The famous Russian writer Leo Tolstoy wrote in the first lines of Anna Karenina: “All happy families resemble each other; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Wise words, and it’s true to say that unhappiness doesn’t recognise bounds such as class or affluence.

A recent study by world-renowned research centre London University’s Goldsmiths College interviewed 30 social workers from 12 local authorities.

It identified child welfare practice challenges posed by more affluent families, and the study grouped these into four areas.

Recognising neglect

Emotional neglect in affluent families is not always recognised for a number of reasons, the report said. One is class prejudice, in that because children have good housing, nutritious diets and excellent educational opportunities, emotional neglect and “inadequate parenting from emotionally unavailable parents” might be missed.

This could be partly because well-educated and articulate parents could be affronted that their parenting was being questioned.

It could also be that fee-paying schools, which have a vested interest in “transactional arrangements”, might be reluctant to flag up issues and give parents the benefit of the doubt.

Entitled behaviour

Parents from affluent families are often highly educated and articulate, and knowledgeable about care organisations and how they work, the report found.

They can be resistant to child-protection measures, belittle social workers in meetings and convey the impression that, if they are wiling to talk to anyone within social services, they are only prepared to talk to senior managers.

Problems with escalating concerns

The report found that social workers reported feeling “intimated” by such parents and relied upon good support from managers to complete meaningful risk assessments.

“More often than not, parents prevented practitioners from seeing and listening to the child. Therefore, practitioners were often left with insufficient evidence to progress to a section 47 investigation, resulting in drift and delay in some cases,” said the study.

Best practice shows that social workers need direct involvement with families to make an impact; often, talking to older children about what was happening within the family yielded the most fruitful results.

Showing authority

The report found that external factors, such as they way social workers dressed and spoke, could have positive bearings upon perceptions of authority by client families.

Speech and diction are aids to comprehension and authority, said the report.

And making sure that you are abreast of current legislation and statutory guidance yields good results in how client families perceive your level of authority, the report concluded.

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