December 1, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
This surprisingly balanced and informative article reports that, in the U.K., Cafcass has begun a new protocol in situations of parental alienation (The Guardian, 11/17/17). Now, I don’t want to be too enthusiastic about the change. This is Cafcass, after all, that has a richly deserved reputation for taking far too many children into care and running roughshod over the rights of fathers and children. So I’ll wait and see what actually happens. But for now, at least the message is a positive one.
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.”
The new approach will initially give parents the chance to change their behaviour with the help of intense therapy. Alienating parents who do not respond will not be allowed to have their children live with them.
In addition, contact between the parent and child could be restricted or refused for a number of months. In the most extreme cases, the alienating parent will be permanently banned from any contact with their child.
Essentially, an alienating parent will first have to undergo 12 weeks of therapy in an effort to get him/her to recognize the harm done and change. If that fails, child custody can be switched to the targeted parent with the alienating parent having sharply restricted supervised visitation.
If it does not work, psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health experts will be brought in. If the alienating parent continues to perpetuate the abuse, however, contact with their child will be limited to supervised visits.
Hmm. There seems to be no effort in the guidelines to help the child overcome the effects of the alienation. The alienating parent gets therapy, but, in the final analysis, it’s the child who rejects the targeted parent. As the Family Bridges program here in the U.S. demonstrates, the targeted parent and the alienated child need help mending their relationship. Without that assistance, therapy for the alienator is likely useless.
Still, fathers’ rights groups welcomed the news.
Jerry Karlin, the chair and managing trustee of Families Need Fathers, said Cafcass’s new approach was “very welcome news”.
“The demonising of a parent has long been recognised as damaging the child not only at the time of separation, but reaching into his or her adult life,” he said. “Parental alienation is identified as the single biggest issue among those who come to FNF seeking help.”
Whether Cafcass is the best organization to carry out the new protocol remains to be seen.
Until now, cases of parental alienation in the UK have relied on Cafcass caseworkers recognising incidents on a case-by-case basis. Many parents, however, say their experiences of alienation have been missed or compounded by the social work and family court system, often leading to permanent estrangement from their child.
The pro-mother bias of Cafcass social workers has long been public knowledge, as has their enthusiasm for taking children from parents. None other than the president of the family courts, Sir James Munby has bemoaned the latter and sounded the alarm that doing so threatened to stretch the foster system beyond the breaking point.
As to the pro-mother bias of Cafcass, consider what Karen Woodall, one of the most knowledgeable people in all the U.K. regarding family courts, had to say just two years ago.
I work in the field of family separation and I meet disposable dads every day. These men, who appear at times to me to be nothing more than the ghostly imprint of what a father is, are suffering. Not that you would know it, so unpopular is their plight. Gaslighted by the system which surrounds the family as it separates, these dads, who were pregnant with their partners (in that most modern approach to sharing all of the experience of bringing forth life), now find themselves routinely cast out of the family after separation. Dads are not welcome in post-separation family life, especially if they are going to cause trouble by wanting to actually parent their children. For those modern men who gave their all to fatherhood, the injustice of such a swift eviction from the lives of their children after separation, is a bewildering attack on their very sense of self.
When I talk about 'the system' I am talking about those family services which are likely to become involved in supporting the family as it separates and adapts to changing times, CAFCASS (the Family Court Practitioners who assess the needs of children in post separated family life and Social Services, who may also be involved). All of these services are routinely delivering their services around mother and children first, with father coming a very poor second. There is no such thing as gender equality in family services it seems, or if there is, it is the commonly held approach of women and children first. Pity those dads who go into the family courts expecting fairness, equality and justice, for what they receive is far less than this.
Or consider the case of a girl, T.H., who was alienated by her mother. Here’s what the judge in the case found:
A judge has criticised “patent deficiencies” in a social worker’s assessment of child abuse claims against a father that were later found to be false.
In his judgment, Justice MacDonald said the social worker’s child protection investigation showed a “complete disregard” of good practice guidance when examining a mother’s claims that the man, TH, had subject her, the man’s son and another of the woman’s children to serious emotional, physical and sexual abuse…
The social worker’s “unquestioning acceptance” of the mother’s account meant she failed to make basic enquiries to the father, extended families or the children’s former schools or local authorities, MacDonald said…
The judge said “such enquiries would have revealed a fundamentally different picture to that being painted by the mother”. He found all of the allegations made by the mother were false and concluded she had placed “unwarranted pressure” on the children by actively coaching them to back up the allegations.
“[The social worker’s] failure to challenge the mother’s account and accept it at face value meant that she permitted the mother to dictate completely the frame of reference for the actions of the local authority and other agencies and meant that the mother succeeded in portraying herself and the children as victims of serious physical and sexual abuse when in fact they were not,” MacDonald said.
In short, Cafcass has a long history of anti-father behavior in the area of parental alienation. I doubt that a new set of guidelines will change that. But the agency is now acknowledging the need for change and the threat of switching custody can be a very real deterrent to parental alienation.
We’ll see how this plays out.
National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization