Authoritative practice refers to the collection of skills and attributes necessary for professionals to safeguard children, particularly in the face of hostile or resistant parenting. In particular, finding opportunities to be curious, respectful uncertainty, using professional judgement, and challenging disguised compliance are all themes regularly identified in safeguarding case reviews. We have a number of briefing sheets available which look at areas of authoritative practice.
Authoritative Practice is a term used to describe how safeguarding practitioners should work with children and their families. The term originates in the Serious Case Review: Baby Peter, and is further developed in an article by Peter Sidebottom: Authoritative Child Protection – Sidebotham – 2013 – Child Abuse Review – Wiley Online Library.
The safeguarding children’s board has undertaken a number of multi-agency audits. From those audits were found re occurring practitioner themes when working with children and families. Those themes have also been identified within local and national serious case reviews as lessons for agencies to put into practice.
A constant theme in both children and adults case reviews, both local and national, is that practitioners were not professionally curious enough about the lives of the children and adults they were working with. and other reviews completed by Safeguarding Partnership Board, and this is reflected nationally. It has long been recognised as an important concept in practice with children and adults at risk.
Professional curiosity / Opportunities to be curious is about exploring and understanding what is happening with children or adults at risk and their wider environment. It is about enquiring deeper and using proactive questioning and challenge. It also relates to understanding own responsibility and knowing when to act, rather than making assumptions or taking things at face value. In practice, opportunities to be curious is aligned to multi-agency working, collating information from different sources and applying different perspectives. This will lead to developing a better understanding of an child or adult at risk and the context their life is embedded in aiding a systematic analysis.
Key practice points:
- Look and Listen
- Ask and Act
- Check Out and Reflect
- Explore and Understand
- Anticipate but don’t Presume or Assume
- Look Further and Enquire Deeper
- Remain Flexible and Open-Minded
- See the Whole Picture and Beyond the Obvious
- Think the Unthinkable and Believe the Unbelievable – particularly regarding sexual abuse, sexual violence and domestic abuse.
- Think Professional Curiosity / Respectful Uncertainty and Challenge
- Use Evidence, Professional Judgement, Common Sense, Intuition and Gut Feelings
Practitioners must remain sceptical when families provide explanations for potential indicators of abuse. An essential part of safeguarding involves delving into explanations, and practitioners must engage their professional curiosity to explore what life is really like for the child. Respectful uncertainty is necessary to identify and challenge disguised compliance.
Whether to actively hide abusive or neglectful actions, or to give practitioners the ‘right’ answers, parents, carers and others involved may give the appearance of engaging with practitioners and attempting to take steps to improve the situation for the child concerned, whilst not actually making significant changes. What parents say must be explored and challenged, and practitioners must seek to assure themselves they have a full understanding of the situation.
The NSPCC has produced a briefing on Disguised Compliance- lessons learned from case reviews:
What a child sees, hears, thinks and experiences on a daily basis impacts on their personal development and welfare whether that be physically or emotionally.
As practitioners we need to; actively hear what the child has to say or communicate, observe what they do in different contexts, hear what family members, significant adults/carers and professionals have said about the child, and to think about history and context. Ultimately we need to put ourselves in that child’s shoes and think ‘what is life like for this child right now.
All staff need to be prepared to have difficult conversations with children and their families, including disclosures, finding out what might be happening in a child’s life, and challenging parents’ and carers’ explanations.
Engaging in difficult conversations may be daunting for some practitioners. It is important that all practitioners working with children and their families have access to supervision and support to consider when and how to have difficult conversations, and to consider how these conversations may go.
Authoritative practice also requires that professionals recognise differences of opinion with other professionals, and bring those differences to the forefront. These differences may include disagreement regarding assessments, interpretation of information gathered, understanding of the children and their families. These differences must be raised and discussed, in order to reach agreement about action that will be taken to continue to seek the best outcome for the children. Differences in professional thought cannot be allowed to result in a lack of action being taken.
There is an agreed policy for resolving professional differences between agencies available here: Resolving Professionals Differences (Escalation) Policy
Agencies should have their own policies in place for resolving professional differences within the organisation.
Professionals need clear guidance on when and how to make safeguarding referrals. In an emergency, practitioners should always call 999. Otherwise, practitioners should take concerns to their managers or safeguarding leads in the first instance whenever possible; however, lack of access to a safeguarding lead should not delay a safeguarding referral being made.
Information about Cambridgeshire and Peterborough safeguarding arrangements can be found here: Multi-Agency Policies and Procedures | Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Safeguarding Partnership Board (safeguardingcambspeterborough.org.uk). This includes our local thresholds document.
Referrals to the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hubs are made via this website, by going to the Making a Referral section.