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Parents could lose custody if they try to turn child against other parent

Parents could lose custody if they try to turn child against other parent

The demonising of a parent, usually by the parent with whom the child lives, has long been recognised as damaging.

Occurring when a child is caught in between their parents’ divorce or separation, parental alienation is when a parent deliberately turns their child against their ex-partner in the hope that they eventually cut off all contact. Anthony Douglas, the chief executive of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS), vividly describes it as one parent “trying to turn their child into a child soldier in a battle”

Under the rules of a new pilot scheme, divorcing parents could lose custody or be denied contact with their children if they attempt to poison them against their former partner.

The initiative is being trialled by the  CAFCASS and is designed to tackle the problem officially known as “parental alienation” where one parent turns a child against the other so they do not want to see them.

Cafcass - which has been criticised for being slow to tackle the issue - said the problem is widespread and occurs in a substantial number of the 125,000 cases it deals with annually.

Assistant director of Cafcass, an independent organisation which works to represent the interests of children in family court cases, Sarah Parsons, said: “We are increasingly recognising that parental alienation is a feature of many of our cases and have realised that it’s absolutely vital that we take the initiative.

“Our new approach is groundbreaking.”

From spring 2018, frontline Cafcass caseworkers will be issued with guidelines known as the “high conflict pathway” setting out steps social workers should take when dealing with suspected cases of parental alienation.

The pathway will spell out at what stage children should be removed from the parent responsible for the alienation and placed with the “target parent”.

A father who was the victim of alienation, speaking anonymously, said: “I’ve lived through and witnessed the inexorable alienation of my older daughter over the past five years, which has culminated in complete loss of contact.

“I will not have seen or heard from her for three years this coming January. We had a fantastic, loving relationship for the first 12 years of her life.

“This is a horrible form of child abuse that is struggling to get out from under the rock of prejudice and ignorance.”

The organisation Families Need Fathers, which campaigns for the rights of dads following relationship breakdown, said the move was a positive step.

The charity’s director, Jerry Karlin, said: “This is very welcome news and we trust a measure of Cafcass’s good faith in this area. 

“Parental alienation is identified as the single biggest issue among those who come to Families Need Fathers seeking help.

“The demonising of a parent, usually by the one with whom the child lives, has long been recognised as damaging the child not only at the time of separation but reaching into his or her adult life. It is not ‘normal’. 

“We have pressed for many years for Cafcass and others involved in the family law process to inform themselves of the many faces of parental alienation but also stiffen their sinews in dealing with it.”


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