CAFCASS is a major source of injustice for children and APs. Make no mistake about that.
The reasons are these.
Firstly, the training of CAFCASS officers is woeful. Courses in PA are only optional. And the uptake of these courses is lamentable – only 2% of caseworkers take this course. Well, Mr Douglas of CAFCASS says that CAFCASS officers are very busy – but not too busy to attend courses on reclaiming their expenses – the uptake for those courses is rather better [link to https://voiceofthechild.org.uk/cafcass-douglas-and-the-high-conflict-pathway]
Second, CAFCASS is institutionally gender-biased. In July 2017, CAFCASS produced a report
. Leaving aside a critique for the moment, it is deeply concerning that CAFCASS chose to involve Women’s Aid, but not one group that represents men. The problem is not just the report itself, but in the narrowness of the consultation.
Third, CAFCASS are only now waking up to PA, despite it having been around for thirty years in its current form.
Fourth – Wishes and Feelings Reports
These are a waste of time and money in PA cases, for the reasons we describe in our case law introduction page, and should be abandoned. We should judge a child’s capacity to consent to their estrangement from you using something like the Gillick test of competence.
Here is a useful quote from Judge Wildblood in re A 2019:
ix) There is an obvious difficulty about how to approach the expressed wishes and feelings of children who are living in an alienating environment such as this. If children who have been alienated are asked whether they wish to have a relationship with the non-resident parent there is a likelihood that the alienation they have experienced will lead them to say ‘no.’ Therefore, in this type of case, the approach to the wishes and feelings of children has had to be approached with considerable care and professionalism. To respond simply on the basis of what children say in this type of situation is manifestly superficial and naive. The children in this case have been expressing wishes that they should not see their father for many years now…
Fifth, when there are (and this is very common) false allegations against the target parent then, According to Anthony Douglas of CAFCASS
“you can’t oversimplify it into punish one parent because generally the punishment of a parent rebounds on a child”
There are several problems with this.
Firstly, the use of ‘oversimplify’ implies a value-judgement that has not been proven. If one parent makes false allegations against the other, that is simple, isn’t it? False allegations loom large in most PA cases. AP alleges that TP has assaulted AP. Or the child. This is simple. It is either true or false. The onus, as with all allegations, is, or ought to be, on the party making the allegations to prove the allegations. As soon as it is clear that the allegations are false, they should be withdrawn, and some kind of sanction levied against AP.
Next, ‘the punishment of a parent rebounds on a child’.
This is an argument adopted by some judges too, when deciding not to send APs to prison for contempt when then ignore court orders. It is a nonsensical argument, for the following reasons:
- It is probably true that punishment of any parent for any offence will rebound on the child, isn’t it? If mum or dad is sent to prison for murder, for twenty years, this will affect the children;
- So perhaps no parent should ever be punished for any crime for fear of the effect on the children – that is obviously an untenable position;
- If prison must be an option for parents if they murder, or rape, steal, or commit fraud, then prison should be an option for all imprisonable offences including contempt of court (lying to the court or ignoring court orders).
- Therefore these things should be punished like any other offence. Nobody considers the effects on a bank robber’s child of the bank robber going to prison…
Anything less than prison would mean that we regard the psychological abuse of children as less serious than physical or sexual abuse or other criminal offences. Or perhaps just not serious at all…Worth noting too is that a judge has many other options at her disposal for punishing parties that do not obey the court.
But of course that is EXACTLY why it is not punished. Nobody seems bothered about psychological abuse of children. Social workers, including (and especially) CAFCASS, can’t even recognise it!
We thought CAFCASS might be changing their ways:
But in their blog a few weeks later, Anthony Douglas says this:
Monday November 27, 2017
”Recently in public we have been talking about the negative impact of parental alienation on children. I am glad we have brought this pernicious issue to the surface more. Many of our private law cases feature alienating behaviours in some form. They can cause significant emotional harm to children. However, I am worried that public debates can easily over-simplify a complex issue. Alienation is one type of adult behaviour which causes adverse childhood experiences. At worst it is emotionally violent. This is why I have suggested that alienation is a form of child abuse. It can have as devastating an impact as physical abuse and can lead directly to child or adolescent mental health problems and other impacts like disturbances to learning, such as not being able to concentrate in class.
But alienation rarely exists in isolation. It is more usually one set of behaviours among many and is best seen on a spectrum. In a high conflict post-separation family, every transaction within families starts from a premise of conflict. A simple neutral remark causes offence. A small and relatively insignificant action is misinterpreted as hostile. The post-separation environment can be deeply toxic, even if contact is occasional. That level of toxicity means that an exchange or transaction lasting seconds can cause days, weeks or months of heartache.
Yes there are perpetrators who family members need protection against adults who threaten, abuse, coerce or tyrannise innocent family members. But more commonly, everyone in the post-separation family feels victimised to a greater or lesser extent. Poly-victimisation rules. Similarly, harm can be omni-directional, rather than simply being harm caused by one family member to another. Alienation is often multi-directional rather than one-way. It is our role to make sense of what has been happening in terms of its child impact and to differentiate between alienating behaviours on the one hand and when rejection of a parent by a child is more understandable due to the child being genuinely scared or deeply apprehensive about contact.
These complex private law cases have sometimes been called ‘intractable’ but this is only because the emotional environment inside these families is so overwhelming. Powerful emotions like this can rarely be successfully channelled into linear case outcomes in court. It is why we need a problem-solving court and a model of therapeutic jurisprudence. Our domestic abuse pathway and our high conflict pathway aim to give Cafcass practitioners and courts a stronger framework for assessment and intervention when either abuse or high conflict are the primary problems.
There are no easy answers. However, I am confident that the frameworks we have in place and are developing, plus the Positive Parenting Plan we are now piloting as an intensive therapeutic social work intervention in high impact cases, will help a greater number of children and their families”
This harm is apparently omni-directional, and involves poly-victimisation…Nice, long words…more psychobabble – STOPPA says that in the majority of cases, PA is simple. The making of false allegations is a simple issue. But…
It looks like it’s ‘business as usual’ at CAFCASS.
Worth a read is this from Voice of the Child.
Criticisms of CAFCASS in Re R (A Child: Relocation)  EWHC 456:
- Miss D. reviews the case and makes the observations about the parents and their abilities with R referred to in para.5 above. She told me that she has never before in a report not made a recommendation, though in this report she feels quite unable to do so such are the competing advantages and disadvantages of each case. For my part, as my findings to date have made clear, I do not find the case to be as evenly balanced as she does.
Mr. Harrison complains in effect, although he is not impolite enough to use the term, that he has been ambushed by the way in which I dealt with the two applications because very little evidence was given by the CAFCASS officer. In his submission it requires a full and careful examination of matters and the expertise of a CAFCASS officer to tell me about propositions with which I am familiar after over forty years in the Division.
I regret to say, having now heard and read all the evidence, that I do not share Miss D’s opinion that the mother now does hold more positive and balanced views about the father and recognises his place in R’s life.
And not forgetting Parker J in re H.