This is a case where a Judge was critical of the Local Authority’s use of the phrase “disguised compliance”. I know that it is a phrase that sometimes puts hackles up
Pink Tape sums up very well just how annoying some people find the phrase – though her particular issue is that it should be “disguised non-compliance”
(I’m going to suggest in this piece that the problem is not the phrase or the concept, it is throwing the label around when there’s no evidence that it is happening. It is when people just assert that it has happened without going to the bother of proving it with evidence. It is a similar sort of effect when people describe a child’s description of abuse as a “disclosure” rather than an “allegation” – because the former implies that the child must be telling you something true, and the latter is a more accurate description of the account of abuse until such time as a Court makes decisions about whether it happened)
Disguised compliance is a recognised phenomenon in child protection, and one that frequently comes up in Serious Case Reviews , it is generally defined thus:-
Disguised compliance involves parents giving the appearance of co-operating with child welfare agencies to avoid raising suspicions and allay concerns. Published case reviews highlight that professionals sometimes delay or avoid interventions due to parental disguised compliance.
So it can be a real thing, and it can be a real problem that professionals need to be aware of. Professionals failing to spot the difference between a parent who has genuinely changed and is trying their best and one who is trying it on, have ended up with children who were seriously harmed or worse. It was, for example, a major feature in the Victoria Climbie Serious Case Review, also in the Peter Connolly one.
A sceptical enquiring mind is appropriate – the mind should be open to both possibilities and assess the evidence.
The difficulty, of course, is the differential diagnosis – a situation could be disguised compliance, or it could be a parent genuinely doing everything that they are being asked to do.
If for example, a Local Authority say to a mother, we want you to separate from father and not have contact with him, and allow us to make unannounced visits and improve the home conditions, there are instances where this is exactly what the mother does and that’s positive evidence of change and a good indicator for the future. However, there are cases where the parents pretend to have separated and see each other secretly and everything on the surface looks the same as the mother who has really made those changes. The latter would be disguised compliance. Someone pretending to have changed, but not having really done it.
The issue, of course, is that simply looking at a parent and labelling what they are doing as “disguised compliance” is an allegation – that the parent is not really changed and is not trustworthy. And if you are as the State making an allegation, then the burden is on you to prove it, and you have to provide evidence to that effect. Simply labelling someone’s behaviour as “disguised compliance” is not sufficient.
If a parent is doing everything that you have asked them to do, then you can’t simply undermine that by saying “Ah, but it is just disguised compliance” – that’s like having your cake and eating it. The LA seem to be in a position of being able to criticise someone for not doing what they were asked to, but also being able to criticise them for doing it. Obviously, if there’s evidence that someone’s attitude and insight has not changed, or that they are not actually doing what they claim to be, that’s a different matter – depending on the evidence.
It may well be very sensible to have in mind that a given set of facts could be genuine change or it could be disguised compliance, and to assess the situation and check how you are monitoring, but if you can’t provide the evidence that what the mother is doing is disguised compliance, you cannot just write all of the observed changes off by saying that’s what it is. The law, and the Courts, work on evidence, not mere suspicion or speculation.
DV (Adoption or Rehabilitation) 2016
The Local Authority repeatedly use a phrase critical of the mother when they say that she has engaged in ‘disguised compliance’. It may be that their terminology is loose, but I find that it is not supported by any recent evidence. Indeed, the social worker is happy to praise the mother’s engagement and was positively enthusiastic about the counselling which was underway. Certainly, the children’s guardian was rejecting of the criticism implicit in the phrase ‘disguised compliance’. The guardian told me that the mother now recognised the need for change, she wanted to change, she had fully engaged with everything that had been offered, and she was in the process of change.
The Judge, having heard all of the evidence in the case was satisfied that the mother genuinely had separated from the father, and had learned from her mistakes and was working genuinely to make and sustain changes, and therefore refused the plan for adoption – the child was returned to the mother’s care.