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 (https://voiceofthechild.org.uk/kb/cafcass-parental-alienation-webinar-training/). 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: