New Pilot Scheme Hopes to Tackle Parental Alienation

18 December 2017

Parental alienation can occur following the divorce of parents, when one parent (usually the one who the child lives with) turns the child against the other parent, resulting in a lack of contact.

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) is trialling a new pilot scheme, which aims to identify situations where children have been alienated from one of their parents following a divorce. Under the scheme, if one parent turns their child against the other parent, the offending parent could lose custody of their child.

What Does the Pilot Scheme Look Like?

The pilot scheme, which will begin in spring 2018, will see Cafcass caseworkers issued with guidelines outlining the steps to be taken if they suspect one parent to be alienating a child from the other parent.

These guidelines are called the “high conflict pathway” and these have been developed to help Cafcass case workers to assess high conflict cases. Cafcass describes high conflict cases as being those which “feature adult behaviours associated with high conflict”. This includes parental alienation, amongst others.

The pathway will help Cafcass caseworkers to determine whether a child should be removed from the parent responsible for the alienation and placed with the other parent. It will also help them to determine at which stage this should happen if so.

What are the Potential Benefits?

It’s encouraging that Cafcass recognises that parental alienation exists, and that steps are being taken to address this. Parental alienation is a very real issue for many families in the UK and it can have damaging long-term effects on a child’s relationship with one or both of their parents.

What are the Potential Risks?

If Cafcass workers are able to identify when parental alienation might be happening and put a stop to this, then this will be an incredibly positive step forward. However, determining the dynamics of relationships between family members following divorce can be an intricate process, due to the diversity and complexity of the individuals involved.

There is a risk that the “high conflict pathway” may not accommodate the full spectrum of cases faced by Cafcass caseworkers. It’s important that the issue of parental alienation isn’t oversimplified, which could be a potential risk when following set guidelines.

In addition, it may sometimes be necessary to seek specialist expertise from third parties to fully understand the details of individual cases, taking into account any emotional or psychological circumstances that could have contributed. Therefore, it may be appropriate for child and family psychologists or other experts to become involved in the case in order to gain a comprehensive view of the situation.

Unfortunately the pilot scheme won’t change the fact that parental alienation remains difficult to prove in Court and can be easily dismissed if there are insufficient grounds to prove that alienation has taken place.

While it remains to be seen whether the pilot scheme will be successful in reducing instances of parental alienation, the fact that it is being recognised and steps are being taken to address the issue is certainly encouraging.

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