Safeguarding Children

Working with difficult families

The terms resistant, avoidant, hard to reach are often used interchangeably. In addition, disguised compliance is also used alongside these words. But do we really know what this four words mean?


For avoidant family we understand families who may not do openly challenge the practitioners’ involvement but who fail to engage in the strategies agreed as necessary to address the concerns and bring about change. They can be described as passively disengaging. Disguised or partial parental compliance also wrong-footed professionals. Apparent parental co-operation often prevented or delayed understanding of the severity of harm to the child.

Brandon, M. et al.(2008a) Analysing child deaths and serious injury through abuse and neglect: what can we learn? A biennial analysis of serious case reviews 2003-2005. Research Brief DCSF-RB023


For resistant family we understand a Family who deny or minimise the existence of concerns and proactively sabotage efforts to bring about change, using a variety of strategies.

For violent family we understand a family known to have engaged in violent acts either between family members and/ or involving other people. The violence may be physical, actual or threatened, or psychological.

A disguised compliance involves 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. Term attributed to Reder, Duncan and Gray who outlined this type of behaviour in beyond blame: child abuse tragedies revisited, 1993.

Hard to reach