Starting in March – A Free, Ten-Week Online Course “Holding Difficult Conversations”

There’s been lots of interest in me sharing some of my insights in this way and I’m looking forward to do so. At the end of this process I hope that you’ll have doubled your confidence and ability to hold difficult conversations! Each week you’ll have some reading, an audio/visual presentation and a brief exercise. At the end of the course we’ll be convening with a webinar.

This will be useful for anyone with a public facing job, all mediators, all managers, all Human Resources professionals and everyone who has a family 😉

Sign up here if you want to take part. This is your agenda.

Week 1:          What Do You Really Want?

Week 2:         Managing Thoughts About Others

Week 3:          Managing Thoughts About Ourselves

Week 4:          Setting up the Best Environmental Context

Week 5:          Zero Sum Game – We Both Win

Week 6:          Keeping Yourself Safe

Week 7:          Using Your Body

Week 8:          Separating Positions from Needs and Interests

Week 9:          Managing Abuse and Difficult Behaviour

Week 10:        Learning from This and Other Experiences

Some Thoughts on Disguised Compliance in Safeguarding

I have been pleased to have been working with Brighton & Hove Local Safeguarding Children’ Board to deliver training entitled “Disguised Compliance and Forceful Counter Arguments” following a number of Serious Case Reviews highlighting the anxiety creating situation where parents and/or carers act is if they are complying with the professionals in the safeguarding system when they are not. I am very grateful to David Hunt, LSCB Training Manager, and particularly Tracey Holder, an experienced and able practitioner and manager who has been my co-trainer, for their support in this.

The term ‘disguised compliance’ was first used in 1993 in a book called ‘Beyond Blame: child abuse tragedies revisited’ by Peter Reder, Sylvia Duncan and Moira Gray. The term is widely understood amongst the safeguarding community, despite being a little misrepresentative – it seems to me that it’s the non-compliance which is disguised.

There are a number of excellent contributions to the study of Disguised Compliance, those wishing to explore further may be signposted to the NSPCC’s analysis of Disguised Compliance in Child Protection Reviews.

Tracey and I spent a good deal of time planning the course based on the written material on the subject and our experiences as practitioners. As a consequence we feel that there are ` couple of points that we could add. Firstly that Disguised Compliance may be usefully seen as “normal” and to some extent can be often expected in safeguarding work with families. Secondly that the dynamic of parent and carers compliance, often referred to as their level of “engagement”, may be over emphasised in safeguarding workers assessments. We therefore have two suggestions.

Disguised Compliance is “Normal”. We begin the training course by asking the participants to imagine that, whilst driving to an important meeting, they are caught driving through a red light by traffic police. We ask them what they’d say when the police officer approaches the car. The response vary but often seek to explain that they are very busy and don’t usually drive that way, some even try to make some connection between the police’s and their own safeguarding role, highlighting how important they are in an attempt to gain power over the situation. In such a situation we generally want to be seen as reasonable, intelligent sophisticated beings, aware of the risks and with control over our actions. We want to be seen as being “at our best”. When we take such a scenario into the personal domain, we can all recall how we may tidy up if expecting an important visitor, we think about what we are wearing if we have a meeting at our parents school or similar. In summary we want to be seen as competent and in control of our lives. Parents and carers who come to the attention of safeguarding professionals have a great deal to lose – they may fear being seen as incompetent, feckless or even criminal. This is not to suggest that workers should ignore Disguised Compliance, but rather expect that it may happen, focusing their efforts in understanding the lived experienced of the children involved as a better indicator or what is actually going on.

Look to the Child, Not the Parent. Safeguarding is highly stressful work, much of that anxiety arising from working with adults. Meeting parents who are welcoming and seem to wish to work alongside you is a tremendous relief! On the contrary, parents who present as angry and reluctant to collaborate are a headache and make workers worry about the children’s safety, and sometimes their own. Adult’s behaviour and what they say tend to dominate the safeguarding process and we can be overly focused on their perceived cooperation. The answer is to be highly attuned to the wellbeing and the lived experienced of the child, best gained through observation, measurement, the child’s accounts and the views of those who know them.

There are those who would say that there are no such thing as resistant people, it’s just you haven’t found a way to help them collaborate with you. It may be more useful to adopt this notion than label people as “hard to engage”.

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