17th October 2017 – for immediate release

Parental Alienation is a mental health welfare issue

10,000 children a year may be let down by family court professionals

Cafcass and NSPCC acknowledge that Parental Alienation is a serious issue that demands

further resources and training for practitioners and the judiciary alike

 

These were the conclusion drawn in a Parental Alienation conference on 14.10.2017 organised by Families Need Fathers (FNF) Central London Branch involving key professionals including:

  • Anthony Douglas CBE – Chief Executive of Cafcass
  • Chris Cloke – Head of Safeguarding in Communities at NSPCC
  • His Honour Judge Stephen Wildblood – Bristol County Court
  • Dr Hamish Cameron FRCP FRCPsych – Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist
  • Dr Sue Whitcombe – Chartered Psychologist, AFPBsS HCPC registered counselling psychologist and PA expert
  • Joanna Abrahams – Head of Family Law, PA specialists, Setfords Solicitors
  • Francesca Wiley QC – Barrister at 1 Garden Court

Child and family law experts acknowledged that behaviours that result in the alienation of a child from a parent were ‘child abuse’ with serious consequences to the wellbeing and mental health of the children affected.

FNF’s unique gathering of legal professionals, experts, representatives of Families Need Fathers, Match Mothers and other research and support organisations and parents crystallised the damage done to children’s short and long-term mental health and welfare through deliberate or inadvertent parental alienation behaviours, usually by a parent with care seeking to deny the other parent contact with their children.

While reliable statistics are difficult to come by Anthony Douglas, CEO of Cafcass estimated that 5% of their cases, around 5,000 a year, involve Parental Alienation.

Separately, Chris Cloke of the NSPCC highlighted the huge 70% increase in reporting of emotional abuse of children in the last five years.

Dr Sue Whitcombe explained that the apparent vociferous hatred and rejection of a previously loved parent is not a normal reaction. It is often an indicator that the child is being alienated through one or more of a series of pressures on them. Dr Whitcombe also observed that such behaviours become learnt and can carry through to subsequent generations.

Dr Cameron gave examples of clear methods of ascertaining whether a child was feeling under pressure (whether deliberate or unwitting) to disown a previously loved parent. He called for a ‘presumption of normality’ of previous parenting arrangements unless the case crosses the threshold for public law (involving social services) and for better training in ascertaining a child’s wishes and feelings.

The lawyers present spoke of delays in the system, lack of appropriate support for litigants and, above all, scarcity of relevant interventions that could alleviate the difficulties that alienation places upon children with devastating consequences to them and their alienated parent.

His Honour Judge Wildblood noted that the key question he asks himself in cases where children are rejecting a parent is ‘Why is he/she saying this?’ - a question too rarely considered or dealt with using appropriate early interventions. He speculated whether this will be as unacceptable in a generation’s time as was regarding same-sex relationships as ‘perverse’ when he started out as a lawyer. He said that when the children are used in this way, ‘one parent’s emotions dominate’, adding, ‘it is in every sense wrong’. For a child to consider one parent to be a ‘monster’ is ‘extremely damaging’ he said, often leading to self-harming, suicidal thoughts and other damaging symptoms. The children also learn to treat others in black and white terms ‘good’ or ‘bad’ leading to short and long-term harm to their future relationships, not least with their primary carer - if it’s ok to reject one parent, it is ok to do it with the other.

Anthony Douglas, told the conference that Cafcass had devised an online training webinar on parental alienation for staff members. However, during discussions he acknowledged that only 2.5% of staff members had taken part.

Jerry Karlin, Chair and Managing Trustee of FNF says, “It is unacceptable that while Cafcass acknowledges that parental alienation is a serious issue for so many children that training on how to identify and incorporate it into court reports is voluntary. We are calling for Cafcass to make parental alienation training mandatory and set a deadline for compliance.

Our surveys suggest that the instance of alienation to be significantly higher than Cafcass’s estimates, but accepting their statistics, it is a serious issue for around 10,000 children a year and training must become a serious commitment by Cafcass.

Similarly, such expertise as exists must be shared with the judiciary, particularly in lower courts where there is also insufficient understanding of the issues around parental alienation and best practice responses.”

~~ Ends ~~

A full report on the conference will be made available on the FNF website in due course.

Examples of parental alienation behaviour can be found here.

Comments from Sir James Munby on Parental Alienation can be found here.

Report of CAFCASS CEO on Parental Alienation can be found here.

For comment, case studies or information please contact: media@fnf.org.uk or call on 0300 0300 110.

Notes for editors:
Families Need Fathers - because both parents matter
FNF is a registered charity providing information and support on shared parenting issues arising from family breakdown, and support to divorced and separated parents, irrespective of gender or marital status. FNF is NOT a fathers' rights group - we support the best interests of children - namely mature and collaborative parenting by both parents - an objective which is inadequately promoted in the family court system and associated services.

 

Our primary concern is the maintenance of the child’s meaningful relationship with both parents.

 

Founded in 1974, FNF helps thousands of parents every year.