The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) have announced a new approach to the way it deals with cases involving parental alienation. Parental alienation occurs when one parent psychologically manipulates a child against the other parent. It can result in the child not wanting to have any sort of relationship with that parent and can have a deep and lasting effect. The issue has recently been the subject of a storyline in the TV drama Doctor Foster.
CAFCASS have been criticised for not taking the problem seriously enough. The charity Families Need Fathers noted that very few frontline CAFCASS officers had engaged in training on the subject
CAFCASS have confirmed that parental alienation occurs in a significant number of the 125,000 cases it deals with on an annual basis.
High Conflict Pathway
From Spring 2018 CAFCASS will launch a new scheme called the ‘High Conflict Pathway’. Sarah Parsons, the assistant director of Cafcass, said: “We are increasingly recognising that parental alienation is a feature in many of our cases and have realised that it’s absolutely vital that we take the initiative. Our new approach is groundbreaking.”
CAFCASS have confirmed that it has developed a 12-week intense programme called ‘Positive Parenting’ which is designed to help the abusive parent put themselves in their child’s position, and give them skills to break their patterns of behaviour.
A trial of it will start shortly, with 50 high-conflict families being sought across the country. After an evaluation in spring, the programme will be rolled out nationwide.
CAFCASS officers on the front line will undergo mandatory training on parental alienation. It will not be a ‘one size fits all’ as it is recognised that there are degrees of alienation. Each case will be classified as mild, moderate or severe and an appropriate response will be developed for each classification.
The intervention offered will depend on each case and will include therapy to help the ‘target parent’ to address their behaviour and recognise the impact on the child. In the most extreme cases CAFCASS will recommend that the child should live with the ‘alienated’ parent. This measure has always been open to the family courts but is very rarely used.
Up until now there has been no uniform approach to parental alienation by CAFCASS with each situation being dealt with on a case by case basis.
For professionals working in this sphere, it is welcome that parental alienation is being more widely recognised and a more sophisticated approach is being developed.
In recent years CAFCASS has been subjected to substantial funding cuts; it therefore remains to be seen whether it will have resources necessary to roll out the pathway in all cases involving parental alienation.