Rich parents 'use status to disrupt child protection probes'

By Joe Lepper

| 15 May 2018

Affluent parents suspected of child neglect are using their "status and privilege" to undermine investigations and the work of social workers, researchers have claimed.

Researchers found that affluent parents can use their status to try to deflect attention away from concerns about their parenting. Picture: Shutterstock

As part of a study into neglect among rich families, academics from Goldsmiths University interviewed social workers and other children's services professionals across 12 councils.

The majority of child protection concerns related to affluent families involve emotional neglect, according to the research, although sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation and emotional abuse were also uncovered.

The research found that affluent parents can actively use their wealth and status to attempt to disrupt investigations.

Techniques used include making formal complaints, sometimes via lawyers, against social workers to deflect attention away from concerns about their parenting.

Investigations into affluent parents also become time and resource heavy for children's services, as such families are often more knowledgeable of the system and are more likely to oppose decisions.

Rich parents are also more likely to attempt to take over the focus of investigations with their own views and expect social workers to accommodate them.

As a result, formal signed agreements with parents often failed to work.

"Affluent families resented having to deal with social workers and were much more likely to oppose their decisions, thus using status and privilege to undermine and disempower practitioners," states the research.

"One of the most frequently discussed issues was that affluent parents' confidence and sense of entitlement meant that they felt they could diagnose their own needs, expected children's social care to accommodate them, and felt that they had a right to challenge those in authority.

"Practitioners reported that active engagement techniques, such as having a formal signed agreement and goal setting, often did not work with affluent parents; the parents essentially used formal complaints as a strategy to deflect attention away from doing a robust assessment."

The report suggests that solutions to overcoming such techniques include ensuring that social workers are well supported by managers, to give them the confidence to not be deterred by the threats of complaints.

This was found to help social workers to not feel intimidated by rich parents and engage directly with children.

"Social workers were challenged to develop strategies to speak directly to the children whilst still respecting and acknowledging the status of the parents," states the research.

"Where the practitioners were able to engage directly with the children and were not intimidated by the parents, they were much more likely to achieve better outcomes for the children involved.

"In such situations, what made a difference was that the social workers had the self-confidence, practice wisdom, professional curiosity and most importantly, the support of their managers, which enabled a focus to be kept on the child without letting the complaints from the parents cloud the risk assessment."

The research was commissioned by the City of London Corporation to help understand the issues that arise for social workers when dealing with neglect among affluent families.

A City of London report into the research notes that one of the findings was the importance of assigning experienced social workers to cases involving affluent parents.

"Considerable experience, practice wisdom and knowledge of neglect were essential in relation to working with highly resistant parents who had the resources to challenge social workers' decision-making," states the City of London report.

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