Hostile or non-engaging families


Hostile/Non-engaging parents and carers

The Child Protection Committee has published Guidance for practitioners working with hostile and/or non-engaging parents and carers.  Practitioners should refer to this where there are concerns related to this area.


Evidence shows that some adults will deliberately evade practitioner interventions aimed at protecting a child. In many cases of child abuse and neglect, this is a clear and deliberate strategy adopted by one or more of the adults with responsibility for the care of a child.  It is also the case that the nature of child protection work can result in parents and carers behaving in a negative and hostile way towards practitioners.


The terms hostile, 'non-engagement', 'non-compliance' and ‘disguised compliance’ are all terms used to describe a range of deliberate behaviour and attitudes, that amount to an underlying resistance to accepting support, or in more serious cases wilfully deceiving protective agencies to continue the abuse of children.  The behaviours below indicate some of the behaviours that would heighten concerns:


  • failure to enable necessary contact, e.g. missing appointments, or refusal to allow access to the child or to the home;
  • active non-compliance with the actions set out in the Child's Plan disguised non-compliance, where the parent/carer appears to co-operate without actually carrying out actions or enabling them to be effective; and
  • threats of violence or other intimidation towards practitioners.


Further information on the definitions can be found in theguidance.


All practitioners and managers should be alert to a parent and/or carer who is, or is becoming, hostile and/or non-engaging/disguised compliance. They should also know how to respond effectively. The guidance assists practitioners in this. It is recognised that working with a parent and/or carer who is, or is becoming hostile and/or non-engaging is very challenging. In many cases practitioners will find this very difficult and intimidating. This will, without doubt, have an impact on the practitioners directly involved with the child, young person and family. In these circumstances, support from Line Managers/Supervisors is vitally important as is robust supervision of staff. The guidance considers this in detail (insert hyperlink)



Non-engagement and non-compliance, may point to a need for compulsory or emergency measures.  In these often challenging situations, staff may need access to additional or specialist advice to inform their assessments and plans.  As well as access to specialist advice every agency in Fife should as a priority provide support to staff to ensure their safety.  This support should be explicitly expressed in single agency policy and procedures and should lead to practical measures to ensure that risk is minimised for staff and effective debriefing is available.



If a family fails to engage by missing appointments, not responding to letters etc., this failure should be recorded.  (NHS Fife practitioners can refer to Unseen Child policy)In addition, records should be kept of the extent and seriousness of this resistance to engage and what are the potential risks to children.  Decisions following this assessment should also be recorded.



For children subject to multi-agency child’s plans there is an onus on all agencies that contribute to the plan to think flexibly and innovatively, ensuring that those best placed to achieve engagement are utilised to address the resistance to contact. 




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