Putting children and young people first in the family courts


Alienation rarely exists in isolation

Anthony DouglasRecently in public we have been talking about the negative impact of parental alienation on children. I am glad we have brought this pernicious issue to the surface more. Many of our private law cases feature alienating behaviours in some form. They can cause significant emotional harm to children. However, I am worried that public debates can easily over-simplify a complex issue. Alienation is one type of adult behaviour which causes adverse childhood experiences. At worst it is emotionally violent. This is why I have suggested that alienation is a form of child abuse. It can have as devastating an impact as physical abuse and can lead directly to child or adolescent mental health problems and other impacts like disturbances to learning, such as not being able to concentrate in class.


But alienation rarely exists in isolation. It is more usually one set of behaviours among many and is best seen on a spectrum. In a high conflict post-separation family, every transaction within families starts from a premise of conflict. A simple neutral remark causes offence. A small and relatively insignificant action is misinterpreted as hostile. The post-separation environment can be deeply toxic, even if contact is occasional. That level of toxicity means that an exchange or transaction lasting seconds can cause days, weeks or months of heartache.


Yes there are perpetrators who family members need protection against adults who threaten, abuse, coerce or tyrannise innocent family members. But more commonly, everyone in the post-separation family feels victimised to a greater or lesser extent. Poly-victimisation rules. Similarly, harm can be omni-directional, rather than simply being harm caused by one family member to another. Alienation is often multi-directional rather than one-way. It is our role to make sense of what has been happening in terms of its child impact and to differentiate between alienating behaviours on the one hand and when rejection of a parent by a child is more understandable due to the child being genuinely scared or deeply apprehensive about contact.


These complex private law cases have sometimes been called ‘intractable’ but this is only because the emotional environment inside these families is so overwhelming. Powerful emotions like this can rarely be successfully channelled into linear case outcomes in court.  It is why we need a problem-solving court and a model of therapeutic jurisprudence. Our domestic abuse pathway and our high conflict pathway aim to give Cafcass practitioners and courts a stronger framework for assessment and intervention when either abuse or high conflict are the primary problems.


There are no easy answers. However, I am confident that the frameworks we have in place and are developing, plus the Positive Parenting Plan we are now piloting as an intensive therapeutic social work intervention in high impact cases, will help a greater number of children and their families.


Written by Chief Executive Anthony Douglas at 00:00


Excellent analysis. However unless there is repeal of S8 of the 89 Children's Act the, "Ascertainable Wishes and Feelings" clause will be forever used as a means to maintain alienation. Society demands a legislative change for the human legal right to be a parent. Your respective analysis can contribute to ensure that the psychological ploys of alienators can both be established and controlled. I am certain the judiciary and legislators from the four Latin and two EU nations can provide all the information to construct the necessary legal codes to ensures that alienation, being a mental health issue, is addressed comprehensively. Parents and cohort families of all children can then be established and alienation fundamentally controlled and such nefarious actions if deemed necessary by society will be criminalised and suffer the consequence which now they are action currently with malice aforethought.
December 4, 2017 11:26
Terrence White said...
Thanks Anthony for your good work in this area. I appreciate Cafcass is bringing parental alienation to the surface and are proactively engaging with it. As other commentators here have said, PA exists is a complex maelstrom where family meets law meets safeguarding meets medicine, and the resolutions must somehow maintain a bridge across all those misaligned forces. Cafcass is only one contributor to one part of this complex system. Its an important and influential part, but it cannot resolve this without help and cooperation. I welcome Cafcass's attempts to reach out to the wider pool of experience and expertise in our society and as it tries to do its part to make the world better for our children.
December 4, 2017 08:46
Ted Wrinch said...
“But alienation rarely exists in isolation. It is more usually one set of behaviours among many and is best seen on a spectrum. In a high conflict post-separation family, every transaction within families starts from a premise of conflict. ... But more commonly, everyone in the post-separation family feels victimised to a greater or lesser extent. Poly-victimisation rules. “ No, this is not the case. It’s unfortunate that you, as the head of CAFCASS, an organisation that’s supposed to help children yet has denied the existence of the child abuse of ‘parental alienation’ for the 16 years of its existence, still do not understand what PA is. PA is not caused by a high conflict environment and ‘poly-victimisation’. It is caused one parent with narcissistic or borderline personality disorder creating a cross generational coalition with their child leading to an emotional cut-off with the other parent. This is attachment-based ‘parental alienation’ (AB-PA) or pathogenic parenting (parenting so aberrant it creates pathology in the child): https://drcraigchildressblog.com/2017/09/08/ab-pa-is-not-the-moon/ ; https://www.amazon.co.uk/Attachment-Based-Model-Parental-Alienation-Foundations/dp/0996114505 .To understand ‘parental alienation’ requires a return to the accepted and established principles and concepts of psychology of attachment system pathology (Bowlby, etc), personality disorder pathology (Beck, etc), family systems pathology (Minuchin, etc), and the transmission of multi-generational trauma (van der Kolk, etc). The PA cases are the ‘severe’ ones in this US study: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Jennifer_Harman2/publication/304150860_1-s20-S0190740916301335-main - which are half the total, 11 million families, suggesting there are about 2 million families in the U.K. “Our domestic abuse pathway and our high conflict pathway aim to give Cafcass practitioners and courts a stronger framework for assessment and intervention when either abuse or high conflict are the primary problems.” Your high conflict pathway is ignorant of PA aetiology and will not help you: “As with all of our work, the pathway keeps the child’s needs, wishes and feelings central to the recommendations we make ... ... The model we’re using is inspired by our Domestic Abuse Practice Pathway, introduced to support and strengthen the systematic assessment of cases involving domestic abuse or domestic abuse allegations.” https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/grown-ups/the-high-conflict-practice-pathway.aspx In PA, the child becomes pathologically enmeshed with the N/BPD alienating parent and their wishes and feelings reflect those of the alienator not the child. The abuse inflicted on the child by the alienating parent has a specific form, different from domestic violence, and results in characteristic and specific symptoms, that can be used to reliably diagnose it, and distinguish it from domestic violence: https://drcraigchildressblog.com/2015/11/03/diagnosis-of-parental-alienation/ . Once diagnosed, it can be treated: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/d/0996114556 . Acting from ignorance, as CAFCASS is doing now, will allow this multigenerational trauma to continue unchecked, destroying millions more families into the future. If you wish to make a difference for families you need to assess, diagnose and treat from a position of understanding, not the ignorance your organisation currently suffers from.
December 4, 2017 04:33
Richard H said...
Sadly this is yet another attempt by CAFCASS to cover the systemic incompetence that plagues their operation. That they finally come to a realisation that Parental Alienation is a problem after all these years is pathetic. That they have chosen to embark on a course without even consulting groups of affected parents and the leading child psychologists in this field is tragic. They have already 'linked' this problem to what they believe to be high conflict cases without any reason for doing so although there is a correlation. They ignore that fact that alienation can fester in cases that don't feature high conflict and wrongly assume that high conflict causes alienation rather than alienation causing high conflict. In the firm belief that if a mistake is worth making it is worth repeating they have once again endowed themselves with expertise in what even they admit is a complex issue just has they have done with drug dependency, mental health, religous and cultural issues and a range of other topics they display no aptitude for at all. The bizarre and irrational course they have now chosen is to actually help the alienator by sending them on a brief therapeutic or awareness course in the false belief this will make a difference. They blithely ignore that people will not engage in any therapy if they are coerced and that therapists don't want subjects that have been coerced. CAFCASS believe they can make horses drink despite the fact that they have failed abysmally in everything they have attempted since their inception. They fail completely to see Parental Alienation as being inherently driven by a lack of empathy and believe they can magically install empathy into people by forcing them to go on a brief course that itself is misguided and perpetuates the mythology that CAFCASS draw their irrational conclusions from. There will be no help for the alienated target parent or the child. They will not defer to clinical experts. They will not address institutionalised alienation that takes place among their own ranks, Social Services, the police, the family justice system, some schools and doctors and a range of attendant professions. They will not consult with their stakeholder groups that act as a fig leaf for CAFCASS when they like to pretend that they do in fact consult widely on issues. Instead they prefer to blunder blindly and wreck more children's lives than they already have and have 'confidence' in a Positive Parenting Plan where such confidence is not justified. They blithely ignore that glaring fact that no parents share their confidence.
December 3, 2017 12:42
Foley Adigun said...
Parental alienation cannot exist unless the society and the judiciary choose to turn a blind eye to it. The elephant in the room that many dare not mention are the lobby groups, thise who feel they have to deny others of their rights. There is an increasing lack of faith in the judicial system i.e family courts, as they opereate like toothless tigers. Orders get flaunted and breached and no punitive measures are handed down, and the perpetrator is free to carry on doing this over a period of time, all the while claiming legal aid to facilitate this. Even, solicitors are complicit in this, which costs the tax payer a lot of money on a protracted case in legal aid and court costs, but more importantly enables the emotional damage being meted out to a child as one parents indirect punishment of the other, for whatever reasons. As much as its refreshing for the Chief Executive of CAFCASS to positively move in the direction of pointing out what to everyone in the family courts should be obvious, what powers have been handed down to the CAFCASS practitioners on the ground, to 1. identify parental alienation 2. inform relevant and associated authorities and agencies about parental alienatiion once noticed or identified. 3. What training and information sharing is occuring on this at multi agency levels. 4. Include judges and magistrates in training and awareness of parental alienation, its impact on a child, how it relates to abuse from an emotional perspective 5. How agencies that have an obligation to act to protect the child, follow through an act once there is any indication of parental alienation. It is important to bear in mind that where a child is being sexually abused or physically abused, there would be no hesitation to act once this has been highlighted. Despite the raising of the profile of mental health in recent times, it is shocking how parental alienation and its effect on the emotional, psychological and mental well being of a child is constantly ignored. I would love to say overlooked, but this doesn't seem to be the case. There is also the case that judges do give mothers chances after chances after chances, that it becomes a quite hard for most to accept the fact that courts are not as stringent (for the want of a better word) on mothers than they are as fathers. In a nutshell, in the family courts there is an inequality.Short for discrimination to a degree. Controversial calling it, and putting it out there, but the courts can be "more equal" in how they deal with offenders. Breaches are inherently acts of contempt. Since when did judges authority become something that could be breached as and when convenient without punitive measures being handed down? There is a responsibility on the family courts and all child practitioners (CAFCASS, Social Services, Councils, NSPCC ETC) to consider the rights of the child, the childs mental health and sense of self, the childs emotiional and psychological well being, the cost to tax payers in protracted court costs and legal aid, the cost to society in creating a sub set of emotionally damaged children, and the further cost of how that might manifest in their later lives, if as a result they end up turning to crime somehow. There are so many people in these organisations and agencies given the powers to advise and do what is right and morally right by children, but the doing just enough mentality pervades the system.
November 28, 2017 08:52



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