This week I was lucky enough to attend the Bristol Safeguarding Children Board Annual Conference. One of the guest speakers was Joanna Nicolas, a Child Protection Consultant & Trainer, who spoke about ‘Disguised Compliance’ and why it is an important concept for everyone who works with children to understand.
Disguised Compliance is defined by the NSPCC as “a parent or carer giving the appearance of co-operating with child welfare agencies to avoid raising suspicions, to allay professional concerns and ultimately to diffuse professional intervention.” Simply put, parents who display disguised compliance will distract, manipulate, lie to and groom other professionals to believe the falsehood that they are not abusing their children. As a result, children are not effectively safeguarded and the abuse continues.
Disguised Compliance has been a common theme in many high profile child abuse cases.
- Victoria Climbie’s social worker described being “set up” during home visits. Victoria was seen sat playing quietly with dolls while her abusive aunt complained about her housing needs – the reality was that her body had been so damaged that she could not stand properly and she was terrified to speak.
- Baby Abigail was admitted to hospital aged 3 unable to walk and with severe ulcerated nappy rash, anaemia, malnutrition, head lice infestation and weak bones. Afterwards an older sibling said that her parents would ‘lie all the time’. The mother would regularly throw lumps of nappy cream away, so professionals thought she was using it.
- In Bristol, Child T died from physical abuse from his father while his mother, a victim herself of domestic abuse, lied for five years that the father was not resident. The Serious Case Review stated: ‘We will never know how much of that time Mr Z was also living in the home, however Ms A says he was there most of the time. She described being unable to keep him away.’
Lord Laming, author of the Victoria Climbie Inquiry, said that professionals could be over-optimistic when dealing with parents and carers, and that when safeguarding children we needed to exercise “respectful uncertainty”.
All professionals need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of Disguised Compliance. These may include:
- Seeing no evidence of significant change in the child’s situation despite significant input from professionals.
- Parents agreeing with professionals regarding required changes but putting in little effort.
- Parents aligning themselves with certain professionals above others (possible grooming).
- A child’s report of matters conflicting with that of the parents.
If you suspect Disguised Compliance, take stock, speak to the child if possible and carefully weigh all the evidence, using the support of your Supervisor or Designated Safeguarding Lead. The key course of action is to speak with other professionals about your concerns and to always put the child’s welfare at the centre of your enquiry.