Who suffers the most following a breakdown of a relationship?
Unfortunately it is the children of the family. When a couple separate, generally speaking there is quite a lot of animosity between them, especially when there are ongoing divorce proceedings. This makes it difficult for both parents to work together for the sake of the children.
In some cases, this leads to one parent ‘bad-mouthing’ the other parent directly or indirectly to the children. So what happens to the children in cases such as these? Well the children will also start thinking critically of the other parent, which in essence will damage the relationship between the parent and the child, as they might start refusing to see or speak to the other parent. This is called Parental Alienation.
The difficulty is some parents might not even realise what they are doing and the negative impact that their behaviour could have on their children. Speaking negatively about the other parent might cause the children to not want to see or speak to the other parent, and this will no doubt damage their relationship.
Parental alienation can be extremely damaging to children and in some cases it can affect their personal health when they grow older.
Parental Alienation is common and is estimated to be present in 11%-15% of divorcing couples involving children. This figure is thought to be increasing.
CAFCASS are developing a practice framework called the High Conflict Practice Pathway to help their caseworkers assess cases involving parental alienation, which has been described as ‘groundbreaking’. As with all of their work, the pathway keeps the children’s needs, wishes and feelings central to the recommendations that they make to the Court. The new guidelines will set out the steps social workers must take when dealing with cases of suspected parental alienation.
The new guidelines will at the outset give parents the chance to change their behaviour with the help of intense therapy. If however parents do not change their attitude they could risk losing their residency or even worse being banned from any contact with their child.
The pathway will make it clear to the caseworker, when they should remove the child from the parent responsible for the alienation and place with the other parent.
In conjunction with the High Conflict Pathway, CAFCASS have developed a 12 week intense program called Positive Parenting. The Positive Parenting program is aimed to reduce parental conflict and emotional harm to children. It encourages parents to put themselves in their children’s position and help them understand the effect their behaviour is having on the children. CAFCASS will identify the cases which will benefit from the program and then this will be discussed the Judge dealing with the case, if agreed the matter will then be allocated to a caseworker who is trained on the program.
The pathway is due to be launched in Spring 2018.