Parental alienation is another form of child abuse that has gone both unreported and under-discussed. Such abuse is not properly recognised by the United Kingdom Government. While Westminster remains silent on the issue, parents and children suffer. The Government and the courts need to recognise parental alienation as a form of emotional abuse, and as such they need to step up efforts to prevent it and, in some circumstances, punish perpetrators.
Sadly, parental alienation is rarely talked about in Parliament. I do not believe there has previously been a debate on it in this place, and only eight questions have been asked about it since I entered the House in 2010. I hope to use this debate to raise awareness and start a discussion about parental alienation.
I attest that I come to this topic not as an expert in the subject but as someone with experience of parental alienation. My mother could be accused of such a thing. When my parents separated when I was five, my mother portrayed my father, perhaps on occasion faithfully, in a very poor light. In contrast, my father would refuse to say anything bad about my mother.
I have some experience that I think is worth sharing but, for those who do not have first-hand experience of parental alienation, I will explain what is meant by the term. Parental alienation is the deliberate manipulation of a child by one parent against the other parent. Often it occurs after a couple have separated. According to the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, parental alienation is responsible for some 80% of the most difficult cases that come before the family courts. CAFCASS also estimates that 5% of children involved in divorce or separation will experience some level of parental alienation. However, that figure seems incredibly low for what I believe to be a more widespread problem.
Despite those shocking statistics, the United Kingdom lags behind many other countries across the world in addressing the issue. Parental alienation is not recognised in the lower courts and, although the higher courts acknowledge that parental alienation occurs, many family rights campaigners feel the courts do nothing about it. Although there have been small steps in the right direction, progress in the UK has been far too slow.
In part, the controversy is down to parental alienation syndrome, a hotly contested psychological condition. The syndrome is not recognised by the World Health Organisation and has been tossed out by some child abuse experts as “junk science.” I will not get into the nitty-gritty of that psychological debate, which is for specialists to discuss, but it does not matter whether we label parental alienation as a syndrome, because it is still a problem for families.