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Rich families are “threatening” social workers and using their status to cover up extreme child abuse

A report by Goldsmiths University has found that affluent parents are using their “status and social capital to resist child protection intervention“, whilst their children are suffering from “emotional neglect [and] other forms of maltreatment, such as sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation and emotional abuse“.

Preliminary research undertaken by the University into the link between affluence and neglect showed that there was a significant lack of research in the UK. In response to this, a detailed study was commissioned in which the evidence and experiences from social workers who worked in 12 local authority areas were considered.

Highly resistant parents

The study shows that social workers who work with affluent families need “considerable experience, practice wisdom and knowledge of neglect” in order to work with “highly resistant parents who had the resources to challenge social workers” decision-making”. 

The most relevant cases concerned emotional neglect, however other forms of maltreatment, such as sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation and emotional abuse, were also identified. 

The participants of the study reported that there are high levels of drug and alcohol abuse, high levels of domestic abuse and high levels of mental health issues. They also highlighted the following:

  • Affluent families are able to hide issues as they have access to privately funded resources
  • Public schools deal with safeguarding issues in-house, which result in difficulties to to “develop a shared understanding of neglect”
  • Parents struggle to link emotional neglect with issues at home
  • There are difficulties interpreting emotional neglect because the children may have paid carers who act as their parents

It might appear that these collective issues are perhaps the negative (and extremely damaging) result of affluent parents not being as involved in their children’s lives as less wealthy parents might be. Is it also possible that the wealthy are living in a total world of their own, unaware of the neglect that their children may be suffering as a result.

However, the report took an even darker turn when the actions of parents when confronted by social workers were highlighted. For example, participants reported that some parents resisted intervention by using their powerful social networks, and that they accused experts of intrusion and threatened them with legal intervention.

In fact, with non-compliance described as a “feature” of this sort of casework, one might ask if poorer parents would escape punishment for openly rebelling against a system designed to protect children.

“The challenge was then to ensure the focus remained on the needs of the child”

The contrast between lower socio-economic families and affluent families seems clear:

“All participants felt that the parents’ socio-economic status gave them a sense of privilege that encouraged them to subject the social work practice to a level of scrutiny in a way that families from lower socio-economic backgrounds did not.

Significantly, the challenge was then to ensure the focus remained on the
needs of the child.”

Though it was hard for practitioners to engage in the assessment process due to the involvement of lawyers, complaints procedures and a lack of parent-child interaction, when they did manage to engage they reported “good outcomes“.

The report concluded that practitioners needed “a good understanding of the threshold of emotional neglect and a good level of legal literacy“, which is somewhat disappointing – surely practitioners should have these job requirements for all families, not just in order to protect themselves from the wealthy.

In a climate where we continuously see poverty stricken families slammed for deciding to have children, it appears that the decision for wealthy families to have children should be questioned just as much. There is hidden abuse and exploitation lurking behind even the most unsuspected closed doors, and social services must be equipped with the ability to tackle it.

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