Sunday 14 January 2018

CAFCASS, Parental Alienation and Triangulation

Before an assessor provides advice or opinion to a private family court, and before any judge competently makes decisions regarding parental alienation, they need to be astute in evaluating whether there is evidence of several psychological concepts that commonly present in such cases. One of the most easily evidenced is a strategy of Triangulation by an alienating parent. 

Between the dotted lines below is an extract from the book Parental Alienation,Attachment and Corrupt Law that explains Triangulation and its importance for assessors. Sadly, despite CAFCASS being the responsible agency where court reporting in family cases is concerned, there is so far no indication that their High Conflict Practice Pathway literature reflects awareness, or any intended progression, towards evaluating Triangulation.


Triangulation is a strategy used by aggressive powers and individuals such as warring states and narcissistic parental alienators to recruit a third party or person into a ‘divide and rule’ campaign against another. In parental alienation, it is used to improve and embed the alienator’s sole control and access to their children in the post family-separation situation by recruiting naive others to their campaign. The first person to be recruited is the child.

The concept of triangulation is recorded in clinical literature by the work of expert Jay Haley, who called the recruitment of children into a cross-generational coalition by one parent against another a Perverse Triangle (a cross-generational coalition is where an older person recruits a child from a junior generation into a psychological pact against another person). In his family systems model, family systems expert Salvador Minuchin named it the Rigid Triangle.

Triangulation is a central plank of family systems assessment and therapy. Any professional presenting themselves as knowledgeable enough to assess alleged or potential parental alienation cases to the statutory standards required for them to advise or provide opinion to courts, but knowing little or nothing of triangulation, is probably unable to understand alienated children’s presentations beyond the superficial explanation of ‘parental conflict’ and is not fit for the court to instruct or listen to. They may even become triangulated into the alienator’s campaign themselves.

In his publications, Dr Childress quotes the principle expert, Dr Jan Haley:
“The people responding to each other in the triangle are not peers, but one of them is of a different generation from the other two ... ln the process of their interaction together, the person of one generation forms a coalition with the person of the other generation against his peer. By ‘coalition’ is meant a process of joint action which is against the third person ... The coalition between the two persons is denied. That is, there is certain behavior which indicates a coalition which, when it is queried, will be denied as a coalition ... In essence, the perverse triangle is one in which the separation of generations is breached in a covert way. When this occurs as a repetitive pattern, the system will be pathological.” (Haley, 1977, p. 37)

In taking control of a child's environment and recruiting them into a campaign against the targeted parent, narcissistic alienators provide themselves with narcissistic feedback that helps to ameliorate their own feelings of inadequacy. A role reversal is expressed within this new dyad, known as an ‘inverted hierarchy,’ whereby the child serves the purposes of the alienating parent, rather than the child benefiting from the normal and empathic parenting of one or both parents.

The parent-with-care’s legal status and how it plays out in the real world ironically facilitates their increases in control over their children because it provides the narcissist, by default, with greater control, not only over their children but also over the targeted parent. Alienating parents are able to use their legal advantage to defend themselves against the attempts of targeted parents to assist their children. If the child, and the child’s expressions can be controlled, then so can the family court and child protection systems, as their training and processes do not qualify or equip them to recognise the behaviours and effects of this type of pathological parenting the child is being exposed to. Children separated from beloved targeted parents often display emotional and psychological disturbances that attract concerned interactions with first-instance professionals such as teachers and social workers. In the absence of applicable mental health training, first- instance professionals may believe triangulated children when they falsely report their psychological problems are caused by their targeted parents. Those services are abused, manipulated, triangulated into the alienator’s campaign, and can end up ensuring restrictive powers are exerted over the targeted parent. Gaining this assistance in controlling the targeted parent increases the narcissistic feedback felt by the alienator even more, and encourages the continuance of their triangulation behaviours. The more professionals that allow themselves to get triangulated, the more will follow. Triangulation can be a self-replicating and self-reinforcing process. 

Teachers, social workers, lawyers and judges are not mental health specialists and are unlikely to see past the appearance presented. If children have been especially skilfully triangulated, they may present as especially persuasive. As children become more influenced by the triangulation process, and and misread by professionals, their reports about their targeted parents become more derogatory. Professionals then (sometimes inadvertently, sometimes due to managerial pressures and sometimes due to their implementing their ideological preferences through their work) assist the alienator and turn against the targeted parent. This is especially the case where the alienator makes false allegations of domestic abuse, violence, sexual or physical child abuse, or other aberrant parenting practices, aimed at justifying the child’s induced comments and apparent rejection of the targeted parent.

If the alienator can successfully present themselves and their children as victims, they may recruit professional reinforcements unwilling to adequately test allegations. Allegations do get taken at face value, without evidence, all the way to fact-finding by judges. 'Parental conflict’ is also often advanced to explain the disturbed behaviours children can sometimes present with as they become triangulated and begin to suffer other disorders associated with the alienation process. Professionals become convinced by the alienator’s scripts, parroted by their children, and fail to investigate, identify and attribute the children’s symptomatology to the underlying pathological parenting of the alienator. Now, no matter what scales of pathogenic symptomatology the children advance along in response to their alienator’s pathological parenting, the targeted parent is blamed. The alienator succeeds in presenting themselves to be perceived as the victim of the targeted parent and the rescuer of the children whilst, in reality, they are actively persecuting the targeted parent and programming their children and state authorities to do the same.

Successfully recruiting influential, professional assistants to their three causes of (i) controlling their children (ii) controlling the targeted parent and (iii) the whole environment their children move in, can provide yet more feedback to the narcissistic parent and ensure their continuation and embedding of the process into more serious pathologies to be inflicted on their children in due course.

In effect, unwary and unskilled professionals become what Dr Childress calls ‘flying monkeys’ as they are themselves triangulated into the alienator’s coalition against the targeted parent. It has even been reported for professionals, such as social workers and expert witnesses,to form dyads with triangulated children and alienating parents that use official channels to persecute the targeted parent. Some of those channels are easily available to the alienator, funded by the state and applied without checks to safeguard against abuse of the provisions.

The alienating parent may now have the full power of the state reinforcing theirs and the children’s corners of the triangle against the targeted parent. Now, all three corners are under the control of the alienator. Their increase in power and status can elevate the narcissist parent right up the scale away from vulnerable towards grandiose narcissism and facilitate their own need for emotional stability that relies on their own craving for personal credibility and control. The more the alienator moves up the scale, the better they present themselves to the outside world, and the more the professionals feel they have done the right thing in helping them, by supposedly creating a calmer and more secure parental environment for the children. In reality, it is anything but.

The naïve or conniving support of professionals helps the alienator in family court instead of the children. The misdiagnoses of the children’s symptomatology by non-experts can result in their being incorrectly labelled with the wrong psychological or medical disorders and placed into schemes to supposedly help their conditions and presumed cause of anxieties, so the children move not only in a compromised environment whilst living at home with the alienator, but also within a community where a chain reaction of shallow presumptions and unquestioned, one sided evidence can lead to the professional and social ostracism of the targeted parent, recruiting even more enablers against them. The environment the children move in reinforces the impression their alienator is all powerful and correct, and sends them the message their alienator can control everything. The children may become brainwashed not merely by the alienator but the dialogues of some support services. The alienator may further isolate and control the interactions of the children to ensure they only move within environments the alienator has successfully compromised, meaning the children have no alternative influences.

Narcissist alienators manoeuvre themselves and their children into positions where they act as primary controller of all channels of communication towards - and from - their children. Persons unwilling to join the alienator’s dysfunctional triangle are rejected by the alienator and lost to the children. The alienator will only allow persons into the triangle that perpetuate their aims. Beneficial influences for the children may be aggressively guarded against and countered. If left to the alienator, only dysfunctional triangulation will happened and persist. It is the duty of external authorities to intervene and allow the formation of functional triangles, even if it means ejecting the alienator for a period of protective separation so skilled assistance for the targeted parent and child is more likely to be effective. 

In family separation scenarios, the above characteristics, where present, were found by family systems expert Salvador Minuchin to produce what he found in one particular case: “an inappropriately rigid cross-generational subsystem of mother and son versus father appears, and the boundary around this coalition of mother and son excludes the father. A crossgenerational dysfunctional transactional pattern has developed” (Minuchin, 1974)

That case involved older and younger siblings. The older siblings were triangulated and psychologically enmeshed with their alienating parent and the younger children were already caught within the triangulation process, part-psychologically enmeshed with the alienator and on their way to full enmeshment, at which point they would no doubt fully resist all contact to their targeted parent. Minuchin said:  “The parents were divorced six months earlier and the father is now living alone… Two of the children who were very attached to their father, now refuse any contact with him. The younger children visit their father but express great unhappiness with the situation.” (Minuchin, 1974)

In her 1990 article, ‘Emotional abuse: Destruction of the Spirit and the Sense of Self’, Judy Keith-Oaks refers to the unhealthy communications between a parent drawing in and inflicting a triangulated situation on their children as ‘emotional incest.’ She says:

“The parent does not have clear boundaries between himself and the child. Boundaries between self and others are not fixed but change in response to personal feelings and the interaction with specific people in an environment. Boundaries exist as a protection mechanism to maintain physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual stability. They ensure appropriate behaviour and keep individuals from offending others. Abusive parents tend to not have clear boundaries between themselves and their child. Nor do they allow or facilitate the development of healthy boundaries. An abused child therefore does not have healthy boundaries to protect himself or to even know when he/she is physically, emotionally, spiritually, or intellectually being abused. Emotional boundaries help to differentiate between personal feelings and the feelings of others. Emotional boundaries are damaged by role reversal (the child assumes the nurturing role toward the parent), emotional incest, shaming and humiliation, and enmeshment. Emotional incest occurs when parents share adult secrets with the child. This typically occurs during the dysfunctional pattern of triangulation when direct communication between adults has been discontinued. Sharing of adult secrets with children in effect gives the problem to the child. These children then feel the unexpressed pain of their parents…..In families where one person’s dominance and control is prominent, the children must have the same feelings and beliefs as the adult in charge. While these families appear to be very close, they are in fact “enmeshed.” Enmeshment destroys the child’s sense of emotional separateness……”

In 2015, expert clinical researchers at Plymouth University, UK, investigated the experience of children in their families’ post-separation situations and found the presence of triangulation inflicted more harm than the families’ separating processes. They said:

“…….children showed greater levels of anxiety in response to the triangulation as opposed to the separation scenarios. Qualitative analysis supported this finding and revealed that many of the children felt ‘invisible’ due to parents’ pre-occupation with marital conflict, felt caught in the middle of conflicts and coerced to take sides. Although able to describe their reactions and showing greater negative emotional responses to the triadic pictures, they were not consciously aware of the negative impacts of triangulation on their sense of well-being.”

The observation by Judy Keith Oaks and the Plymouth experts that children are naïve about triangulation processes being inflicted upon them and causing their anxieties can be extended to professionals. It is particularly significant in understanding why professionals by-stand on triangulation and why alienators can manipulate children so they ascribe their feelings of triangulation and attachment disruption to other causes, such as those suggested by their alienators against their targeted parents. The findings also fundamentally undermine the ‘Wishes and Feelings’ doctrine, explored later in this book, in the section on ‘Corrupt Law,’ as the two key players in the ‘Wishes and Feelings’ scenario (the child and the assessing social worker) are, in the absence of thorough training and application of family systems processes and triangulation, incompetent in understanding, expressing, receiving, interpreting and reporting ‘Wishes and Feelings’ to the legal standard.

Dr Craig Childress quotes key practitioners when explaining Triangulation:
“The concept of triangles “describes the way any three people relate to each other and involve others in emotional issues between them” (Bowen, 1989, p. 306). In the anxiety-filled environment of conflict, a third person is triangulated, either temporarily or permanently, to ease the anxious feelings of the conflicting partners. By default, that third person is exposed to an anxiety-provoking and disturbing atmosphere. For example, a child might become the scapegoat or focus of attention, thereby transferring the tension from the marital dyad to the parent-child dyad. Unresolved tension in the marital relationship might spill over to the parent-child relationship through parents’ use of psychological control as a way of securing and maintaining a strong emotional alliance and level of support from the child. As a consequence, the triangulated youth might feel pressured or obliged to listen to or agree with one parents’ complaints against the other.

“The resulting enmeshment and cross-generational coalition would exemplify parents’ use of psychological control to coerce and maintain a parent-youth emotional alliance against the other parent (Haley, 1976; Minuchin, 1974).” (Stone, Buehler, and Barber, 2002, p. 86-87)

The degree of assistance triangulated children need depends on the degree of pathology in the alienating parent, their exposure to alienating strategies, and the severity of that exposure. If alienators have or are able to develop insight into what they are doing to their children, then some therapy ‘in situ’ with the current family structure remaining intact may be possible. A trial period of some months of shared care of the children between the parents, greatly increasing the parenting time of the targeted parent and reducing the triangulation and other alienation strategies of the alienating parent, may help. If the alienator is narcissistic, family therapy seems unlikely to work in situ, as narcissistic alienators tend to interfere with the therapeutic process and render it useless, and the child may have to be protectively removed from the alienator so therapy can work. 


In recent years, some of us who observe the patterns at family courts believe there seems to have been an increase in the use of Triangulation as a strategy by some parents in the post separation scenario to gain access to resources linked to the custody of children such as welfare benefits and housing provision. The only way these parents can jump the social housing queue is to claim they are victims of domestic violence and proscribe all contact between their children and the separated parent, at least until they have been completely rehoused. There have been cases where, once the parent with care has been rehoused, they have allowed the other parent unfettered access to the children again, their previous allegations notwithstanding. This type of triangulation may not be the result of personality disorder but calculated nest-building. Nonetheless, the needless denial of children’s parenting time to both parents seems a new and damaging form of pathological parenting that CAFCASS and the court system should seriously consider evaluating for.   

Regardless of whether Triangulation is being naively, actively or obsessively 
deployed as an alienation strategy, or as a resource seeking strategy, cases monitored show that lawyers can play a large, facilitative role in the Triangulation process. Lawyers acting for parents who needlessly deny adequate parenting time with targeted parents are known to contact agencies through whose services the relevant children will pass, and pressure them to adopt opinions that may be harmful to the children. They contact schools, police, social services and CAFCASS, sometimes abusing their professional influence by contaminating independent assessment processes. If, for instance, the case is already in the family courts, the police and social services may be persuaded by a family lawyer not to pursue investigations for potential child abuse, on the pretence that the matter under investigation is already being dealt with in family court, when it is not. Children are therefore sometimes denied the immediate assessment and protection they need and are entitled to. Some CAFCASS officers seem to similarly side with the most vociferous lawyer, especially if the targeted parent is a litigant in person. Some family lawyers are, in these scenarios, little more than facilitators and enablers of child abuse, leading expert psychologist Dr Ludwig Lowenstein to state:  

“opposing lawyers contribute to the corruption of youth, the poisoning of young minds, and the attenuation and even destruction of important parent-child bonds.”

(For further reading, an in depth, fully referenced clinical synopsis on Triangulation entitled
‘Strategic Family Therapy for a Cross- Generational Coalition’ is written by Dr Childress at

Thursday 4 January 2018

CAFCASS, Parental Alienation and the HCPP; Series Analysis No.4: Product Quality vs Marketing

This is the fourth article addressing CAFCASS’s foray into developing a Pathway to deal with parental alienation cases in family courts. This article will look at the narrative in the online section of the CAFCASS website here. The other articles in this series of critical appraisal are here , here and here.

The first thing any scientific, or even sensible approach to starting something supposedly new is to see if it is actually new at all. Where interventions involving issues of children and family are concerned, funded with public money, and levied upon families thereafter, it is a reasonable expectation of the public for any new programs to be designed by highly qualified and experienced experts with track records of being effective. To do otherwise would be not merely be disrespectful to service users but likely to do little to positively influence the very problem one is purporting to help alleviate. 

The most proven design methodology is the scientific method. The scientific method first involves perusing the work of previous experts in the same field to see if science has already addressed, evaluated and solved the same problem. Scientific principles, once established, tend to remain constant. Without the scientific approach, we may simply be wasting public money and time and busying ourselves by reinventing the wheel, and manufacturing a defective product. Even studies that do not wish to rely on previous work, for some reason or other, have to assess it to test whether the reluctance to use it is reasonable.  Sometimes, new projects do not get off the ground because referral to previous work renders the costs of new developments unnecessary, because the new intended design, and perhaps the new intended designers, are found on appraisal to be inferior to those that have gone before. 

Of course, sometimes, one has to be involved or qualified in some science or discipline, or in some way liable for failed consequences, to fully appreciate the benefits and safeguards of fine design. Medicine, engineering, agriculture and architecture, for instance, all have their scientific principles, and woe will soon betide any researcher or practitioner that chooses to wander wide of them. Social workers, however, do not adhere to scientific principles. Nor are they taught how to design. Yet the program of High Conflict Practice Pathway has been envisaged and taken forwards by CAFCASS, to produce views that will be expressed in courts to and by lawyers and judges, whose training and approach is also less than scientific. 

CAFCASS claim the tools they produce assist their practitioners obtain 'evidence', but that in itself is an assertion that needs independent scrutiny and testing. Potentially, programs designed by non-experts and non-designers can produce misleading data; this could result in the blind leading the blind, where decisions involving children could carry on as they now do: dependant on whatever assertions touted between irrelevantly trained professionals suits the ringmaster of this theater of opinion: a lower court judge. 

The first thing that is striking about the online CAFCASS article is that it reveals CAFCASS are not using the scientific method at all. The article states: “The HCPP was developed by an advisory group from Cafcass England, comprised of approximately 40 of our practitioners from across the country and led by Sarah Parsons, Assistant Director and Principal Social Worker for Cafcass.” This seems unfair on the public; people whose previous work and influences cannot be checked out, and who have no experience or training in the clinical development of public or mental health projects, are being promoted to design roles in which they are unlikely to be competently qualified. It already seems that any success of the HCPP project may be down to coincidence rather than science. 

It’s not even as if CAFCASS keeps a scientific database of their case management and its effectiveness in solving or assisting children in previous parental alienating cases. These 40 or so in-house professionals bring little but their own beliefs, influences and accounts of their otherwise untested experience with them. The lack of qualification amongst the design team is not compensated for by having a proven design engineer to oversee the project. Assistant Director Sarah Parsons may be the best social worker in the universe, but she is not a clinical or forensic expert, and perhaps should not be running what should be a clinical program designed to improve child and adult mental health. If indeed, that it what the HCPP is intended to do because, dread to think, it may otherwise be a case of inadequately trained professional meddlers cashing in on a mental health problem. 

But every project, good or bad, gets marketed. Turning to the first marketing claim about the HCPP, we are told it is:  “a practice framework being developed to help our practitioners systematically assess cases which feature adult behaviours associated with high conflict.” Very clever indeed. Because by toying with words and rebranding the purpose of the project, you can invent something new and obviate the need to refer to previous literature. CAFCASS is supposedly breaking or even pioneering new ground because none of the skilled clinicians and psychotherapists with hands-on experience of parental alienation have branded it as a ‘high conflict’ problem. CAFCASS presumably don’t have to use the scientific method, seek any previous articles, consult or hire expertise about parental alienation as a high conflict issue, because there aren’t any. Parental conflict does exist, and the effects upon a child are included in the new DSM-5 diagnostic category of 'Child Affected by Parental Relationship Distress,' but it does not entirely substitute for the other, more serious clinical disorders associated with parental alienation.

Now, if CAFCASS were to have played a straight card and chose instead to assess adult behaviours associated with parental alienation, rather than parental conflict, and used the scientific method to inform themselves, they’d find some fine work having already been done by several experts, in this case beginning with Clavar and Rivlin, whose excellent book “Children Held Hostage: Identifying Brainwashed Children, Presenting a Case, and Crafting Solutions” was updated in 2014. CAFCASS could also do worse than refer to the brilliant work of expert Drs Amy J Baker and Douglas Darnall PhD, in their scientifically prepared, 2006 research entitled: “Behaviors and Strategies Employed in Parental Alienation.” They identified 66 alienation strategies supported by 1300 behaviours. Both of these research projects covered a much wider sample of cases than the HCPP will, and more thoroughly. Baker had prepared several previous articles, all peer reviewed, regularly used and cited by other expert researchers without a single problem being reported back; that is the purpose of peer review. The article Baker did with Darnall in 2006 was also compared to and found to be consistent with other high quality, peer reviewed work.  That’s how science works, you build it bit by bit and throw open the doors to reviewers. Your work had better be good, because there exist some reviewers who are extremely adept at scientific analysis and are able to destroy credibility, and sometimes even careers, with a single paragraph, if they feel you are making claims that are not readily supported by the evidence or your chosen methodology. If, however, the work done is robust, it tends to be accepted for publication in a rigorous, scientific academic journal, survive peer review, and be built upon. Some research projects are even transparent, openly inviting external researchers in during development rather than afterwards, informing them of progress and inviting them to 

An obvious way of avoiding any criticism of claims and projects is to not submit them for genuine, open, expert peer review before implementation. Such an approach suggests that the reputations of key personnel, in this instance the CAFCASS Board, are better preserved than the well-being of those subjected to CAFCASS projects. 

CAFCASS gives the impression that peer review is happening here by claiming they are working in conjunction with ‘stakeholders,’ a vague term that, in this instance, covers the Ministry of Justice, the Court Service, the National Association of Contact Centres and the judiciary. CAFCASS have appropriated the term 'peer-review' but it does not mean here what it does in the real world; peer review prior to CAFCASS project implementation predominantly means only their stakeholders get to review, and express a view. 

The link between the stakeholders is perhaps best summed up with the definition of stakeholder as: “a person with an interest or concern in something, especially a business.” Perhaps it is only coincidence that the additional work caused and the related revenues and jobs generated by the human misery being inadequately processed through CAFCASS and these other agencies relies largely on the failed models and practices of CAFCASS. It may seem reassuring that ‘someone’ is watching CAFCASS but one has to ask: where is the clinical expertise amongst these agencies that qualifies them to be evaluating or contributing opinion to any program associated with parental alienation? 

Apparently, there are also other ‘new resources’ being introduced, but there seems no need to inform the public in this article what they may be. CAFCASS claim the HCPP links into those and tools and practices already established; the narrative is that HCPP is simultaneously forwards and backwards compatible for integration into existing  concepts designed by CAFCASS and as-yet undefined ‘new resources’ on the way. There is, anyhow, a preordained Product Life Cycle – of success and compatibility- for every CAFCASS product. For instance, the article states: “The pathway enhances our existing practice tools such as the Impact of Parental Conflict Tool….” which is an untested tool and concept, and so too early for the cement to be certified as fit for building on, or adjacent to. Also, it may be of concern that 'impact' is measured in terms of a child's expressions without consideration of any underlying clinical disorder that may be causing or contributing to the expressions. Withut this key consideration, it must surely increase the chances that a clinically ignorant CAFCASS assessor may misdiagnose and misrepresent the core problems to a court. Nevertheless, there is already a presumption the impact tool works just fine, is effectively administered, with all children's expressions properly interpreted, and is reliable enough for other CAFCASS-designed tools to be integrated with it.  As seems to be the anticipation with all CAFCASS assumptions before their infliction on children and families,  the 'tool' is presumed perfect out the box and can go ahead without testing, expert monitoring, ongoing expert evaluation or concerns about the integrity of the staff. 
A bit like Apple products working best with other Apple products, but without the science, testing, peer review and customer feedback. But then, CAFCASS has a captive audience of children and ignored service users rather than customers. 

CAFCASS seem to be manipulating words when justifying how they come to rely so heavily on their assertions and multi-product integration. They seem to have slipped the step of evaluation because for that, you need evidence. CAFCASS is not claiming HCPP builds on the evidence provided by their other projects at all; instead, the concept of “inspiration” is deployed in their narrative: “The model we’re using is inspired by our Domestic Abuse Practice Pathway (DAPP), introduced to support and strengthen the systematic assessment of cases involving domestic abuse or domestic abuse allegations.” 

Has that other DAPP ‘Pathway’ been subjected to independent peer or forensic review? Was it foreseen upon design that it would be later used as foundation, precursor, referral tool or affiliate to assessing parental alienation? If so, how? Or is there suppressed evidence arising from that pathway suggesting many cases of alleged DV are at best unsubstantiated or at worst false, and indicative of a large sample of litigants ‘working the system,’ providing instead some substantiation for the accepted fact that parental alienation in adversarial court proceedings is both widespread and on the increase. Perhaps a Freedom of Information request to CAFCASS requiring the data so far collated on the DAPP and any conclusions thus far drawn is prudent. It would be interesting to see if the data returned by CAFCASS lines up with rigorous academic research finding most family court allegations in adversarial proceedings are unsubstantiated, and asserting otherwise within a feminist-inspired model of allegation assessment really does not help courts or children at all. 

False allegations, and vehemently expressed but groundless child welfare and even child protection concerns feature heavily in alienation cases, but the word ‘false’ is not mentioned once in the DAPP document. Upon reading the DAPP literature, it seems very heavy on provision of considerations that could lead to presumptions of child abuse by targeted parents having happened rather than not. There is not a section in the DAPP providing forensic tips on how to analyse the veracity of allegations. However, ‘mental health’ is mentioned as a risk factor for domestic violence within the DAPP, whilst that consideration is conspicuously absent from the HCPP literature, where it is at least if not more relevant. Moreover, the DAPP takes precedence over the HCPP, as: “The new pathway (HCPP) will be used when it is clear that concerns relating to domestic abuse are not a feature in a case.” So whatever good that may arise out of the HCPP for a child will be delayed until what seems the equally unreliable, inconsistent, unscientific, unforensic and, in practice, the likely downright inaccurate and biased process of assessing abuse is done, which takes months at least, and provides alienators all the time they need to induce the development of severe mental health disorders in children. Whatever HCPP is, it isn’t proactive, it isn’t priority and it won’t happen quickly. 

The narrative is, however, ever hopeful. The same over-arching attitude, that accurate and positive outcomes are inevitable, is reflected in the following dramatic statement: “Bringing these together under one framework promotes a consistent and evidence-informed approach, helping practitioners find an outcome which is truly in the best interests of the children involved.” That seems less to do with true science than with speculative social engineering using dogma dressed up as children's ‘best interests.’ Parental alienation is now captured, incarcerated within and subservient to the same failed ideology and corporate maladministration that largely causes and denies its existence, now to be assessed within the domestic violence paradigm of a failed agency. A hijack? Forgive me if I feel more design goes into the propaganda marketing these projects than the public health benefits of the projects themselves. Designs of CAFCASS projects may have little to do with science, but the marketing team seem to have developed a high level of competence in maintaining power by using the science of political linguistics within a reverse, Machiavellian application of the warnings of George Orwell. 

Searching the CAFCASS article for the purpose of the HCPP yields that CAFCASS will be: “distinguishing between parental alienation and the justified rejection of a parent by a child due to inappropriate or harmful behaviour.” This is the territory of clinical experts. It seems CAFCASS are not only cutting the experts out from design, they are taking over clinical assessment roles with ideologically inspired, tick-box technology. Now, it has to be said that most expert witnesses who provide services to the family courts in parental alienation cases are not worth their instruction and do more harm than otherwise. That is not, however, a license for CAFCASS to appropriate the competent expert’s or therapist's role but for the MoJ to teach and require judges to carefully select experts, appraise their reports and rigorously impose the legal standards under which experts are obliged to operate, making use of deterrents such as issuing de facto, wasted costs orders where presumed experts turn out to be anything but. For its part, CAFCASS should not be attempting to replace competent experts in matters of clinical concern but referring to them, learning from and working alongside them. 

The article states that the CAFCASS programs will enhance existing tools, guidance and “research available to our practitioners in these cases.” This has to be simply poor rather than clever wording. CAFCASS are otherwise claiming that their own programs will enhance the parental alienation research already done. Firstly, that would seem like the tail wagging the dog and secondly, CAFCASS won’t be conducting their project with the same academic and clinical rigour as is required for entry to an academic journal, and if their work is not submitted for peer review, it won’t be ‘enhancing’ other work at all. The research “available to our practitioners” is here and some of it is amongst the best but frankly, CAFCASS practitioners hitherto have not been reading any of it. I have spoken with several CAFCASS Family Court Advisors and Guardians, and seen them questioned and cross examined in parental alienation cases. Not one knew these resources existed, or referred to them in reports, and not one even referred to them after they were made aware of their presence in the CAFCASS library. Not that this mattered much to them or the ‘court,’ as no judge bothered to care that the CAFCASS reports they nonetheless chose to rely on did not reflect the clinical science of state of the art, peer reviewed guidance but what seems an immutable, delinquent CAFCASS attitude. Similarly, a training video on parental alienation was entirely ignored by all but a handful of CAFCASS staff and Anthony Douglas, CEO of CAFCASS, retorted it was down to their vast workloads and lack of time. However, a similar FOI by the website Voice of the Child revealed the vast majority of CAFCASS staff had time to view a video on filling out their expense forms. 

Just as an endnote: Child Affected by Parental Relationship Distress (CAPRD) and parental conflict could be used to the benefit of children in alienation scenarios, if CAFCASS were to build the next level of intelligent evaluation into their model. They really do not have to look far. Under the current CAFCASS and court model, parents are considered to be 'in conflict' if they cannot agree on parenting plans; so low and inerudite is the threshold and application of a label that deflects from the possibility of one parent engaging in alienation strategies as a form of abuse where a child is used as a proxy to inflict harm on the other parent or cause a separation between them. Now, CAPRD being in DSM5 means there is an associated assessment, diagnosis and treatment route that children would be entitled to where there is parental conflict. CAPRD distinctly identifies the clinical damage done to children by parental conflict, so if a competent assessment reveals evidence that one parent is actually or potentially inflicting what can now be shown as clinical harm on a child when acting as leading protagonist in an unnecessary campaign of one-sided conflict, action can be quickly taken on behalf of the child. Under this model, justification and legal obligation for intervention would fit within the existing legal model where the protagonist parent shows no likelihood or capacity for change. The action could be proactive, under the legal provision and obligation to protect a child from potential harm, even if the child is not (yet) showing signs of associated clinical disorder. Such an approach has precedent too, in V v V [2004] EWHC 1215 (Fam), where Her Justice Bracewell transferred residence of children based on the risk or harm of brainwashing (not risk of harm from parental alienation). However, for this possibility to work under the HCPP, the concept of one-sided conflict has to be accepted and wider investigation of parental conflict would have to include assessing for the presence and use of alienation strategies, psychological control and triangulation tactics, as these are the pathological parenting precursors to related, induced child clinical illness. Without this additional layer of assessment built into HCPP, it is useless, as it provides no other means of protection for the child from supposed 'conflict' than is currently, and falsely applied: removal of the separated parent from the child's life. CAFCASS gets rid of the 'conflict' by getting rid of the targeted parent. 

So, the test of CAFCASS narrative in this online article again does not appear to survive scrutiny and raises more questions than it solves, but as we advance along the relevant HCPP documentation, we hope for something more promising. See you in a few day’s time. 


Evaluating Expert Witness Psychological Reports: Exploring Quality

Evaluating Expert Witness Psychological Reports: Exploring Quality

Author: Professor Jane L. Ireland, PhD, Chartered Psychologist, Forensic Psychologist, University of Central Lancashire and Ashworth Research Centre, Mersey Care NHS Trust and Coastal Child and Adolescent Treatment Service (CCATS). 

Click here for the research

The current research represents a preliminary study applying guidance given in the Civil Procedure Rules Practice Direction (UK) to assess the quality of expert psychological assessments presented in Family Courts. It also aims to draw upon admissibility criteria for expert evidence which has been developed in other jurisdictions, but is likely to have increasing influence in the UK, such as the US developed Daubert criteria. The current study examined 126 expert psychological reports submitted in family court proceedings. They covered both adult and child assessments and were obtained from three courts. There were four independent raters. Using a largely qualitative approach, the study indicated concerns regarding both the qualification of a small section of experts and regarding the quality of the reports produced. Over three-quarters of experts were qualified, of which over three quarters clinical psychologists, around a tenth educational psychologists, and a tenth forensic psychologists1 . Each report was rated with regards to its consistency with the expected content of expert reports as indicated by the Civil Procedure Rules (2005, 2010), the extent to which the psychometrics used fulfilled recognised rules for the admissibility of expert evidence (i.e. Daubert criteria2 ), coupled with an overall assessment of the quality of the report with regards to process. Results indicated wide variability in report quality with evidence of unqualified experts being instructed to provide psychological opinion. One fifth of instructed psychologists were not deemed qualified on the basis of their submitted Curriculum Vitae, even on the most basic of applied criteria. Only around one tenth of instructed experts maintained clinical practice external to the provision of expert witness work. Two thirds of the reports reviewed were rated as „poor‟ or „very poor‟, with one third between good and excellent. This preliminary study concludes with suggestions for ensuring good quality reports are produced for use by courts in family proceedings and how the instruction of appropriate experts can be enhanced.

Update: Several complaints were made against Professor Jane Ireland to the Health Care Professions Council after her report was written. None of the complaints were upheld. 

40. Behaviors and Strategies Employed in Parental Alienation: A Survey of Parental Experiences

40. Behaviors and Strategies Employed in Parental Alienation: A Survey of Parental Experiences

Click here to access the research. 

A 2006 research article by Drs Amy Baker and Douglas Darnall, two parental alienation specialists. They investigated whether the maneuvering of pathological parents when engaging in parental alienation were consistent across cases. Results from analysis of the data provided by 97 participants were independently coded.  revealing 66 types of strategies supported by 1,300 actions, or specific behaviours. There was considerable overlap in the strategies identified by the targeted parents with those described by adult children (from another study).

Saturday 30 December 2017

Assessing the corporate mindset behind CAFCASS and Parental Alienation

On the CAFCASS blog here is an article by CEO Anthony Douglas about new ways CAFCASS will be approaching parental alienation. The first paragraph goes: 

“Recently 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.”

To the untrained eye, it is a well-worded introduction. There are references to the acceptance of parental alienation as a negative child impact, adverse experiences, perniciousness, it being as bad as physical abuse, and use of the key word ‘significant’ when referring to harm. Some nice buzzwords and so far, so good. But reading a little deeper into the introductory narrative, we can see some watering down too. Because in order to maintain CAFCASS’s role as gatekeepers of the work associated with parental alienation, deflection of the issue to areas where it does not belong is necessary, and that deflection can only happen once the dilution of the effects and damage of parental alienation is achieved. 

Douglas has to try to skilfully narrate parental alienation from a medical and clinical issue into one he can claim his operators supposedly have knowledge and experience in – ‘family conflict.’ It’s where Anthony Douglas as head of CAFCASS has to go if he is to avoid radical restructure and retraining of CAFCASS, or simply admitting that CAFCASS is as unfit for purpose as ever, despite the ‘improving’ status from inspections of irrelevant performance measures by OFSTED. 

Parental alienation is not a ‘High Conflict’ problem. It is a mental health issue with two legs: parental mental health and child mental health. Only once the dual mental health aspect of any case is dealt with and that risk to the child evaluated can any apparent ‘conflict’ be fairly understood and assessed. Another challenge is to ascertain the truth of any allegations by forensically investigating them. This needs doing for several reasons: allegations that are genuine need to be reliably separated from those that aren’t. Allegations that are genuine but have no bearing on the relationship between either of the parents and the child going forwards can be considered but not seriously affect progress – swift progress can still be achieved, albeit perhaps with built in measures. Allegations that are genuine and an authentic threat to a child require those cases to be routed down effective intervention routes led by forensic and clinical psychologists so whatever threat is assumed can be investigated and dealt with, then the interests of the child furthered by sensitive reunification with a better informed parent. 

Promoting secure attachments should be a CAFCASS aim, as part of any state agency’s remit to promote public health; not destroying attachments. Forensic research shows the number of cases where parental risk is so serious that no child contact should happen is very rare indeed, far less than the number of cases where that outcome is currently recommended by CAFCASS and delivered by the courts. 

Douglas knows he has to accept there is a mental health issue with parental alienation but does not want to venture too far into that territory. His claim that parental alienation is as damaging as physical abuse lines up with para 21 of the Court of Appeal’s verdict in W (A Child) [2014] EWCA Civ 772. Douglas can’t really disagree with the Lord Justices. However, CAFCASS should be influenced not merely by legal authority but by sincerely and competently absorbing and putting into policy the best practices derived from skilled, clinical and psychotherapeutic practitioners who deal hands-on with alienated children. The modern and better-informed view from those rather more qualified experts is that parental alienation encompasses behaviours associated with pathological parenting, and as such, is more damaging to children than physical abuse. The Lord Justices, and Douglas, are out of date, their respective wisdom and status notwithstanding. 

Children who suffer physical abuse are considered at lesser overall risk because statistically, they can be identified and helped quicker, not least because the state takes physical abuse more seriously. When child protection professionals, and CAFCASS, see parental alienation, they often shrug their shoulders and walk away. Children’s exposure to physical abuse can be less, interventions can be less expensive and children’s recovery easier than from abuse inflicted by pathological parenting. There are medical treatments all the way for physically abused children; from treating wounds to diagnosing and treating traumatic stress disorders rooted in actual or perceived risk of personal injury. Not so for alienated children or other victims of pathological parenting, despite what can be the more invasive form of abuse they suffer. Take, for instance, the following statement from expert child psychologist Dr Burkhard who compared PAS children to other abused and traumatised kids she treats on a regular basis: 

“This other group of children have been raped, burned, beaten, sexually abused, and victims of crime. If they are in the newspapers, the children are likely to wind up in this office because we specialize in traumatized children. And yet, they don’t hold a candle in terms of symptoms and prognosis to the PAS children. PAS kids are a mess.”  (In Dr Linda Kase (2012): The Parental Alienation Syndrome: A Family Therapy and Collaborative Systems Approach to Amelioration, p 212.)

Compare that quote and its implications to the minimal acceptance of mental health damage quoted by Douglas when he says parental alienation 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.” In short, the effects of parental alienation are here downgraded so lower-tier professionals can deal with the issue within currently available supports. 

This image of Douglas’s contrasts with reality. The real picture is that where any of the associated parental behaviours of parental alienation are even potentially apparent, it is an issue already crossing the section 31 Children Act 1989 threshold of significant harm and requiring skilled assessment under child protection business, which is not necessarily CAFCASS territory. Perhaps that’s why the rest of Douglas’s article takes the reader on a rather inventive trip. I use the word ‘trip’ because it has three meanings: one, a short journey, especially for pleasure, in this case leading us away from the problem to where Douglas wants us to think it is. Two, a trip is also a stumble over something, and Douglas just cannot seem to address this obstacle coherently. Three, a trip is a state of mind induced by psychoactive substances, where altered brain activity can produce some interesting visions and insights. Reading on in the article reveals Douglas has some perspectives that are certainly not drawn from a straightforward application of the clinical literature. 

In his paragraph two, Douglas leads where he wants the reader to go and stay: family conflict territory. He says: “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.” These would be wise words in the appropriate forum. Yes, energies are high in separating families but nowhere in the clinical literature on parental alienation will you find that separation toxicity causes parental alienation. Many families have the presence of mind to control behaviours despite natural anxieties and caustic emotions associated with separation and children. The feelings are not always rooted in hostility, but the associated dysregulation of a human neuro-biological attachment system pruned by evolution to dispense toxic neurochemistry and intense emotional reactivity when it perceives a threat to the attachment system’s balance. Family separation upsets attachments and causes intense distress. That’s where Douglas should focus as the likely cause of stress, not always on ‘high conflict.’ 

Myopic focus on ‘parental hostility’ ignores key facts. For instance, some genuinely high conflict parents still do not alienate their children. Parental alienation can result from a temporary or chronic response by a parent to separation, but that response would be caused by naivety, or compromised mental health, or both. That again is where Douglas needs to focus. But even mental health disorder during separation may not cause alienation; some mentally ill people have the insight to understand their thoughts and feelings should not dictate their behaviour. And then we have the strategic alienator, the one who is quite sane but calculated, aware of the risks to their children but weighing up the benefits of winning the legal battle, and using alienation as a well-proven legal strategy, all cloaked behind the smoke and mirrors of allegations and purported ‘parental conflict,’ not least because they know very well their case will be avidly asserted by lawyers, assessed by unqualified and indoctrinated social workers unwilling or incapable of discriminating between or separating out supposed issues of ‘conflict’ from parental alienation, and soaked up by judges. Top of the risk factor is the narcissistic alienator who is unaware or cares little or nothing for the effect of their behaviours upon others, and may even take satisfaction in them. Some are exceptionally skilled at triangulating children and child professionals into their campaign against a targeted parent. There are different potential scenarios and, without mental health screening, especially in a proactive sense where children are concerned, no court welfare advisor will know what they are really dealing with. 

So Douglas’s statement in his para 3, to any knowledgeable person, is a bit chilling:  “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.” It seems CAFCASS has upgraded itself without any change in training or qualification, and appropriated the roles of experts despite court rules expressly stating they are not in FPR 25.2(1):   “‘expert’ means a person who provides expert evidence for use in family proceedings. section 13(8) of the 2014 Act expressly  refers to evidence that is not expert evidence. For example, evidence given by a children's guardian is not expert evidence.”

What Douglas appears to be saying here is that a child who is genuinely scared of a targeted parent or deeply apprehensive about 'contact' with them is not alienated. This is a gross misrepresentation: some seriously alienated children are terrified of what Douglas rather disrespectfully terms as 'contact' to the targeted parent because they have to be protectively separated from an alienator to have a realistic chance to overcome the phobia induced into them by the alienator, and be assured they will not suffer revenge behaviours if they reunite with targeted parents. If this is the shallow intellect and lack of clinical input of the new High Conflict Pathway, it is nothing more than continuing current stupidity and cruelty under a new banner. It's another nod and a wink to pathological parents. 

A parent does not, however, have to be mentally unwell to be an alienator or to engage in any other form of pathological parenting. Harsh parenting may be a choice: nature, for instance, equips us with the ability to engage in harmful but protective behaviour if it helps shield children from more serious threats. Social policy also guides behaviours in post-separation: policy dictates that only one of two parents upon separation will have the children and control over the associated physical, psychological, attachment, welfare, housing and financial benefits. It is aberrant thinking to use children to pursue these resources, but it is not necessarily pathological. However, the lack of parental pathology does not mean there is no mental health problem; there is, down the second mental health leg. The central cause of concern remains: does the behaviour of the parent risk the induction or continuation of pathology or distress in any child? If it does, the child is being subjected to pathological parenting. 

Douglas needs to get something absolutely clear about parental alienation: it is not due to the interactions between parents but between parents and children. It results from naïve, active or obsessed pathological parenting, happens independently of all other dynamics and must be treated as a specific threat. Parental alienation can happen in the complete absence of parental conflict. Douglas goes the other way, claiming it does not happen in isolation. Well, Douglas, in this appraisal, is again wholly wrong. He is constructing a whole new world, tripping way outside of established psychological principles. When choosing to use the word ‘isolation’ to further his trajectory, he has really tripped up. Isolation is a major word in parental alienation: children are easier to manipulate and induce with disorder once isolated, and parental alienation is easier to identify and deal with once it is isolated from other factors. The other factors that may seem apparent could dissolve away once the presence of pathological parenting is evaluated. It comes first unless there is material evidence of risk elsewhere. Generalising, stereotyping and smearing both parents as people who are alienating their children due to how they are handling separated family issues seems no more than a ruse to mislead the reader by framing parental alienation as a dispute between parents and keeping jurisdictions as they are. Let’s take a look at why Douglas might want to do that.  

CAFCASS and the courts have it so much more their own way when they claim to be sorting out ‘disputes’ rather than meddling in clinical issues. So what CAFCASS does in cases that I have seen is mix two different concepts together: parental alienation and estrangement. We all know that arguments between parents can stress children so much that they cannot cognitively or physically cope with the distress, so make perverse choices to help them cope. One extreme coping mechanism is to reject a parent. Children who are not subjected to psychologically controlling, alienation behaviours and strategies but nonetheless reject one parent against another are not alienated but estranged, which is a different diagnosis and treatment route. These children are in just as much need of help as alienated children. There may still be other aspects of clinical concern but the supposition of the child having independently taken sides is no reason to abandon them, as CAFCASS often does. There is still a damaging dysregulation in attachment neurology, the effects of a compromised belief system and the adverse consequences of a child not having meaningful relations to all parents. But CAFCASS has even labelled children who are obviously alienated as estranged in order to abandon them. The perverse thinking here is that the child is framed to have voluntarily made their choice, so the courts have a duty to respect such choices in law. So by claiming every case of alienation is one of parental hostility, the CAFCASS operative at Family Court Advisor or Guardian level always has a card up their sleeve to deploy when the going gets too tough:  they can claim ‘hostility’ led to the outcome of a child’s voluntary and cogent rejection of a parent, and close the case based on ‘wishes and feelings,’ rather than apply better qualified resources and effective interventions. Up until that point, professionals such as lawyers, social workers and judges can play the case along and generate work for several hearings to their maximum individual and corporate interest, and when their case management fails, they can simply ditch the case and legitimise the abandonment of a child with a twist of evidential spoiling,selective attention and dirty words. Those of us who have seen how the court's professionals work have seen this so often it cannot but be deliberate, and an indication of how CAFCASS are really trained. 

Further on in Douglas’s article we get some radical new perspectives and terminology. He says that in the high conflict family (yes, still there), "everybody is victimised," so much so that “Poly-victimisation rules.” Huh? So, as a psychology researcher, I went looking for peer reviewed articles linking poly-victimisation (it does exist as a psychological concept: it’s defined as “exposure to multiple forms of victimisation” (Le et al, 2016) ) to parental alienation. But the articles I found do not use the term as Douglas does, applying to a whole family; it is used by experts to describe the infliction and effect of multiple forms of victimisation on an individual. Most poly-victimisation studies focus on collating data from individual children and are quite robust, using methodologies that survive peer review. Now, if Douglas were to use the word polyvictimisation to describe the effect of multiple behaviours and strategies on a vulnerable or alienated child, we could give him a gold star. But instead, he is using the word, taking it out of intended context, and misrepresenting the concept by drawing focus away from the child and generalising it to the family. Which is a shame, because in their 2016 study, Le et al conclude: “Overall, the results revealed that poly-victimisation was associated with increased involvement in health risk behaviours, poorer mental health and increased risks of suicidal ideas among ….adolescents.” 

In an earlier study, Chamberlain et al (2012) conclude: “This first study documenting polyvictimization in a child welfare sample outlines that practitioners should inquire about a wide range of victimization experiences. Focusing intervention on a single form of victimization (maltreatment) does not address the specific service needs of children chronically victimized and fails to address their high risk of victimization.” So, the lesson to be drawn from the experts who really know about polyvictimisation is that no assessment should overly focus on single causes, such as  parental conflict, and delving no deeper in many cases assessed by CAFCASS fails to identify other sources of significant harm. There's also, in psychology, a concept called fundamental attribution error, where causation for behaviour is attributed to individual characteristics and attitudes rather than situational demands on that individual. Douglas has invented the characteristics and attitudes, labelled parents with them, and ignored the effect of situational demands on children as explanative towards how and why a child becomes and stays alienated. I could even suggest that Douglas’s shoots himself in the foot with his own choice of words, because by failing to adequately address parental alienation, misrepresenting concepts and false attribution, CAFCASS significantly contributes to child polyvictimisation. 

The next word Douglas imports from a different paradigm is ‘omnidirectional,’ a term normally applied to a microphone or antennae recording signals from different angles, used by him here to explain the multiple sources of adverse influence within the post-separation family. Well, one of the worst forms of harm inflicted upon families and children is to mislead them into believing support agencies dealing with their problems are competent and will explain themselves in plain, appropriate language. 

Not only is this all not plain; it’s entirely unnecessary. The right words have long since been coined.

The peer-reviewed psychological literature on family separation scientifically investigates concepts and adequately explains them. It gives them appropriate labels, means of assessment, identification, diagnosis and treatment. Psychological science has dealt with parental alienation within clinical disorder and family systems models. Treatment routes assisting recovery from psychological controllers and pathological inducers were established and refined since the 1880s. Evolved variants of the same treatments are successfully applied by services such as the UK Family Separation Clinic.  If Douglas were serious, he would not be wasting time and public money forever experimenting with rhetorical ways for his organisation to seem credible and survive, but improving service quickly by contracting clinical experts who deal all the time with child attachment and psychological abuse trauma. Their packages have long since been in operation the world over, but have been blocked by the CAFCASS Board. What’s needed, and what CAFCASS should be doing, is contracting experts at public cost to assess cases in the early stages, and using their credentials where appropriate to persuade reluctant judges to direct more children benefit from the treatment routes. 

That’s what Douglas needs to focus on. He does not need to make stuff up and use weird words to misrepresent perfectly normal and well-researched scenarios. He does not need to suddenly come into the light and “suggest” that “alienation is a form of child abuse,” as if he is an authority on the subject, or his expressions make it any more abusive now than it ever was before.  If Douglas still, after all these years as CAFCASS CEO, finds this all as bewildering and complex as his article would have us believe, he has learnt little of any use for the children whose lives are handled by his organisation, and needs to change his sources of information. Unless, of course, the purpose of his article is to paint a different picture to what research provides us, and wants us to follow it. Why might Douglas want to do that? 

Well, consider this possible, alternative reality. Maintaining the illusion of hostility, in every case, gives CAFCASS and the courts control of every case to advance or dispose of at will. Under this vacuous but over-arching policy, any case can be assessed and dispensed with anyhow by applying any opinion and related outcome, regardless of the empirical literature, the facts of the case or the likely outcome for the child. Douglas is no fool: he has repeatedly survived where a CEO of any organisation who had to evidence progress or competence would have been booted out ignominiously by Board and shareholders. He is not confused or complexed at parental alienation at all, though if he is, it might be less bewildering and complex for him if he were to separate parental alienation and parental conflict, but dogma can be sticky. Sometimes, the only way to get rid of dogma from a corporation is to remove the persons infected, and infecting others. But instead, where performance lapses threaten CAFCASS, Douglas gets to reframe how that performance will be viewed and measured. Douglas might be partly or completely wrong, but what’s he got to worry about? After all, the institutional culture in the UK seems to be that reputations and jobs come before child welfare, so practice and narratives are tweaked to suit. 

And it is these influences that seem to be driving the mindset at the top end of the CAFCASS hierarchy where the ‘High Conflict Pathway’ is concerned, rather than CAFCASS simply contracting in an established and packaged solution. If this is the mindset behind the ‘High Conflict Pathway,’ then it is no more than a public relations exercise, a veil behind which CAFCASS will carry on as normal. 

But we’ll take a closer look yet before we make any more conclusions, in the hope we may be wrong.  The next article will investigate the narrative of the ‘High Conflict Pathway,’ plus the quality and application of literature quoted in support of the project. If things keep going the way they are, it seems unlikely CAFCASS will have an easy ride there either. 

To make sure you don’t miss the coming articles, subscribe in the box above. Have a great New Year’s Eve. 

Stuart Hontree

Author, Parental Alienation, Attachment and Corrupt Law