Translation of professional jargon and avoiding cliches

This is a work in progress. We would like to continue adding to this list. Please feel free to make your own suggestions or comments about the included phrases and their definitions.


Translation of jargon phrases

What Professionals say What parents hear What you should say
‘disguised compliance’ I can’t do anything right Nothing. If you think parents are not genuinely engaging then test their engagement. Continue to assess.
‘attachment’ They don’t think I love my child We are worried about the way your child understands the world around him, and who he can trust to keep him safe. This sometimes happen if parents find it hard to be consistent in the way they look after a child. Here are some things we can do to make things better for you and your child.
‘good enough parenting’ As long as I don’t hit my child, I’m ok No parent can ever be perfect. But every child deserves to have his basic physical and emotional needs met. A lot of the time, that means parents are going to have to put the children’s needs first and above their own particularly while the children are very young and vulnerable.
‘pre-contemplative stage’ ???? It is often difficult to make changes to the way you live your life. Making changes comes in stages – first you have to recognise you have a problem, then you have to do something about it and then you have to keep doing it! If parents haven’t even got to the first stage of recognizing they have a problem, then it is difficult to help them
Significant emotional harm As long as I don’t hit my child, I’m ok Children can get hurt in all sorts of ways, not just by being hit. If they are ignored, shouted at or never praised, this can make it hard for them to grow up feeling good about themselves. Adults who don’t feel good about themselves are often very unhappy and sometimes make bad choices in their lives, which hurt them and everyone around them. Children deserve a chance to be able to grow up into happy adults.
Future risk of harm Social workers think they can gaze into a crystal ball and take my child away for no real reason If something happened in the past then there is a risk it will happen in the future. But no one is a prisoner of their past. You can show that you understand what went wrong before and that you want to change it. But you don’t accept anything did go wrong, and you won’t work to try and change it, then the court will be worried about what is likely to keep on happening in the chld’s future.


Words and phrases to avoid

Some words and phrases are not helpful in either establishing or maintaining a relationship between professionals and parents. They are seen as inflammatory and/or cliches .

There is a danger that such phrases are used as a convenient shorthand for a bundle of concerns which may lead to professionals failing to properly analyse what it is about the particular examples that is causing legitimate concern. Also, people find it difficult to engage with or listen to someone who appears to be talking in cliches.

For example: avoid saying ‘Parent X is lacking insight into his problems with substance abuse’. Instead say: Parent X has been using drugs for a long time and has not got any help to stop, even though I have asked him to and given him the address for where he needs to go to get help. Therefore i am worried Parent X just doesn’t understand that he has a serious problem with drug use and I don’t think he can safely look after his children unless he deals with this’.

It is always better to speak plainly and provide examples of actions or failure to act so that everyone is clear exactly what the problem is and what, if anything can be done about it.

Examples of words and phrases that are becoming unhelpful cliches/are not easily understood

I can see an immediate distinction here between legal ‘terms of art’, such as ‘recusal’ and phrases which risk slipping into unhelpful cliche, such as ‘lack of insight’.

Please add in the comments any words/phrases you think should be on this list. 

  • collusion
  • core assessment
  • CP Conference
  • domestic violence
  • emotional attunement
  • failure to engage
  • guardian ad litem
  • holistic needs
  • lack of insight
  • minutes of meeting
  • orange book assessment [I have no idea what this is!]
  • personality traits
  • professionals meeting
  • recusal
  • redacted
  • social work assessment



11 thoughts on “Translation of professional jargon and avoiding cliches

  1. Pingback: ‘Disguised compliance’ as example of Jargon and Cliche – the chilling effects on working relationships | Child Protection Resource

  2. angelo granda

    I cannot help but comment that if all the papers were written plainly, providing examples etc. as in the example,then the strict limits as to the number of words and length of statements inherent in an executive protocol which allows for summary judgments to be made would soon be exceeded.

    Brevity is essential then to satisfy the Court protocol and I believe that fact exposes a fatal flaw in the system.Summary proceedings are inappropriate where decisions of such gravity as to the human rights of children ( forced adoption,liquidation of natural families) are to be taken.
    Family Courts should not hear serious cases.

    Another point I would make is that it is noticeable that lawyers always take great account of past precedent; even though it is recognised that each case has its own dynamics and so on, in order to arrive at decisions, precedents are carefully examined.This will save professionals a lot of time,I can see that ,but generallising in that way is wrong because in many cases the general points will not apply.
    So professionals will have general concerns which do not actually hold water in an individual case,a parent obviously will protest honestly and lose their children because they ‘will not acknowledge the problem.
    How can they know all Court precedents for a start?
    A third point, I have mentioned templates based on precedent before and I believe their use by the CS has a toxic effect all round. Sarah, why not go through some of your old cases and see if my concerns about this are justified? How similar are the LA documents?
    Do they all contain similar jargon and cliche?

    I look forward to comments from readers on the subject.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Summmary proceedings are inappropriate which is why children are NOT removed on ‘summary proceedings’ but after consideration of the evidence.

      Yes, we have to take account of previous cases and decisions BUT in family cases it is always made clear that they are very fact specific. We don’t blindly follow precedent but are certainly guided by it.

      So professionals will have general concerns which do not actually hold water in an individual case,a parent obviously will protest honestly and lose their children because they ‘will not acknowledge the problem. That is when parents must engage with their lawyers, give proper instructions and challenge any ‘general’ concern which is not a real concern in a particular case.

      But what do you mean by ‘general concern’ ? it is a ‘general concern’ that someone who has been using heroin for 10 years is going to find it hard to stop and it will probably have a detrimental impact on their parenting. Of course, for the individual heroin user that MIGHT not be true. But you can’t blame any professional from voicing that ‘general’ concern because it is more likely than not it will be real concern. But every individual parent will get a chance to make their own case about their own circumstances.

      If a concern is established as a ‘fact’ by the court and the parent doesn’t accept it – then there is problem. But an assertion or allegation that is not accepted is NOT a fact. This has nothing to do with parents knowing about other cases and case law. Its about listening when a SW says ‘this is what we are worried about’. Either replying – that isn’t true, here’s why. Or ok, what can I do about it?

      1. angelo granda

        As a non-lawyer but an ordinary parent,my definition of summary proceedings are where there is a limit on the number of pages permitted in a trial bundle,where professional statements and documents are brief and contain little ‘in depth’ information,where respondent statements (which comprise their evidence-in-chief) are limited as to length( abridged) and have to be censored as to content in so far as criticism of professionals isn’t protocl, etc. by solicitors,where the length of time scheduled for hearings is set by the court before it starts,where respondent counsel is repeatedly pulled up and reminded of schedules by a Judge,where evidence has to be agreed on by lawyers before hearings in order to save the time of a judge ( by order of the court)and where a Judge decides before a hearing on the number and type of witnesses that will be admitted.In my opinion,family court hearings are summary ones and cases are thus dealt with SUMMARILY.

        Are you saying it doesn’t happen like that in your experience?

        Much of what you say about proceedings sounds fair in theory but I am concerned that ,in practice,things are different.For example,parents complain that their voices are simply not heard.They might even supply specific written evidence to disprove the CS but when they do,that does not mean the CS will read it and change their evidence! No, they will just go silent. The Judges do not read everything ;they trust the CS and Guardian to do so and believe their evidence above that of parents.Do you say there isn’t an underlying ‘no smoke without fire’ syndrome. If a respondent says ‘that isn’t true’ they are very often accused of not acknowledging concerns and being overly defensive and the allegations start before facts have even been ‘found true or untrue’.

        These are my concerns and if you read appeal judgments, Sarah,you will see that the High Court Judges are as equally concerned.They just cannot understand how such massive miscarriages of justice come about.What should happen in theory doesn’t in practice!

        I feel sure many parents share the consternation of Appeal Court Judges.Unfortunately not many get permission to appeal.

  3. Sam

    not mutually exclusive . Yes it’s jargon but you do hear people saying it. Nothing to do with the topic but it will be therapeutic for me. Can we please have a law against the misuse of “unique ” . It’s not almost /nearly/unique , it’s rare. uncommon etc. Sorry, getting older seems to consist of losing your keys, feeding the dog twice in a hour and getting cross about misuse of vocabulary.

  4. Angelo Granda

    At a Directions hearing, the District Judge ordered the LA to carry out ‘ twin-track planning’.

    I would be grateful for an explanation of the term,Sarah.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      At the same time as the parents are being assessed, the LA must also investigate what other options are available such as Special guardians or adoption. This is to try and prevent time being wasted if the parents are ruled out at the end of 26 weeks. If the LA waited until this was clear, it would inevitably mean the child waited longer for permanent family. I appreciate there is a risk that rather than ‘twin tracking’ the LA will promote a single track away from the parent. This is why parents have lawyers to make their cases, and it is why parents need to engage with their lawyers.

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