Is it just me that finds the phrase “disguised compliance” intensely irritating? Every time I read it the pedant in me tenses up – surely it should be “disguised non-compliance”, since it describes the phenomenon where parents disguise their actual non-compliance with apparent but superficial compliance?

Who do I write to about this? Can Michael Gove issue an edict to ban the use of the phrase or something?


41 thoughts on “Mini-Vent

  1. Can I add the term “parentified” to that edict? And worse yet, when said term is extrapolated to describe a situation where the child is taking on a “maternal” parenting role for younger siblings? I find myself routinely in a situation where I am explaining to social workers that there is already a definition for the word “mummified” and it means something altogether different and more troubling than the behaviour they are attempting to describe…

  2. Pedants of the world unite.

    Here’s another inducer of groans. Probation reports in the magistrates’ courts often include phrases such as:

    He is at medium risk of re-offending


    her risk of re-offending is high.

    It should of course be

    It is as likely as not that he will re-offend


    she will probably re-offend.

    I fear that the form usually adopted reflects the view of many in the Probation Service that offending is something that happens to the offender, not something the offender inflicts on the rest of us.

    All right, Andrew, you can put your soapbox away now.

  3. No, you are not alone. I had some frank discussions with team managers about this. I suspect that the phrase has the dual advantage of making the user feel a sense of expertise whilst simultaneously pathologising and thus rendering inferior the person of whom it is used. It has this in common with much pseudo-science.
    What a shame the human mind finds categories more beguiling than evidence.
    Good call, Lucy!

  4. Can we get some Guidance allowing practitioners to throw bundles at social workers who insist on having children “disclose” things to them.

    And anyone who witnesses a child “making a disclosure” is to be executed summarily.

    • I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said “you mean alleged” to be met with a blanked faced “sorry?”. “I said you mean alleged, not disclosed – we don’t know if it’s true yet”. Stony faced silence. “Can you amend it please?”… It’s sometimes a simple error of terminology, like refute and deny. But sometimes it is a warning flag of a fixed view / prejudgment. And it makes me RANTY!!

    • Immediately but slowly!

  5. I’m a Guardian. Disguised compliance is a phrase used extensively in our SW training: from memory it was coined by a Professor from Edinburgh in the 70s (I’ll be happily corrected – my training was some time ago!). Disguised compliance has become very trendy again, as a concept, in the last few years – I believe most LAs have commissioned training on the issue for their in-house staff.

    On the terminology – I’m not entirely clear why you object, having read through your post about three times, I still don’t get it! A parent is disguising that they are complying. Thus, it is the compliance that is disguised, not the non-compliance. Ergo, disguised compliance that is, then, effectively non-compliance (once professionals have established the compliance is not genuine).

    Wholly agree on the point about the term ‘disclosure’, however. Last week I read the phrase ‘the child disclosed to me that she had eaten lunch with other children at nursery’ or something similar. No, really. It has become a term used to describe when a child has said something (anything) – no more, no less.

    On the mummified, parentified. I’d prefer ‘acts in a parenting role’ or just ‘parents the other children’.

    Whilst we’re on simplifying terminology, and in a poor attempt at rebuttal, I would like my wonderful advocate colleagues to stop using the term ‘position’ so routinely. When taking instructions, the question: ‘What is your position?’ could simply be replaced with ‘What do you think should happen now?’ or ‘These are your options, which would you like to choose?’ and would make matters much simpler for parents/new SWs.

    Though I’m sure you’d disagree!

    • Oh I definitely agree with you on the “position” thing Alex.

      As for disguised compliance, I don’t think it’s new but it is v trendy. I think our different perspectives arise from different uses of the word compliance – you are I think taking compliance to mean a sort of formal compliance without substantive change or engagement – something with the appearance of meeting stated aims but which leaves children at much at risk as ever. And in that sense disguised compliance makes sense – the parent is pretending they are doing something more than “complying”.

      I tend to use the term differently – complying means doing as requested. And if you are doing as requested what’s to criticise? When I talk about disguised compliance (whilst trying never to use that damned phrase) I mean scenarios where parents pretend to be doing what is requested but in fact behind the scenes are not. So, for example saying one thing in meetings and behind closed doors doing another. They say yes and then do the opposite. They are disguising their non-compliance.

      So maybe your understanding of disguised compliance is parents who do the things that they are asked to when they are asked to do it (formal compliance) but where that formal compliance disguises the fact that they actually don’t get it, don’t acknowledge or see the underlying risks or concerns that those requests are trying to deal with? Their formal compliance is disguising their lack of insight. That of course runs the risk of placing parents in an impossible position, the old chestnut of parents saying they’ve done what you ask and you still want to take their kids.

      On the other hand it may be too early for me to be making much sense – and perhaps I need to go away and find a proper definition somewhere to re-root this discussion… I certainly think that whatever the original or official definition the term is in current use in both senses.

    • Oh so impressed!!!

  6. Hmm, very confusing!

    How’s this for an attempt at finding an explanation? Both from DfES 2008: “Analysing child deaths and serious injury through abuse and neglect: what can we learn? A biennial analysis of serious case reviews 2003-2005.”

    “Apparent or disguised cooperation from parents often prevented or delayed understanding of the severity of harm to the child and cases drifted. Where parents …engineered the focus away from allegations of harm, children went unseen and unheard.”

    “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”

    I’m sure there must be a root theoretical basis for the concept somewhere – but it is the above that most SWs use the term to mean, I believe.

  7. A child’s “disclosure” (commonly, of sexual abuse) is social worker doublespeak for a resident mother going along to her GP and making up bogus allegations against a non-resident father with whom she has a bone to pick. The GP readily acts as a willing vector to transmit the doublespeak on to social services (they do love to show off their child protection savvy, these doctors). The referral becomes dressed up as a “clear” disclosure by the child whom the GP hasn’t even seen, with one or two tasty tidbits about the father-child relationship (of which the GP actually knows zero about as she’s never even met the father) added on for good measure. This referral is then faxed over by social services to local police HQ whereupon officers are “fully empowered” immediately to search for other children who may have been similarly abused.
    Later that day a Strategy Discussion is held where fools and charlatans – none of whom have ever met the father or the child – nod their heads sagely and defer to one another’s expertise in deciding the “disclosure” meets the threshold for a full multi-agency S.47 investigation. An arrest strategy is discussed regarding the presumed abuser. The wild goose chase starts and a paternal relationship, otherwise perfectly normal, is shattered asunder.

  8. I won’t argue with you, Clever Clogs. Please read this instead – from a fellow Clever Clogs.

    Note his use of the descriptions “common problem” and “common pattern”.

    The expert in my case similarly noted the “high” occurrence of false allegations that arise in the course of high conflict contact disputes.
    These experts between them have conducted thousands of such investigations and their reports are reliable. The one in my case told me he’d “never made a mistake”, (another Clever Clogs).

    However, according to many in social services, children do not lie and their “disclosures” of abuse are true. The lead social worker in my case tried to claim the apparent disclosure (totally phony and phantom) arose from “recovered memory” which was nothing more than her reliance on junk science. The experts know differently. They are the ones who have to sort the mess out after police and social services have left a trail of damage including the harm they directly cause by their suggestive questioning of a child.

    Instead of “sometimes” perhaps read “often” or “frequently” or “in most cases” instead.

    • Not going to argue with me? Blimey. 😉
      Let’s not fall out over the difference between sometimes and often or frequently. The context in which allegations (not disclosures – they AREN’T disclosures until they are proved) is all important. Some allegations made against the background of acrimonious disputes between parents are malicious or mistaken (arising from overreaction in the context of pre-existing mistrust) and some are fed and given credence by professionals. Some however are legitimate. The trick is in working out which is which. And of course there are many allegations which do NOT occur against a background of parental conflict, where parents are together or where the allegation is against a sibling or other adult. There are a range of potential reasons why children say things, sometimes because it’s what happened, sometimes because it’s what they think or recall has happened (inaccurately) sometimes because they’ve been told to say it and sometimes because they think it is what they ought to say. And of course sometimes the allegation hasn’t really been made at all – but is fabricated by the resident parent and never made independently to a third party. There is a spectrum and courts can no more assume that allegations are false than they can assume that they are all true.

      • I’m sorry, but courts (civil ones anyway) should not have to sort out allegations that derive from a public law intervention which is then deliberately tipped into a private law dispute. Allegations that trigger a public law intervention ought to be resolved by the professionals concerned and not left for a hapless district judge to resolve after public law authorities have deliberately engineered parents into an internecine private law dispute that damages a child. That is a complete abuse of the child protection process, from start to finish.

        On the subject of disguised compliance, that description neatly fits those instances when child protection professionals, having resorted to quackery as they commonly do, then attempt to cover their tracks while seeking to maintain the semblance of professionalism. It describes the actions of those who cover up professional malpractice using a variety of tricks which parents must be careful to recognise before confronting the perpetrator, whether doctor, social worker or (sometimes!) even a police officer. These range from simple attempts to wrong-foot or ambush a parent during the course of discussions, to sabotaging an entire parent complaint process. When disguised compliance presents, the apparent and ostensible cooperation of the so-called professional is in reality no more than a tactic used to prevent or delay the understanding of the severity of harm the charlatan has caused the child. Disguised compliance can also present within an institution as a whole. Senior police officers, for example, will never admit to their unspoken “arrest the male” DV policies which less senior officers, when confronted on an individual level, will readily admit to. Similarly, social workers and doctors who pander to the needs of delinquent mothers will disguise their own aberrant actions as synonymous with the interests of the child.

    • Most judges are very astute to the problems of allegations made by children in high-conflict contact disputes. They know full well that children are very good at telling parents what they want (or need) to hear. Parents are very good at being validated by the things their children tell them and sticking their heels in when challenged by social workers, lawyers, judges etc.

      I don’t think anyone who has any experience of private law children disputes would argue that they haven’t seen many daft cases get blown out of proportion because parents have got worked up over uncorroborated statements by the children.

      Of course, that applies not only to resident parents who stop contact because of vague allegations but non-resident parents who issue over vague requests to spend more time time with non-resident parent. Neither is capable of realising that the child is just trying to give that parent what they want/need.

      —For the resident parent, that they have done the right thing and are instrumental in protecting the child.
      —For the non-resident parent, that they are essential to that child’s life and are needed.

      • And of court non resident parents can raise such allegations, made by children during contact – as the basis for non-return or an application for urgent change of residence.

      • A bog standard contact order providing the child with a schedule of alternating weekend contact with his father, is insufficient to meet the development needs of most children. That has been known from child development research long before 2000 (Warshak, for example). That a non-resident parent makes demands for more time with his child is well-supported by research. It is regrettable that judges and other lawyers appear not to understand this.

        As to false allegations, these don’t come from the child. They come from the mother. Either an entirely phony disclosure is made, or allegations observed directly (after the quacks intervene) stem from the mother’s prior, repeated suggestive questioning of the child. A child will assuage his sense of guilt felt in wanting a relationship with his father (which the mother disapproves of) by readily making allegations against him.

        There is no equivalence whatsoever between the action of a mother who makes a false allegation against an innocent non-resident father and the action of an NRP father who wants his child to spend more time with him.
        Only the barmy would suggest otherwise.

        • If you want to actually link to peer-reviewed research (or at least give proper citations if these articles are paywalled) I will certainly read them. Harvard referencing is traditionally only regarded as effective because there is a bibliography at the end of the article… Casually tossing vague references around rather makes it look like there isn’t actually anything proper to cite for the assertion.

          My only point, which you ignore, is that children are remarkably astute at telling parents what they want to hear.

          In the case of dubious allegations, most judges are alive to the fact that, whatever the allegation, you can get a pretty good sense of its truth by a few hours of supervised contact.

          Most judges are also pretty alive to the fact that in hostile contact disputes a child is pretty likely to tell mummy “I don’t want to see Daddy” and tell daddy whatever he/she thinks daddy wants to hear. Parents frequently report diametrically opposed expressions of wishes and feelings.

          You don’t need to be an expert in child psychology (or indeed, humanity) to realise children work out what is going on pretty easily and report different feelings to different parents.

          • To start off, read Richard Warshak’s book, The Custody Revolution. Warshak discusses as long ago as 1992 that alternate weekend contact arrangements for fathers are not enough for most children and that such arrangements are likely to lead to long term impairment of the father-child relationship.

            UK judges are obsessed with the belief that mothers make better custodial parents than fathers, otherwise why would courts award residency to mothers in 95% plus of cases. In actual fact, fathers are just as likely, more likely possibly, to achieve a better, more normally adjusted child, particularly when they are better educated and can offer a higher standard standard of living than a single mother who is often dependant on her child as a meal ticket.

            Professor Michael Lamb of Cambridge University is another researcher offering peer-reviewed work on post-separation arrangements and he too is strongly in favour of bolstering father involvement beyond the prevailing “every other” paradigm. You can look up his work yourself. It’s all “out there” and paywalls ought not to be used as an excuse if you have a professional interest in the subject.

            As to children’s “wishes and feelings” these are highly corruptible, as you say, but neither most judges nor Cafcass officers (nor especially police officers) are, as you wrongly suggest, wised up to the antics of alienating parents with an agenda. Read what Dr Kirk Weir has written on the topic. It can take a highly skilled expert to unravel the thoughts of children, particularly very young ones, as is only too clear from cases like mine where professionals gang up together to assume father abuse and work from that perspective alone.

            As to the equivocation of children, they are rarely so evenly-balanced in their views as you incorrectly suggest. Much more likely is the scenario where “splitting” occurs as they cannot cope with it. Mother then becomes all good and father bad and the dumbo Cafcass officers go along with that.

            I have a Cafcass report on my child, then aged one, which explicitly recommended against overnights (with father) until the child has “clearly stated” that they should begin. How dumb can a Cafcass officer get?

            People like you, Jim, come across as dinosaurs, living in a past age.

          • Eww, Paul : “In actual fact, fathers are just as likely, more likely possibly, to achieve a better, more normally adjusted child, particularly when they are better educated and can offer a higher standard standard of living than a single mother who is often dependant on her child as a meal ticket.”

            Really? More likely? No like.

  9. The one that gets me all the time is “in respect of”. Social workers and family lawyers (other than me!) seem incapable of writing a report, position statement or pleading without this dreadful phrase. It usually means either “of” or “about”. I guess it makes them think they’re sounding clever.

    And of course, one should never say “use” when one could get another two syllables in with “utilise”

  10. to get back to the original topic of the aetiology of disguised compliance, see here : One might say from this that disguised compliance amounts to “you’re doing everything we asked you to but we’re not buying it”. An allegation of disguised compliance is thus very difficult to grapple with – your client is ticking all the right boxes and the social workers persist in their concerns…what more CAN they do? from the alternative perspective of course short term improvements whilst the spotlight is on do not mean concerns will not reemerge.

  11. I’ve only ever come across one judge who had half a clue on handling false allegations.


    As Zeitlin shows, when false allegations are being made there’s often something else going on that has nothing whatever to do with the father’s care of the child.

    This is a model that other judges could usefully apply.

  12. More disguised compliance from an interest group. This time the lawyers.

    Not a strike, just a walk out. Trust the lawyers to come up with a weasel to get themselves around a contractual difficulty.

    And the two-faced NSPCC would have us all believe disguised compliance is confined to a description of deceitful parents.

  13. [edited for legal reasons] Strange how Article 8 human rights seems to apply to the worst type of terrorist but not to loving mothers who have never hurt or threatened anybody.I know at least 5 in similar situations to [edited] and even supposing it were true (balance of probabilities!) that they had “coached their children to make allegations against their fathers, surely some sort of indirect or supervised contact at xmas and birthdays is the least that should be allowed by any halfway humane judge?

    • I don’t know Ian, it’s not about adult entitlement to a relationship – its about potential harm to a child. Let’s suppose it were true – on criminal standard for the sake of argument – that a parent had persistently coached a child to make untrue allegations, perhaps to believe them (really think about that – a child who believes their other parent has abused them, who thinks they recall abuse) – suppose that the parent had shown themselves to be determined to maintain those allegations, and would be likely to attempt during contact to revive those traumatic “memories” – looks a bit simplistic then to say that xmas contact is the least that should be allowed? Xmas contact at which a child might be at risk not only of reliving trauma, but reliving false trauma, trauma that might undermine their stability with their non-abusive parent. Trauma that might become associated with Xmas… What about the child’s article 8 rights to family life with the healthy part of their family??

      Made up facts obviously, and designed to make a point – but hopefully demonstrating that your proposition is overly simplistic.

    • Mothers don’t need to coach children. They merely need to keep up a pattern of suggestive questioning, particularly when children return from contact visits with ‘dad’. The child works out for itself how best to please mother and seemingly spontaneous or autonomous “disclosures” can then emanate from the child which go on to be independently verified by professionals and confirmed as father abuse by their own process of child protection quackery. The father is then well and truly stuffed unless he can keep his wits about him.

      Mothers who make false allegations when they know full the contribution they are making, ought to be found deficient as parents in every case where a father is wrongly shoved through the portal of criminal justice. However, I do not believe these mothers should be denied contact just as I don’t think that children in DV cases where fathers beat up their partners, ought to be denied contact either. I think that Sturge Glaser stuff is truly reprehensible. If mothers are alienating, then I think that is justification for limiting or controlling their exposure to their children. These are people who put children at serious risk of not growing up to become normal, well-adjusted adults. It start showing at an early age in things like poor school reports or unruly classroom behaviour.

      • yes and as you say in most cases children can be protected through limiting and controlling the children’s exposure to their influence – but in some cases at the extreme end of the spectrum that isn’t possible and ongoing contact is too harmful / risky.

  14. Are you suggesting where there is

    DV, parental alienation comes in hand. It would be helpful to have some research on this. I beg to differ this to be the pattern in most cases.

  15. As a social worker who trained in the late 80’s; practiced in LA’s until the late 90’s before becoming a Guardian in 99, (pre cafcass as well as post) I can honestly say that the term disguised compliance has not yet been uttered in my presence. I can only assume that I am practising in the wrong part of the country and it is yet to make its way on to my ‘patch’. However, from an objective point of view the term makes no sense whatsoever. Either the parent is complying or they are not. If there is concrete evidence that they are not then they are non compliant. If they are complying with that which is requested of them – then they are compliant – end of. Clearly this is social work speak for people who are yet to read the Darlington case. My pet aversion and subject of my rant is “Pro Parent”, usually muttered in my direction from the corner of a mouth that has an otherwise, uncanny resemblance to my cats bottom. If pro parent means believing that unless there is clear and coherent evidence to the contrary, children are best raised by their parents: interviewing parents in a non judgemental manner and be willing to listen, consider alternative explanations and refrain from accusation until the court has made its findings: and seemingly worst of all; – that parents can effect change and sometimes do, then I’ll be dammed…I’m Pro Parent and Proud!

    • Caroline, I’m moving to where you are working! It’s rife here. Client says “but I’ve done ALL the things they asked me to and it’s still not good enough”. How to trash any chance of building a relationship of trust! Disguised compliance often boils down to “we can’t prove it but basically we don’t believe her”. Fine when there is evidence, but makes me mad as hell when there isn’t.

      And yes, I recognise the sneering term “pro-parent” too. Often used as an epithet for certain judges who have given the LA a hard time – the insinuation is that they are unbalanced.

      And thank you for the mental image of your cat’s bottom…. :-/

      • Aha Familoo, just because I haven’t heard the term ( yet) does not mean that I doubt for one moment that its alive and kicking fiercely in other domains…in fact I am more than confident that as we speak, it is cruising up the M4/5&6 before taking a sharp turn onto the M62/A6 etc with the intention of coming to a shuddering halt in my hemisphere (and all those in between). Pre warned is pre armed and I take oath to stamp on it as best I am able….I already know that it will have the same effect on me as it does you

        And again, a jurisdictional difference. Pro parent is usually held in reserve for any Guardian who is unwilling to support and/or bolster the arguments of the LA…you know, the lone figure standing over there…the one that’s just doing her job?

  16. HelenSparkles

    I think I know what disclosure means in SW context and legal and where they meet there is an issue. The meaning of words is often about the way they are used, and social workers do believe children, until the outcome of an investigation. Not saying the work should be used in this way but allegation is a very confrontational word to use about children telling someone something and I need another. Most children who disclose sexual abuse are accommodated by the LA on grounds of neglect, I can’t remember the reference for this, but children then share information with carers because they know they are safe and secure. Children’s timelines are often inaccurate, they misremember the person involved, all sorts of things happen which mean recall is inaccurate. ABE usually determines whether what they say is likely to be true and a CP medical. This is my meandering way of saying something traumatic has often happened, if not exactly what children have told us has happened, and I don’t want to put a child in a position of being labelled as making a false allegation. It sometimes takes a long time to join up the dots and that doesn’t happen if we shut down dialogue with them by telling them we don’t believe them. Disclosure means to a SW that children have told us something of relevance to the case, usually a risk factor, and if it is can become an unsupported disclosure if there is no evidence. So, find me a word which sums up exactly what I expect that to tell me, which isn’t an allegation. I am not talking malicious family law cases.

    • Well I don’t think you say to a child that what they have said is just an “allegation”. They need to feel believed.
      BUT…. children do make false allegations. I recently dealt with a case where two teenaged siblings gave mutually incompatible ABE interviews about what went on at home – each said the other was lying. The point is one was lying, or at any rate not capable of giving an accurate account due to their world view. We were VERY careful there to refer to allegations not disclosures.
      The use of the term disclosures has an impact on working relationships with families too, and I think subconsciously on the way cases are worked. I think it is really important for all professionals to hold in mind the (at least) two alternate realities when planning, managing risk and assessing families. It might be true/ accurate, but it might not. It’s difficult to do, but not impossible. It makes for better legal and social work practice.

  17. There should be no difference in the definition of the term ‘disclosure between social work and law. A child/adult makes an allegation and until such time it is proven in a court it remains an allegation. Following conviction/findings it becomes a disclosure. By using the term allegation does not in my view, suggest that the child is disbelieved, it just states that the information given is unproven. Although I do agree that subconsciously it influences the practice of some of the professionals concerned. It’s the same as using the term ‘victim’. Prior to conviction/findings the term should be ‘complainant’ following such they can be referred to as a victim, if they so wish, although why anybody would want to be referred to as a victim is beyond me. Has anybody ever thought to ask the individual concerned?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.