This post was prompted by the tragic circumstances of one of many alienated parents I come across their three-year battle to have a relationship with their children.
Joe* had a harrowing time of navigating his way through the family justice system simply to have a healthy and loving relationship with his children, as it had been prior to separating from their mother. His story is a somewhat typical example of unrecognised, mismanaged parental alienation. At the heart of this were his children being left open to significant emotional harm by a flawed system.
Joe’s relationship ended with his partner three years ago. She immediately made false, unsubstantiated historical allegations that Joe had physically and emotionally abused her and the children. As a result, Cafcass got involved and secured an order for no contact between Joe and his children while these claims of harm were investigated. It took three months to reach the conclusion that Joe did not pose any safeguarding issues regarding his children.
However, during this time, his ex-partner – the ‘resident parent’ – had taken the opportunity afforded by the slow progress made by Cafcass to alienate Joe’s children against him.
The Cafcass Case Manager at the time composed a report which found that the ‘resident parent’ was exhibiting “alienating behaviours.” Furthermore, the children were being exposed to emotional abuse, and that it needed to stop.
However, as the case continued, Cafcass were unable to provide any effective means to stop the harm being inflicted on the children, despite their own findings. Quite remarkably, rather than taking any pro-active approach to minimise the abuse, Cafcass went into great detail outlining the long-term detrimental effects on the children should the abuse be allowed to continue.
It took a whole year for a psychological report to be requested and the whole family was assessed over a period of several months.
The report was a damning indictment of the resident parent’s emotional abuse of the children. The clinical psychologist’s findings were that the children were being exposed to significant emotional harm in the toxic home environment with Joe’s ex-partner. The psychologist made reference to the term ‘significant emotional harm’ no less than seven times in the report.
The psychologist also stated that the resident parent presented with personality traits indicative of a Cluster A personality disorder**. As such, there was little evidence of the abusive parent being willing or able to change. Cafcass failed to understand this in the context of mental health and parental alienation.
Children’s Services became involved for a further year. They wrote several reports which minimised the findings of the clinical psychologist and came to the conclusion that the children did not meet the criteria that would identify them as being exposed to significant emotional harm. Their findings were that the children were in “emotional turmoil.”
Let’s explore this by highlight the following:
We have three parties:
- Children’s Services
- Clinical Psychologist
Each party has different parameters when it comes to quantifying the level of harm being inflicted on children. They also have different thresholds regarding what they deem as being labelled as emotional abuse. Furthermore, they each have their own approach when assessing and classifying different levels or severity of “harm”.
The result, in Joe’s case, is that we ended up with three different findings, each from a different clinician or service.
The role of this government body is to promote the welfare of children and families involved in family court.
Cafcass identified that Joe’s children as being exposed to ‘alienating behaviours’ and ‘emotional harm’. (Since their initial assessment, they also stated that Joe’s case is in fact one of parental alienation).
A psychological assessment is a court ordered, clinical diagnostic, and a request for one is informed only by the evidence available to the court at the time. Such requests are made if the court believes it is in its best interests to gain further information from a qualified professional.
The findings detailed in Joe’s case were that the children had been exposed to ongoing significant emotional harm. It also detailed that there appeared to be little or no evidence of the abusive parent changing their behaviour.
The role of Children’s Service is to be responsible for supporting and protecting vulnerable children.
As stated above the findings from Children’s Service is that the children are only experiencing emotional turmoil, but not were not victims of “abuse.” This conclusion was reached despite various concerns raised by the two previous assessments.
Joe has since told me that Children’s Services say they are not able to intervene unless the children start to present with the following risky behaviours: self-harm; alcohol/substance misuse; any identification of physical or sexual harm.
Children’s Services have also told Joe that due to his absence, and their ongoing emotional turmoil, the children will remain at high risk of vulnerability to abuse. However, they will wait for signs of abuse to present themselves before they intervene.
To conclude, from what I know of the numerous cases of miscarriages of justice within the family court, there appears to be no pro-active, early intervention, or preventative approaches for child abuse being applied by any of the various parties that are involved in such cases. Therefore, we currently have a Family Justice System that knowingly fails to safeguard our children.
*Names have been changed for confidentiality.
**[Definition of Cluster A personality disorder]