Richer parents more likely to use ‘connections’ to avoid social worker interventions, finds child neglect report

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Richer parents are more likely to use their “powerful social connections” to avoid interventions by social services, a report into child neglect in affluent families has found. 

The study, which was commissioned by The City of London, discovered that socially privileged parents often had a “sense of entitlement” which “brought a greater confidence to challenge the child protection decision-making processes”. 

This meant they were more likely to resist involvement from authorities, it found. 

Workers in fields including social services and safeguarding were selected from 12 local authorities to take part in the study and were anonymously interviewed on their experiences. 

One social worker told the authors: “They know where to go with complaints, they know people within the council because the place is so small as well, they’ll get on to their local councillor, someone who they go hunting or shooting with or playing golf, that’s the reality of working in a very small place like this (and affluent) they know people in high places and they threaten you with people as well. So you’ve got to be confident when you arrive and know what you’re talking about”.

Other interviewees said parents from such families often refused to deal with anyone but higher up staff. 

Another interviewee said: “You will get affluent families who will come and stand in reception and even though the social worker has gone down, they will demand to see the team manager or they will ring the director and it’s not just an empty threat, they will ring the director. 

“Whereas with our less affluent families they may stand in reception and shout and get kicked out, and they might make threats to go to the newspaper but actually it’s not going to happen.”

It also found affluent families were more knowledgeable of the complaints process, “articulate” and “confident”. They were deemed more likely to hire legal help thanks to their “financial resources” and privileged position. 

All these reasons and more often made them “intimidating” to deal with, according to some interviewees, who said an “assertive” approach was needed by social workers in such cases. 

The research, carried out by Professor Claudia Bernard from Goldsmiths University, aimed to look at the kind of issues social workers encounter when dealing with cases of child neglect and abuse in affluent families and how to overcome these issues. 

Children from such homes were often difficult to assess as according to the report, as they were more likely to be looked after by paid carers.

Their safeguarding needs were likely to be complex, as often the children went to fee paying boarding schools and were physically and emotionally isolated from their families. 

The report found that recognising and addressing neglect – which in most circumstances was emotional, but involved sexual exploitation in at least one case – was more difficult in such families, especially as the threshold for neglect was unclear. 

Another social worker said in the report: “Those children are quite hidden, because parents know their rights, they are articulate and they can be quite avoiding. I would say that social workers are quite often concerned that working with affluent parents rather than with other parents because they are educated and they are very challenging.”

Other findings included a range of barriers to escalating complaints as families were often resistant to the questioning that was necessary to escalate concerns for an investigation. 

They also reported it being more difficult to keep a “child-focused approach” due to the demands of the parents, who often felt “they know best”.

The study was deemed necessary as there appeared to be a lack of research into cases of abuse and neglect among more well off families.

It said a certain social bias remained that abuse and neglect was more prevalent in more disadvantaged families. 

The City of London said it will take the learning points from the report and use it to form their Children’s Services Improvement Plan that will help to inform social work practice.