Sue Woolmore talks about disguised compliance and the importance of professional curiosity

By | October 19, 2019


My name’s Sue Woolmore and I’m a social
worker by background, working in child protection in both the statutory and voluntary sector.
I spend a lot of time with practitioners and their first line managers talking about the
kind of issues that they deal with when they’re working with families and there is a really
common one which is about how you work with families who seem to be cooperating with what
you want, but you have that feeling that maybe all is not what it seems. A lot of people
call it disguised compliance, it can be one of those really tricky things to get to the
bottom of. Particularly because often we want families to change, we really want them to
do well, so were looking for any small sign we can find that things are getting better
for the family and hopefully better for the child. But there are ways in which we can
discern whether this is real change or whether it is just this disguised compliance and it’s
not rocket science, it’s not the most difficult thing but it is challenging.
One of the really important things is to be curious, so when you’re spending time with
families, notice things and wonder about it, wonder what that might mean and it’s tempting
often not to because if you start wondering and being curious then you might find things
that require a lot of your attention and a case that seems quite simple can suddenly
become much more complicated, but in our hearts of hearts we are doing what we do to make
a difference to children. So it is worth being curious and wondering
and having conversations with colleagues maybe over the desk in the office certainly with
managers, just saying let me just run this past you, what do you think? Or, when i was
there i just had this feeling, this sense and find someone who can help you unravel
what some of your curiosity is suggesting to you and then you’re in a good position
to start exercising some of your professional judgement, then you can start weighing up
all of those things that you’ve seen, that you’ve heard, that you’ve sensed and try
and get a picture from that and draw some conclusions from it.
Because one thing that we do know from a lot of experience is that some of the families
we work with are quite complicated, well they’re very complicated, they’re complex and they
often have within them adults who have a lot of needs. Who some may even describe as quite
broken and it’s very compelling to try and meet their needs, always hoping that by meeting
their needs then you’ll help the child, but we have to ask ourselves how long can the
child wait whilst we work with the parents and there is always that temptation that whilst
were focusing on the parents, we lose sight of the child and the children do become much
more peripheral, they’re on the edge, they can almost drop off our radar screen, so it’s
important in all that we’re doing to be curious not just about adults but about the children.
What is a day in the life of that child is like, can we put ourselves in their position
and can we try and experience that with them and be curious and to wonder, to wonder about
what you see and what you hear and it’s amazing how much easier it can then become to make
sense of what you’re seeing and alongside all of this we need to talk to each other
professionals, because what you see what i see might be different from somebody else
and when you put all the pieces of the jigsaw together we stand some chance of working out
what life is really like for the children in that family.

3 thoughts on “Sue Woolmore talks about disguised compliance and the importance of professional curiosity

  1. angela baggaley Post author

    do you think Sue that maybe your a bit paranoid?  judgmental?  a bit off your head?  a child stealing liar?  broken adults Sue???  broken??  and wow what a lovely convincing caring voice your putting on, so genuine

    Reply
  2. Paul Evans Post author

    Great video I'm writing an essay on workplace values around the Victoria Climbié report, and this ties in well with professional optimism. Thank you!!

    Reply
  3. Stephen Thompson Post author

    On Twitter Professor Sue White has commented that disguised compliance is a nonsense concept. The RSW blog describes it a "short hand jargon and a dangerious concept". David Wilkins in an article in Community Care (March 2017) and Hart says its a powerful stigmatising label that has no basis in evidence. He has debunked the concept in the Journal of Family Law. Sue Woolmore is an opportunist with no research background or skills. She was merely touting a flavour of the month concept.

    Reply

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