Thursday 28 December 2017

CAFCASS, 'High Conflict' and Parental Alienation: a toxic mix?

This is a new blog that will, over the coming months, contrast the best practices of skilled medical and psychological operatives with the stated opinions and practices of professionals within the UK courts. The wide gap between the two, coupled with evidence from actual cases, will provide some shocking and controversial insights into the UK family court system. 

This blog is run by Stuart Hontree, author of the 600-page ‘Parental Alienation, Attachment and Corrupt Law,’ available in Epub form here, and in paperback on Amazon here (600 pages for £21.99, also available on the regional Amazon sites such as .com., .ca etc).

Now that the shameless plugging of the book is done, let’s make a flying start at the first of what may be many articles critically appraising CAFCASS’s apparent usurping of parental alienation work within its new ‘High Conflict Pathway.’

Upon even a glancing appraisal, the purpose of the High Conflict Pathway seems to be for CAFCASS to pull off several things: firstly, to frame the issue as one they can understand and work with, within their limited personal and institutional faculties. CAFCASS are not mental health specialists, do not even employ any, and should not be dealing with parental alienation as assessors without first being robustly trained in mental health and having sincerely adopted the integrity and standards of medical and psychological professionals. They cannot do this work within the proper paradigm, but they have a captive audience of service users who cannot go anywhere else, so they have concocted another paradigm that aligns with their purposes. They have invented a concept and slotted parental alienation into it: ‘high conflict.’ Not that CAFCASS are experts at high conflict either. The CAFCASS Board can then make it appear as if they are doing something useful about the growth of a problem they are largely responsible for, as we will cover in a later article.

By inventing ‘new pathways,’ the CAFCASS Board can continue to impose its own ideology, corporate interests and policy; one of which is never to adequately inform or retrain its operatives. Retraining would again reveal that the opinions and findings resulting from every independent investigation into CAFCASS i.e. that they are unfit for purpose, always will be and must be scrapped, remains unchanged. Retraining of operatives would involve interactions with outside professionals that would reveal just how far out of touch with qualified, concurrent professional mindset CAFCASS really is, from top down. So CAFCASS are trying rebrand this problem so they can isolate it and do it in-house. Like most of CAFCASS's work, it probably won't be well informed or effective in the real world. 

Intellectually, CAFCASS has not been properly led, fed, exercised, trained or stimulated since its inception upon replacing and being even worse than the discredited Family Court Welfare Service. CAFCASS loafs under the umbrella of a lazy government department called the Ministry of Justice, largely infiltrated and contaminated by feminist dogma in both civil and criminal jurisdictions. Like the CPS has largely become, CAFCASS too is allowed to busy itself with policies rooted in feminist persecution rather than evidence based, best practice. Those policies ruin lives and childhoods whilst the rest of Whitehall looks the other way. The dialogue being used to explain CAFCASS's foray into providing assessment and opinion on parental alienation suggests best practice will be bodyswerved so 'normal' practice can continue under a new label. 

The High Conflict Pathway is about CAFCASS and the lower courts maintaining jurisdiction, business, jobs, power and influence. It should not be forgotten that the lack of sincerity in CAFCASS is partly what enables and feeds the industry of courts and narrative-based advocacy in private family law. If children were suddenly and adequately assisted in courts, and genuinely had their needs met by a competent and proactive court welfare service, the effect on some parental behaviours would be the opposite to what it is now, there’d be less work, and less jobs for judges, lawyers, social workers and pretentious expert witnesses that forensic investigations have shown to vastly outnumber the competent ones. Relabeling the alienation problem means they can acknowledge it but do not have to retrain; the lack of retraining means the CAFCASS Board does not risk being discredited by enlightening its own staff, and the illusion of competence can roll on that little bit longer. CAFCASS will have improperly survived yet another pressing issue and embarrassment, and limp on to the next. Like it always does, because it has a huge bank of crony friends in Whitehall and within similarly compromised, academic think-tanks. 

Things would not be so bad if at least this old dog were issued with a shovel and taught how to use it on the mess it has left behind, or taught how not leave mess in the future. But a closer look at the High Conflict Pathway does not achieve these things. Take the Impact of parental conflict tool, for instance, an asset of questions aimed at ascertaining what lies behind the expressions of a child. Other than the title, it would be a reasonable first step on the ladder. However, CAFCASS operatives are brainwashed, and maybe CAFCASS want to similarly brainwash service users, into believing an alienated child’s expressions and behaviours are due to ‘high conflict’ when they are normally due to abuse by the rejected parent or the psychological control of an alienating parent, or the failure of separating parents to prevent their children's distress at separation manifesting in their alignment with one parent. By failing to forensically interview, analyse and test a child’s expressions, CAFCASS could continue to do what they have always done: fail to spot genuine physical abuse or internal/external psychological abuse, all of which are extremely damaging to child development and easily tip the threshold for immediate intervention due to significant harm under the Children Act 1989. 

So, rather than train their operatives in forensic interviewing of children and allocating resources where there are genuine concerns, CAFCASS view the expressions under a banner that furthers the corporate aims of CAFCASS rather than the well-being of children. In failing to identify the problem, CAFCASS does not have to address it and does not lose the work and business of parental alienation to other agencies with statutory duties towards children suffering, or at risk of, significant harm. Those agencies are probably in on the scam: local authorities and the NHS service of CAHMS probably do not want to deal with a large problem they are equally as untrained, ill-equipped and ill-prepared for, and just as unmotivated to sincerely deal with. Ironically, local authorities normally dump these cases onto the private law courts, and CAFCASS. 

It is, after all, the failings of the child and family mental health provision in the UK that enables CAFCASS to exist. What we see in parental alienation cases is not, in terms of medical and psychological science, 'parental conflict' or even ‘parental alienation’ at all. It is the manifestation of established and well-known human behaviours that are sometimes driven by mental health disorders, or at least have the potential to induce psychological damage and disorder to children and others. The behaviours associated with a parent’s, or any domineering figure’s parental gate-keeping, or any internal and external psychological control of a child or submissive person and their triangulation, along with others, into campaigns against targeted people (in this case, normally non-resident parents), are long-since recognised by mental health specialists, as are their effects. I have dedicated a long section in my book to the disorders and effects of parental alienation, derived from the medical and clinical psychology literature. The effects range from minor psychological abuse to psychological enmeshment, splitting, shared/induced delusional disorders and disassociative disorders such as brainwashing. These are severe disorders of mind. It’s merely the degree of active or obsessive, pathological behaviour of the inducer that dictates the potential risk, the substance, the ease, the speed and degree of inculcation a submissive person or child will experience. In all cases and degrees of alienation, however, the lack of empathic parenting generally present, coupled with the derogation of and isolation from a significant figure, means children can suffer severe, chronic, complex trauma due to the disruption of the over-arching, neurological bonding mechanism we call attachment. 

Outside of family separation, these disorders are so rare that a mental health professional can go an entire career without ever seeing them, or realising when they do. The failure of supposed mental health professionals to accept these established disorders are, quite predictably, manifesting far more commonly in the specific scenario of separated families has led to some robust, contracted professionals from related professions coming in and bridging the gap in service provision. But they can only operate where directed by a court, and without the sincere and competent engagement of mental health specialists such as psychiatrists and clinical/forensic psychologists, attempts at therapeutic solutions often happen without prior mental health screening of all family members, and do not always work.

Common to psychological control and all the disorders it can lead to is the established treatment: protective separation from the influence of the psychological abuser / inducer, at least for as long as it takes for the cognitive restructuring and correction of the victim’s attachment disruption to take place. It is a no-brainer, highly successful treatment bringing benefits very quickly indeed, emasculating the victim from their mental chains once free from the pathological influence of the inducer. When done in line with psychological principles, it matters not how old the victim or how long their subjection to pathological control; treatment is effective. With children, the state has an obligation to provide interventions rather than concoct excuses not to. Treatment in severe cases may be a specialism in itself: it is where the skills of experienced psychologists, psychotherapists, and even tough but kind and patient, expert social workers helps (I can only think of two such independent social workers in the UK). The bit that is missing in the current practice is the bit at the beginning – skilled assessment and pre-diagnosis. That makes the success of therapies a lottery dependent on the degree of pathology or sincere engagement of the inducer, as the courts do not first direct protective separation without a mental health diagnosis, or sometimes even then. 

Of course, the lack of proper mental health assessment provision benefits lesser qualified operatives. It means medical work is hijacked by the legal profession, social workers and a generally untrained, disassociated, disinterested, pretentious and often quite arrogant lower court (and some senior) judiciary. In order to maintain their business, they deploy smoke and mirrors. Specialist work is coveted by deflecting attention from it. All that need be done is invent, adopt and spout new terminology such as ‘parental conflict,’ and ‘intractable hostility,’ make up their own rules, and decide 'on a case by case' basis, in a secret court. Social workers and judges then get to 'diagnose' and decide what interventions to apply, or normally, what not to do. There is no legal obligation to intervene in cases of 'parental alienation,' 'parental conflict' or 'intractable hostility,' so the policy is generally to dispose of cases without helping children, after raking in years of wasted public and private money. Behind these distorted terminologies, narratives and practices, an industry of institutional child psychological abuse and abandonment can be publicly justified and protected with specious claims, with those claims shielded from view and analysis by secret courts. The lack of psychological development and agency in children is used against them. The attachments and fears of targeted parents is used to bait them into the family court's monopoly, then terrorise them into complicity and silence. The authority of the courts is being abused by a large, self-interested in-group with no commercial or corporate interest in anything other than pretences of the change they know is necessary. Outcomes of the court process are normally far worse than when the court took jurisdiction. The consequences are massive and growing damages to public health.

The High Conflict Pathway will not be the only practice of CAFCASS or the courts dissected on this blog as 2018 moves in and on. The next article will delve further into the narratives of the High Conflict Pathway, not merely to reveal it as the superficial appraisal of the parental alienation environment that it is, even at this early stage of appraisal, but in the hope of promoting some kind of positive change. For now, I wish you all a happy New Year. I hope to be seeing more of you here, and on other quality information resources I’ll link to.

Stuart Hontree

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