Disguised compliance

As professionals we are encouraged to look for signs of strength and positive changes, however we must never lose sight of our professional curiosity.

Definition of disguised compliance

Disguised compliance involves parents giving the appearance of co-operating with child welfare agencies to avoid raising suspicions and allay concerns. Published case reviews highlight that professionals sometimes delay or avoid interventions due to parental disguised compliance.”

NSPCC – Disguised compliance: learning from case reviews (2016)

Quotation marks

What might disguised compliance look like?

  • Focusing on one particular issue – parents make sure one thing goes well to deflect attention away from other areas (e.g. with Daniel Pelka, school attendance improved whilst the abuse continued).
  • Being critical of professionals – parents will seek to blame other professionals for things not happening, again deflecting attention away from things they have not done and seeking to split the professional group working with the family.
  • Failure to engage with services – parents will promise to take up services offered but then not attend appointments due to other problems.
  • Avoiding contact with professionals – parents will agree to certain targets and then avoid further contact with professionals.

what to do...

Begin from a place of ‘respectful uncertainty’. This means you take what people say seriously, be they parents, young people or even colleagues, but you then look for other information to correlate or challenge the account. Where there is conflicting evidence from different professionals, the child, others students or local community, or family members, this should give you pause for thought.

Set some short term, very achievable goals. If the family promise but can’t manage these then it’s unlikely your goal of 100% attendance in three years is going to happen!

Look carefully at the evidence. The best predictor of the future we have is the past. Look at your chronology, think about patterns and the reasons for these. What would need to change? How many times have the family come through on what they’ve agreed to previously. Are the children’s needs being met now? Are they at risk? How long is reasonable to allow unmet needs or lower level risks to go on? Should you be taking action now?

Watch and learn. Create opportunities to be with the parent and the children. What can you see? What support is needed to enable the parent and the student to achieve the goals.

Where there is disguised compliance teachers can believe they’ve engaged positively with parents/carers to address risk/change. However, progress can drift, risks are not reduced and may actually be increased and staff can fail to recognise significant issues of concern (domestic abuse, drug/alcohol misuse), misinterpret vital information and lose inter-agency communication.

The child therefore remains in a high risk, unprotected environment.

Be clear about your rationale with definite, measurable milestones for the student. Keep track of the pace of progress and don’t be afraid to be direct about your concerns where appropriate. If there is drift, reassess the situation, record your evidence of disguised compliance and consider the need to increase the involvement of other agencies.

need some help?

We provide free initial, anonymised advice to members. safeguarding network also offers a safeguarding support service to schools with qualified, professional advice on working with complex families and other agencies. From telephone advice to face-to-face support we are here to help and ensure your students get the best support possible and your school is safe in its safeguarding responsibilities.

Our rates are £19+VAT per quarter hour – contact us with basic information (do not include confidential details at this stage) and we will be back in touch with you shortly.