance misuse, domestic abuse, mental health or other problems;
  • Coercion to avoid professionals (because of domestic abuse and/or organised crime);
  • They feel they have nothing to lose, for example when the children have already been removed;
  • Approach by worker could be construed as patronising, dismissive or disrespectful and the family could have cause for complaint.

A range of social, cultural and psychological and historical factors influence the behaviour of parents / carers. Understanding the past experiences of families is vital for assessments and supporting future engagement.

3. Impact on the Assessment of Children, Young People and Families

Accurate information and a clear understanding of what is happening to a child / young person within their family and community, is vital to any assessment. The usual and most effective way to achieve this is by engaging parents and their children in the process of assessment, reaching a shared view of what needs to change and what support is needed, and jointly planning the next steps.

Engaging with a parent / carer who is resistant or even violent and / or intimidating is obviously more difficult. The behaviour may be deliberately used to keep practitioners at bay or can have the effect of keeping practitioners at bay. There may be practical restrictions to the ordinary tools of assessment - for example, observing the child in their own home. The usual sources of information, for example other workers and other family members may not be available because nobody can get close enough to the family.

Workers from all agencies should explicitly work out and record what areas of assessment are difficult to achieve and why.

The presence of violence or intimidation needs to be included in any assessment of risk to the child living in such an environment.

If you feel threatened by the parent or carer, think what life must be like at home for their child/ren.

3.1 The Impact on the Child or Young Person

The worker needs to be mindful of the impact the hostility to outsiders may be having on the day-to-day life of the child / young person. These factors are also relevant when the resistance is rooted in exploitation outside of the family. They may:

  • Be coping with their situation with hostage-like behaviour;
  • Have become de-sensitised to violence;
  • Have learnt to appease and minimise – (including smiling in the presence of practitioners);
  • Be simply too frightened to tell;
  • Identify with the aggressor.

3.2 The Impact on your Assessment

In order to assess to what extent the hostility of the parents / carers is impacting on your assessment of the child, consider;

  • Am I colluding with the parents / carers by avoiding conflict, e.g.
    • Avoiding home visits, instead using remote methods of contact
    • Accepting the parents' version of events unquestioningly
    • Placing undue weight on positive information
    • Focussing on less contentious issues such as benefits / housing;
    • Avoiding asking to look round the house, see how much food is available; not inspecting the conditions in which the child sleeps etc
    • Not asking to see the child / young person alone?
  • Am I changing my behaviour to avoid conflict? Your behaviour may need to change to adapt to the situation, but the content of what you say and the outcomes you desire should remain unchanged;
  • Am I filtering out or minimising negative information?
  • Am I afraid to confront family members about my concerns?
  • Am I keeping my worries to myself and not sharing risks and assessment with others in the inter-agency network or manager?

Workers also need to consider:

  • Is the child keeping 'safe' by not telling me things?
  • Has the child learned to appease and minimise?
  • Is the child blaming him or herself?
  • What message am I giving this family if I don't challenge?

Ask yourself whether:

  • Am I relieved when there is no answer at the door?
  • Am I relieved when I get back out of the door?
  • Did I say / ask / do what I would usually say / ask / do when making a visit or doing an assessment?
  • Have I identified and seen the key people?
  • Have I observed evidence of others who could be living in the house, when I have not been told there is anyone else living there?
  • Is this a case of Domestic Abuse but I am only working with the adult victim?
  • What might the children have been feeling as the door closed behind me?
  • Workers and their supervisors should keep asking themselves the question: what might the children have been feeling as the door closes behind a worker leaving the family home?

4. Impact on Multi-Agency Work

All agencies need to work in partnership with families to achieve the agreed outcome. However, all parties involved need to understand this partnership may not be equal, depending on whether the involvement is with statutory or voluntary agencies. Non-statutory agencies may need to access advice and potentially escalate the case to Social Care if they feel the family are not co-operating with them on a voluntary basis, or if the family fail to improve the lived experience of the child/children despite attempts to intervene early.

Sometimes parents / carers may be hostile to specific agencies or individuals. If the hostility is not universal, then agencies should seek to understand why this might be and learn from each other. Where hostility towards most agencies is experienced, this needs to be managed on an inter-agency basis otherwise the results can be as follows:

  • Everyone 'backs off', leaving the child / young person unprotected;
  • The family is 'punished' by withholding of services as everyone 'sees it as a fight'. This is at the expense of assessing and resolving the situation for the child / young person;
  • There is a divide between those who want to appease and those who want to oppose - or everyone colludes.

When parents / carers are only hostile to some individuals / agencies or where individuals become targets of intimidation intermittently, the risk to good inter-agency collaboration is probably at its greatest. Any pre-existing tensions between agencies and individuals, or misunderstandings about different roles are likely to surface. The risks are that splits occur between the agencies / individuals, with tensions and disagreement taking the focus from the child / young person, for example:

  • Individuals or agencies blame each other, and collude with the family;
  • Those not feeling under threat can find themselves taking sole responsibility which can ultimately increase the risk to themselves;
  • Those feeling 'approved of' may feel personally gratified as the family 'ally' but then be unable to recognise / accept risks or problems;
  • Those feeling under threat may feel that it is personal;
  • There is no unified and consistent plan.

4.1 Ensuring Effective Multi-Agency Working

Staff should alert other practitioners who know a family to be aware of potential difficulties and risks. Any agency faced with incidents of threats, hostility or violence should routinely consider the potential implications for any other agency involved with the family as well as for its own staff and should alert them to the nature of the risks.

Regular inter-agency communication, clear mutual expectations and attitudes of mutual respect and trust are the core of inter-agency working. When working with hostility or violence from parents or carers, the need for good inter-agency collaboration and trust is paramount and is also likely to be put under greatest pressure. It becomes particularly important that everyone is:

  • Aware of the impact of hostility on their own response and that of others;
  • Respectful of the concerns of others;
  • Alert to the need to share relevant information about safety concerns;
  • Actively supportive of each other and aware of the differing problems which different agencies have in working within these sorts of circumstances;
  • Open and honest when disagreeing;
  • Aware of the risks of collusion and of the targeting of specific professions / agencies;
  • Prepared to discuss strategies if one agency (for example a health visitor) is unable to work with a family - how will information / monitoring be gained and is it possible to have a truly multi-agency plan?

4.2 Information Sharing Considerations

SCSP Information Sharing Procedure

There are reasonable uncertainties and need for care when considering disclosing personal information about an adult.

Concerns about possible repercussions from someone who can be hostile and intimidating may be an added worry. However, information sharing is pivotal and also being explicit about experiences of confronting hostility / intimidation or violence should be standard practice.

Workers and their first line managers should consider the following questions. If the answer is yes to any of them, the information should be shared with any other workers involved with the family:

  • Do you have experience of the adult linked to the child being hostile, intimidating, threatening or actually violent?
  • Is it general or in specific circumstances? For example, is it drink related / linked to intermittent mental health problems?
  • Are you intimidated / fearful of the adult?
  • Do you feel you may have been less than honest with the family to avoid conflict?
  • Are you now in a position where you will have to acknowledge concerns for the first time? And are you fearful how they will respond to you?
  • In their position, would you want to be made aware of these concerns?

Workers in different settings and tiers of responsibility may have different thresholds for concern and different experience of having to confront difficult behaviour. It is vital the differing risks and pressures are acknowledged and supported.

4.3 Child Protection Conferences, Core Groups and Multi-Agency Meetings

Avoiding people who are hostile is a normal human response. However, it can be very damaging to the effective inter-agency work needed to protect children, which depends on proactive engagement by all workers with the family. Collusion and splitting between workers and agencies will be reduced by:

  • Clear agreements, known to all agencies and to the family, detailing each worker's role and the tasks to be undertaken by them;
  • Full participation at regular multi-agency meetings, core group meetings and at child protection conferences with all agencies owning the concerns for the child rather than leaving it to a few to face the unco-operativeness and hostility of the family.

Although it is important to remain in a positive relationship with the family as far as possible, this should not be at the expense of being able to share real concerns about intimidation and threat of violence.

Options to consider are:

  • Discussing with the Child Protection Coordinator the option of using the exclusion criteria if the quality of information shared is likely to be impaired by the presence of threatening adults - see Initial Child Protection Conferences Procedure, Criteria for Excluding Parents or Restricting their Participation;
  • Holding a practitioners meeting to share concerns, information and strategies and to draw up an effective work plan that clearly shares decision-making and responsibilities. If such meetings are held, there must always be an explicit plan made of what / how / when to share what has gone on with the family. Secret discussions are unlikely to remain secret, and the aim should always be to empower the Core Group to become more able to be direct and assertive with the family without compromising their own safety;
  • Holding a meeting to draw up an explicit risk reduction plan for workers and in extreme situations, instituting repeat meetings explicitly to review the risks to workers and to put strategies in place to reduce these risks;
  • Joint visits with colleagues or workers from other agencies. Police may be involved if necessary;
  • If workers have experienced a frightening event, debriefing with other agencies, as well as own colleagues, can be helpful.
Although working with hostility in families can be particularly challenging, the safety of the child is the first concern. If you are too scared to confront the family, consider what life is like for the child.

5. Responding to Resistance

When a worker begins to work with a family who is known, or discovered, to be resistant, the worker should make every effort to understand why a family may be resistant or hostile. This entails considering all available information, including whether a common assessment has been completed and whether a lead professional has been appointed.

5.1 What Should I Do?

When working with resistance, workers in all agencies can improve the chances of a favourable outcome for the child/ren by:

  • Keeping the relationship formal though warm, giving clear indications that the aim of the work is to achieve the best for their child/ren;
  • Clearly stating their professional and/or legal authority;
  • Continuously assessing the motivations and capacities of the parent/s or carer/s to respond co-operatively in the interests of their child/ren;
  • Confronting unco-operativeness when it arises, in the context of improving the chances of a favourable outcome for the child/ren;
  • Engaging with regular supervision from their manager to ensure that progress with the family is being made and is appropriate;
  • Seeking advice from experts (e.g. police, mental health specialists) to ensure progress with the family is appropriate;
  • Helping the parent to work through their underlying feelings at the same time as supporting them to engage in the tasks of responsible child care;
  • Being alert to underlying complete resistance (possibly masked by superficial compliance) despite every effort being made to understand and engage the parent/s;
  • Being willing, in such cases, to take appropriate action to protect the child/ren (despite this action giving rise to a feeling of personal failure by the worker in their task of engaging the parent/s).

5.2 What to Avoid?

Workers' 'coping' strategies that may merely obstruct engagement with any other family can be pitfalls when working with hostile families. As a result perceived or actual harm to the child / young person may be minimised or underestimated by the worker. You will need support to understand the family's behaviour and your own response to it.

Workers may unknowingly use the following strategies:

  • See each situation as a potential threat and develop a "fight" response, becoming over-challenging, thus increasing the tension between the worker and the family. This may protect the worker physically and emotionally, or may put them at further risk. It can lead to that worker becoming de-sensitised to the child's pain and to violence within the home;
  • Collude with parents / carers by accommodating and appeasing them in order to avoid provoking a reaction;
  • Become hyper-alert to the personal threat so that you become less able to listen accurately to what the adult is saying, distracted from observing important responses of the child / young person or interactions between the child and adults;
  • 'Filter out' negative information or minimise the extent and impact of the child / young person's experiences, in order to avoid having to challenge. At its extreme, this can result in workers avoiding making difficult visits or avoiding meeting with those adults in their home, losing important information about the home environment. Managers should be alert to situations where workers become disempowered and avoidant;
  • Feel helpless / paralysed by the dilemma of deciding whether to 'go in heavy' or 'back off'. This may be either when faced with escalating concerns about a child / young person or when the hostile barrier between the family and outside means that there is only minimal evidence about the child's situation.

5.3 Respecting Families

Families may develop or increase resistance or hostility to involvement if they perceive the worker as disrespectful and unreliable or if they believe confidentiality has been breached outside the agreed parameters.

Workers should minimise resistance or hostility by complying with their agency's code of conduct, policies and procedures in respect of the appropriate treatment of service users.

Workers should seek expert help and advice in gaining a better understanding, when there is a possibility that cultural factors are making a family resistant to having workers involved. Workers should be:

  • Aware of dates of the key religious events and customs
  • Aware of the cultural implications of gender
  • Acknowledge cultural sensitivities and taboos e.g. dress codes.

Workers may consider asking for advice from local experts, who have links with the culture. In such discussions the confidentiality of the family concerned must be respected.

Workers who anticipate difficulties in engaging with a family may want to consider the possibility of having contact with the family jointly with another person in whom the family has confidence. Any negotiations about such an arrangement must similarly be underpinned by the need for confidentiality in consultation with the family.

Workers need to ensure that parents understand what is required of them and the consequences of not fulfilling these requirements, throughout. Workers must consider whether:

  • A parent has a low level of literacy, and needs verbal rather than written communication
  • A parent needs translation and interpretation of all or some communications into their own language
  • It would be helpful to a parent to end each contact with a brief summary of what the purpose has been, what has been done, what is required by whom and by when
  • The parent is aware that relevant information / verbal exchange is recorded and that they can access written records about them.

6. Dealing with Hostility and Violence

Despite sensitive approaches by practitioners, some families may respond with hostility and sometimes this can lead to threats of violence and actual violence. It is therefore important to try and understand the reasons for the hostility and the actual level of risk involved. It is critical both for your personal safety and that of the child / young person that risks are accurately assessed and managed.

Threatening behaviour can consist of:

  • The deliberate use of silence;
  • Using written threats;
  • Bombarding workers with emails and phone calls;
  • Using intimidating or derogatory language;
  • Racist attitudes and remarks;
  • Sexualised or homophobic attitudes and remarks;
  • Using domineering body language;
  • Using dogs or other animals as a threat;
  • Swearing;
  • Shouting;
  • Throwing things or damaging property;
  • Physical violence.

Threats can be covert or implied, e.g. discussion of harming someone else. To make sense of what is going on in any uncomfortable exchange with a parent / carer, it is important that practitioners are aware of the skills and strategies that may help in difficult and potentially violent situations and that they consult their own agency guidance.

6.1 Impact on Workers of Hostility and Violence

Working with potentially hostile and violent families can place workers under a great deal of stress and can have physical, emotional and psychological consequences. It can also limit what you can allow yourself to believe, make you feel responsible for allowing the violence to take place, lead to adaptive behaviour which is unconsciously "hostage-like", and also result in distressing physical or psychological symptoms.

The impact on workers may be felt and expressed in different ways, for example:

  • Surprise;
  • Embarrassment;
  • Denial;
  • Distress;
  • Shock;
  • Fear;
  • Self-doubt;
  • Anger;
  • Guilt;
  • Numbness;
  • Loss of self-esteem and of personal and/or practitioner confidence;
  • A sense of helplessness;
  • Sleep and dream disturbance;
  • Hyper vigilance;
  • Preoccupation with the event, or related events;
  • Repetitive stressful thoughts, images and emotions;
  • Illness;
  • Post-traumatic stress.

Factors that increase the impact on workers include:

  • Previous traumatic experiences, both in practitioner and personal life, can be revived and heighten the fears;
  • Regularly working in situations where violence and threats are pervasive. Workers in these situations can develop an adrenalin-led response, which may over or under play the threat. Workers putting up with threats may ignore the needs / feelings of other staff and members of the public. Workers can become desensitised to the risks presented by the carer to the child or even to the risks presented by the adults to themselves (i.e. the worker);
  • When faced with significant fears for their own safety, workers may develop a 'hostage-like' response. This is characterised by accommodating, appeasing or identifying with the 'hostage-taker' to keep safe;
  • Threats that extend to the worker's life outside of work;
  • Violence and abuse towards workers based on their age, race, religion, gender, disability or perceived sexual orientation for example, can strike at the very core of a person's identity and self-image. If the worker already feels isolated in their workplace in terms of these factors, the impact may be particularly acute and it may be more difficult to access appropriate support;
  • It is often assumed that there is a higher level of risk from men than from women and that male workers are less likely to be intimidated. False assumptions decrease the chances of recognition and support. Male workers may find it more difficult to admit to being afraid, and colleagues and managers may not recognise their need for emotional support. This may be particularly so if the perpetrator of the violence is a woman or young person. In addition, male workers may be expected to carry a disproportionate number of threatening service users;
  • Some workers respond to hostility in a way which indicates that they are untroubled by such conflict. Some may even give the impression to colleagues that they 'relish' the opportunity for confrontation. Consequently, not all workers will view confrontation as a negative experience and may generally appear unaffected. This should not set the culture for an organisation. Lack of appropriate support and a culture of denial or minimising of violent episodes as 'part of the job' can lead to the under-reporting of violent or threatening incidents and to more intense symptoms, as the worker feels obliged to deal with it alone.

7. Recording Information

It is vital that, as when working with any family, you make a full record of:

  • What is said, by whom, when and where;
  • What you have said;
  • What action you have taken;
  • To whom you have referred the child / young person and when;
  • What they have said to you about the referral and any subsequent action.

It should always be clear who has made the record and when the record was made.

It is acceptable and often helpful to record opinion providing it is clearly marked as such and the factors that informed the opinion are described.

7.1 Chronology

A chronology of all concerns relating to a child or young person and their family, dated and sourced, should be recorded in the files of all concerned practitioners. A chronology lists in date order all the major changes and events in a child or young person's life. It can be a useful way of gaining an overview of events in someone's life. It should be used as an analytical tool to help practitioners understand the impact, both immediate and cumulative, that events and changes may have on the child or young person's developmental progress. This includes non-cooperation of parents / carers.

A chronology should include, for example, changes in the family composition, addresses and any moves, educational establishments and any moves, the child or young person's legal status, any injuries, periods in hospital or other medical treatment, and any disclosure of abuse.

8. Keeping Workers Safe

8.1 Workers Responsibility

You have a responsibility to plan for your own safety, just as your agency has the responsibility for trying to ensure your safety. Workers should consult with their line manager to draw up plans and strategies to protect their own safety and that of other colleagues. There should be clear procedures on information sharing (both internal and external). Staff and managers need to be aware where further advice can be found.

Prior to contact with a family consider the following questions:

  • Why am I doing this visit at the end of the day when it's dark and everyone else has gone home? Risky visits should be undertaken in daylight and in working hours whenever possible;
  • Should this visit be made jointly with a colleague or a manager?
  • Is my car likely to be targeted / followed? If yes, can I use alternative transport?
  • Do I have a mobile phone with me or some other means of summoning help (e.g. personal alarm)?
  • Could this visit be arranged at a neutral venue?
  • Are my colleagues / line managers aware of where I am going and what time I should be back? Do they know that I may be particularly at risk during this visit?
  • Are there clear procedures for what should be done if an officer does not return or report back within the agreed time from a home visit?
  • Does my manager know my mobile phone number and network, my car registration number and my home address and phone number?
  • Do my family members know how to contact someone from work if I don't come home when expected?
  • Have I taken basic precautions such as being ex-directory at home and having my name removed from the public section of the electoral register?
  • Have I accessed personal safety training?
  • Is it possible for me to continue to work effectively with this family?

If an incident occurs workers should:

  • Try to stay calm and in control of their feelings;
  • Make a judgement of whether to stay or leave without delay;
  • Contact the manager immediately;
  • Follow agreed post-incident procedures, including any recording required.

In the event of an incident workers should not:

  • Take the occurrence of an incident personally;
  • Get angry themselves;
  • Be too accommodating and understanding;
  • Assume they have to deal with the situation and then fail to get out to a place of safety;
  • Think they don't need strategies or support;
  • Automatically assume the situation is their fault and that if they had said or done something differently the incident would not have happened.

8.2 Management Responsibility

Managers have a statutory duty to provide a safe working environment for their employees under the Health and Safety at Work legislation, including:

  • Undertaking assessments to identify and manage the risks inherent in all aspects of the work;
  • Providing a safe working environment;
  • Providing adequate equipment and resources to enable safe working;
  • Providing specific training to equip workers with the necessary information and skills to undertake the job;
  • Ensuring a culture that allows workers to express fears and concerns and in which support is forthcoming without implications of weakness.

In practice managers need to ensure that:

  • There is a home-visiting procedure in place that includes monitoring the safety of lone workers;
  • Workers are aware of the home visiting policies employed in their service area and the policies are implemented;
  • Team meetings and supervisions are regular, prioritised, and address safety issues;
  • In allocating work managers are mindful of the experience and expertise of their team and factors that may impact on this;
  • Planning time is allowed e.g. to obtain sufficient background information and plan contact; agree safety strategies with manager;
  • Strategies and support are in place to deal with situations that arise so that priority is given to protecting the child and anyone else who may be in danger. If threats and violence have become a significant issue for a worker, their line manager should consider how the work could safely be progressed; document their decision and the reasons for this;
  • After an incident has occurred, there is an investigation of the circumstances, action taken to support those directly involved and recognise and address the impact of incident on other members of the team;
  • Awareness that violence and threats of violence constitute a criminal offence and that the agency must take action on behalf of staff i.e. make a complaint to the police;
  • Pro-active, sensitive questions are asked about feelings of intimidation or anxiety so that workers feel permission to express concerns;
  • Training addresses the needs of new workers and more experienced staff.

9. Supervision and Support

Each agency should have a supervisory system in place that is accessible to the practitioner and reflects practice needs. Supervision discussions should focus on any hostility being experienced by workers or anticipated by them in working with families. It should also address the impact on the worker and the impact on the work with the family.

Managers must encourage a culture of openness, where their workers are aware of the support available within the team and aware of the welfare services available to them within their agency. Managers must ensure that their staff members feel comfortable in asking for this support when they need it. This includes ensuring a culture that accepts no intimidation or bullying from service users or colleagues.

Workers must feel safe to admit their concerns knowing that these will be taken seriously and acted upon without reflecting negatively on their ability or professionalism.

Recognition must be given to the addition impact of threats and abuse that target an individual's identity such as race, gender, sexuality. Inclusive workplaces will be proactive in supporting disclosure and responding to discriminatory abuse.

Discussion in supervision should examine whether the behaviour of the service user is preventing work being effectively carried out. It should focus on the risk factors for the child within a hostile or violent family and on the effects on the child of living in that hostile or aggressive environment.

Discussion should also consider whether the approach taken by the worker or agency is inhibiting engagement and what the agency can do to make it easier for the family to re-engage.

An agreed action plan should be drawn up detailing how any identified risk can be managed or reduced. This should be clearly recorded in the supervision notes. The action plan should be agreed prior to a visit taking place.

The practitioner should prepare for supervision and should bring case records relating to any violence/threats made. They should also be prepared to explore 'uneasy' feelings even where no overt threats have been made. Managers will not know about the concerns unless the practitioner reports them. By the same token, managers should be aware of the high incidence of under reporting of threats of violence and should encourage discussion of this as a potential problem.

Health and Safety should be a regular item on the agenda of team meetings and supervisions. In addition, group supervision or team discussions can be particularly useful to share the problem and debate options and responsibilities.

Files and computer records should clearly indicate the risks to workers and mechanisms to alert other colleagues to potential risks should be clearly visible on case files.