Ministry of Justice attitude to Parental Alienation

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In late 2016 a person created a petition on the government’s petitions website to ask:

To introduce a law that recognizes Parental Alienation as a criminal offence.

 

Every year thousands of children will be brainwashed against the other parent with lies. this should be recognized for the crime that it is. Child Abuse and an abuse of Human rights. Children deserve the right to both parents and parents have the right to be parents.

 

Please do whats in the best interests of the children. Not the alienating parent. Give the judges the power to act against parental alienation by simply making it a criminal offence.

The petition ran for 6 months and was closed in February 2017 having gained an astounding 12,239 signatures.

Petitions over 10,000 responses mean the Government has to provide a written response.

The Ministry of Justice responded on behalf of the Government as follows:

The Government does not believe legislation is needed to criminalise parents who alienate their children against the other parent as the court already has the power to take effective action.

 

In cases where parents are separated, parental alienation refers to a situation in which one parent (usually the parent with whom the child lives) behaves in a way which creates anxiety in the child, so that it appears the child is opposed to living or spending time with the other parent.

 

The family court has a range of powers to deal with cases where alienating behaviour features. A parent who has concerns about such behaviour could make an application to the family court about the arrangements for their child. The Children Act 1989 contains adequate provisions to deal with these concerns and the welfare of the child is the court’s paramount concern in making its decision. Under legislation introduced in 2014, family courts are legally required to presume that the involvement of a parent in the life of the child concerned will further that child’s welfare, unless there is evidence to the contrary.

 

Under section 8 of the Children Act 1989, the court has a wide discretion to make arrangements designed to meet a child’s welfare needs. Where the court is dealing with a dispute about child arrangements, it must consider the ascertainable the wishes and feelings of the child concerned, commensurate with that child’s age and level of understanding. The court may also ask the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) to prepare a welfare report into any other matters relevant to the child or the family. In intractable cases the court can make the child party to the case, which means they will have their own legal representation.

 

Cafcass practitioners understand and recognise the potential for implacable hostility by a party in high conflict cases involving child arrangements following divorce or separation. Practitioners, who are professionally qualified social workers with a minimum of three years’ post qualifying experience, are aware of the potential for children to be influenced by parental views and are alert to this possibility throughout the progress of a case. Cafcass has various tools available to assist practitioners in being able to assess the presence of implacable hostility. These include a tool for use in direct work with the family and a learning module, as well as access to resources and new research via their in-house library service.

 

Where a previously made order is not working, the court can vary that order to protect a child in a situation where parental alienation is present. The court has the power to direct Cafcass to monitor compliance with the order and to report on this to the court.

 

Where a court order is in place, the court has a range of general powers to deal with any breach of the order. In addition to treating breach as contempt of court, for which a fine or term of imprisonment can be imposed, the court has other powers to deal with breaches. Child arrangements orders can be enforced by means of an enforcement order requiring the person who, without good reason, failed to comply with the order to carry out unpaid work. It is also possible to apply to the court to award financial compensation to a person named in a child arrangements order who has suffered financial loss as a result of a failure by another named person to comply with the order.

Ministry of Justice

The important statements in the Ministry of Justice’s response are:

  • The court already has the power to take effective action
  • [The court] must consider the ascertainable the wishes and feelings of the child concerned, commensurate with that child’s age and level of understanding
  • The court may also ask the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) to prepare a welfare report
  • Cafcass practitioners understand and recognise the potential for implacable hostility by a party in high conflict cases
  • [Cafcass FCAs] are professionally qualified social workers
  • [Cafcass FCAs] are aware of the potential for children to be influenced by parental views and are alert to this possibility throughout the progress of a case
  • Cafcass has various tools available to assist practitioners in being able to assess the presence of implacable hostility
  • These include a tool for use in direct work with the family
  • and a learning module
  • as well as access to resources and new research via their in-house library service

The Rt HON David Lidington MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice recently wrote to one of our researchers to respond to a letter raising concerns over Cafcass training and professionalism when compiling reports for the Courts :

Cafcass practitioners are professionally qualified social workers with a minimum of 3 years post qualifying experience and are registered with the Health and Care Professions Council. The vast majority of Cafcass practitioners have many more years experience. The training of Cafcass practitioners is an operational matter however I can provide the following general information:

 

All of Cafcass training revolves around being child centred, as well as taking into account risk factors, evidence-based assessments, and diversity issues. All practitioners’ recommendations are case specific and are based on their professional judgement of a child’s welfare. Cafcass ‘Impact of Parental Conflict’ tool was established by National Improvement Service and forms part of a wider matrix of tools to help assess the needs of each individual child.

 

While in private law Cafcass may not be involved throughout the proceedings and in many cases will not have a copy of the final court order, gaining a better understanding of their contribution to children’s outcomes is something that is of continued interest to Cafcass and they are continually developing their learning and feedback processes to improve their knowledge of how adults and children experience their service.

 

[You] may be interested to know that Cafcass will be releasing its revised Operating Framework in August which has a specific section on Parental Alienation. This is done partly in recognition of the fact that service users and members of the public more broadly are interested in the way Cafcass approach cases where implacable hostility features.

The important statements in David Lidington’s response are:

  • Cafcass practitioners are professionally qualified social workers
  • [Cafcass FCAs] are registered with the Health and Care Professions Council
  • The vast majority of Cafcass practitioners have many more years experience
  • The training of Cafcass practitioners is an operational matter
  • All of Cafcass training revolves around being child centred, as well as taking into account risk factors, evidence-based assessments, and diversity issues
  • All practitioners’ recommendations are case specific and are based on their professional judgement of a child’s welfare
  • Cafcass ‘Impact of Parental Conflict’ tool was established by National Improvement Service
  • [The’Impact of Parental Conflict’ tool] forms part of a wider matrix of tools to help assess the needs of each individual child
  • Gaining a better understanding of their contribution to children’s outcomes is something that is of continued interest to Cafcass
  • [Cafcass] are continually developing their learning and feedback processes to improve their knowledge of how adults and children experience their service
  • Cafcass will be releasing its revised Operating Framework in August which has a specific section on Parental Alienation

We have researched each of these points and will be linking them to research posts over the days and weeks to come.

 

Further reading:
In the meantime you can read the letter sent via an MP that triggered David Lidington’s response:

You’ll note that it addresses many of the issues that David Lidington (and the Ministry of Justice) seem confused about. There is no training. The tool is not fit for purpose. FCAs are not qualified to make judgements about emotional abuse or emotional stability or children. FCAs aren’t qualified or trained to recognise Implacable Hostility never mind Parental Alienation. They have no other tools or training. The training that they do have has only be completed by a handful of FCAs… the list goes on.

You should also read:

In a Family Law system designed for combative parents there is no real allowance for the views of children and any understanding of how Family Law ultimately impacts on children most of all.

We speak for the children in Family Law so that, finally, the children have a voice.

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