Cafcass (the department of social workers assisting the family courts) has produced a new set of tools contained in what they have called The Child Impact Assessment Framework so that all those involved in disputes involving children can gain a better understanding of how children experience the separation of their parents. This is intended to give social workers a better guide for making their assessments. The guidance is open to all interested parties.
There are 4 guides including:
- Domestic abuse
- Harmful conflict
- Child refusal or resistance to spending time with one of their parents – this includes parental alienation
- Other forms of harmful parenting such as substance misuse or mental health difficulties
In this article I will be exploring the tool that is recommended for analysing certain behaviours that may be linked to what is commonly referred to as ‘parental alienation’.
This analytical tool looks at:
- typical behaviours exhibited by a child where they may have experienced alienating behaviours
- typical alienating behaviours that may be exhibited by a parent who is alienating
- typical behaviours by a parent from whom the child has been alienated.
The tool is not appropriate where there are justifiable reasons why a child may not want to see one parent, such as where there has been domestic abuse. Cafcass also says that the tool should not be used where there are other factors that may underlie the child’s reluctance, such as “affinity, attachment or the child’s own independent preference”.
Whilst the publication of these tools is undoubtedly progress in this difficult area, I cannot help but think that the “child’s own independent preference” may be really difficult to assess where there has historically been considerable parental alienation. How will the experts distinguish between cases where there has been such significant alienating behaviour that the child has been “brainwashed” into thinking and feeling that their personal preference is not to see the other parent, and those cases where it is justified?
What professional skills will be required to get behind this narrative, and do social workers possess them? More importantly does our court process have the structure and support available to participants in the judicial process to delve this deep? I am concerned that it does not.
Nevertheless, the tools are interesting and worth having a look at, especially those that are typically exhibited by a child who has experienced alienation. Some of them are:
- The child’s opinion of a parent is unjustifiably one sided, so either all good or all bad
- The child vilifies the rejected parent
- Reactions and perceptions are disproportionate to the parent’s behaviours
- The child talks openly and without prompting about the rejected parent’s shortcomings
- The child revises history to eliminate or diminish positive memories of the rejected parent and may report events that they could not possibly remember
- The child’s likes and dislikes are extended to the extended families
- No guilt or ambivalence is exhibited towards the rejected parent
- Speech about the rejected parent sounds scripted, artificial, uses adult language and may have a rehearsed quality
- The child claims to be fearful but is aggressive, confrontational or belligerent
These are the main indicators for the child’s behaviour according to Cafcass. I am not setting out the parent indicators in this article but they are available on the Cafcass website and are worth reading.