Updated (again): Cafcass, Douglas, and the High Conflict Pathway

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  • Updated (again): Cafcass, Douglas, and the High Conflict Pathway
Estimated reading time: 7 min

In October of this year Anthony Douglas attended a Parental Alienation Workshop in London. He sat through a very uncomfortable (for him at least) presentation by HHJ Wildblood and then gave his talk on how PA had affected him personally, how he was the one in Cafcass pushing PA forward etc etc and then he took some questions from the floor:

You can watch the whole thing here:

You may hear an interesting question around the 14 minute mark where Anthony Douglas is asked about Parental Alienation training and the research we uncovered into his FCAs not being bothered to do his training. He replied to say that they were “too busy” to do their training!!

If only we’d had time to point out that over 1,300 of his FCAs found time to do their Expenses training… THAT would have thrown his “too busy” statement into question.

High Conflict Pathway

Skip forward to the 20 minute mark and you’ll hear another question from the floor, this time from a practicing healthcare specialist asking why training isn’t mandatory, as it is within the NHS.

In response Anthony Douglas (from 21:44 until the end) talks about the launch of his High Conflict Pathway tool and training and waves a document around in support of his assertion that he’s on top of this and future training will be mandatory. Listen to his words yourself.

But now take a look at what we’ve uncovered:

If you listen to Anthony Douglas’ words you’d be forgiven, like Paul Apreda from Families need Fathers, that none of us need to worry, that Anthony Douglas has got it all in hand, and that this new High Conflict Pathway is the answer to our children’s problems.

Until you read it.

Let’s take a look at slide 7 which is where Parental Alienation first gets a mention:

Well that’s not very promising… and neither is the very next slide:

It gets worse…

This is just more of what we’ve seen throughout Cafcass training: gender bias, non-neutral language, non-evidence based approaches, questions written by uneducated people… the list goes on and on and on…

We look at where they’re referencing this nonsense from and we come back to the old Cafcass Library thing.


Parental Alienation Syndrome and Alienated Children – getting it wrong in child custody cases. Carol S. Bruch. Child and Family Law Quarterly, Vol 14, No 4, 2002

Is Parental Alienation Disorder a Valid Concept? Not According to Scientific Evidence. A Review of Parental Alienation, M. Brianna Pepiton, Lindsey J. Alvis, Kenneth Allen & Gregory Logid (2012) Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 21:2, 244-253

When we look at who authored this we see, again, that it has been authored by Cafcass’ internal National Improvement Service (NIS) and that they’ve not brought in any external experts in – no PA experts, no subject matter experts, no 3rd party training companies, no psychologists, and no children mental health specialists.

Are these people for real?

Is Anthony Douglas having a laugh at our expense?

It all comes back to the thread that runs through Cafcass: they’re unqualified, out of touch, and incompetent. The sooner they recognise and accept that the sooner they’ll reach out for help and assistance from the experts and we can all start to move forward. The NIS are the very last people who should be authoring any training within Cafcass, never mind pathways for diagnosis.

FnF and Anthony Douglas

This is how FnF summed up the presentation by Anthony Douglas. At 9:40 Paul Apreda starts on his eulogy to Anthony Douglas.  He has a throwaway comment about it not being helpful when people “throw rocks” at Cafcass which we believe is directed at our questioning of Douglas on his training record and his leadership of Cafcass.

At 10:40 Paul Apreda says we shouldn’t throw rocks at Cafcass or Douglas, a point we’ll come back to. Paul calls for solutions: we have several starting with the dismissal of Douglas, the appointment of a more appropriate and focused leader of Cafcass, and wholesale reform of their FCAs.

The High Conflict Pathway and our research into it is a prime example of why FnF shouldn’t be cosying up to Cafcass and Douglas – they cannot take this organisation at its word. History shows that clearly,

I would like to point out that we’re not lumping Vincent McGovern of FnF in this. Vincent can be heard from 21 minutes onwards. Vincent does not share Paul Apreda’s sycophancy for Douglas. You can hear his comments on the lack of training from 26 minutes. Well worth a listen.

Throwing Rocks

We’ll continue to throw rocks at any organisation that is supposed to safeguard and protect children within the UK family law system. Somebody has to hold these people to account and if the incumbent snouts in the trough don’t do it then we will.

Do not think for one moment that any of our research team came to this lightly. Every single one of us expected the system and support organisations, like Cafcass, to do their jobs properly. We had, we believe, a reasonable expectation that professionalism and integrity should prevail.

Sadly this isn’t the case.

The more we dig, the more manure we find.

Not only in Cafcass and the Child Maintenance Service, but also in Local Authorities, in schools, in Safeguarding Boards, in the NHS, and in the Judiciary. We also find it endemic within many of the long standing charities supposedly set-up to provide support and help to parents and children going through this dreadful situation.

Every single one of them should take a good hard look at themselves and ask why it is that they have never dug this stuff up themselves. It can’t be that they didn’t know; many of them have been at this for 20 years and more.

As for throwing rocks; with the greatest of respect, if they had thrown a few rocks themselves instead of sticking their snouts in the trough then this generation of children could have been saved from this debacle.

You should be ashamed of yourselves.

High Conflict Pathway

The documents that we have seen show clearly that Cafcass do not have a clue what they are doing.

The studies they’re reliant on are selective,  out of date, and seem to show  that PA doesn’t exist. The rest of the material fails in similar ways. It refers to the deeply discredited Impact of Parental Conflict Tool and follows it up by including the Cafcass safe_contact_indicator Tool PDF which we’ve already had analysed and found it in contradiction of their own training on Post-separation Control Knowledge Bite and Coached Children Knowledge Bite (not that many of them have done that training).

This is an absolute disgrace and we will be writing an open letter to Anthony Douglas shortly to push this point home.

Getting the same people to write training materials based on the faulty literature is not a solution, no matter what his buddy Paul Apreda may think.

HHJ Wildblood on Parental Alienation

You should also watch HHJ Stephen Wildblood here and his thoughts on Parental Alienation that come in front of him, especially his views on wishes and feelings reports which we share:


One of our researchers wrote to Cafcass on 4th November to say:

Please could you provide the proposed publication date of this new Pathway?

Please could you provide details of any organisations that you have contacted with a view to involving them in assessing the suitability of this pathway or to provide input into its creation.

The above items form part of this FOI request. This next section does not however I am providing it for future researchers to have access to and for you to circulate within Cafcass and most especially to Mr Douglas your CEO as he has a personal interest in this new High Conflict Pathway – I am therefore sure that he will personally be extremely interested in seeing your response and my comments below:

1. Your internal team is not qualified to produce this Pathway without the input and expertise of external specialists. I am horrified that you are doing this, especially as Mr Douglas described it as being the solution to Parental Alienation.

2. Your NIS (National Improvement Service) team are no more qualified than I am or your librarian to produce training on High Conflict or Parental Alienation without the input and expertise of external specialists. I am horrified that you are saying the NIS are doing this, especially as Mr Douglas is aware of the deficit in training standards within Cafcass.

3. It is no good having mandatory training if the training itself or the tool that they are being trained on is deficient. I am horrified and deeply concerned that Mr Douglas is not aware that the organisation appear to be rushing this through into practice without ensuring that the tool and any training is fit for use.

Cafcass responded on the 9th to say:

The exact publication date of the High Conflict pathway is not known at  present, however it is anticipated that the High Conflict pathway will be  published in either February or March 2018.

Cafcass has not consulted with any external organisations  in regards to  assessing the suitability of this pathway or to provide input into its  creation.

We published this article originally on 12th November and it has been widely picked up and viewed including internally at Cafcass.

Yesterday Cafcass circulated consultation papers to a number of organisations on their proposed High Conflict Pathway solution. We have of course asked for copies. We are pleased that they have changed their minds on consultation and we would hope that they have included the UK’s eminent specialists in Parental Alienation, High Conflict, Domestic and Emotional Abuse, and of course Mental Health. PA isn’t just about conflict – it is multi-faceted, and must be approached in that manner.

UPDATE: 8th December 2017

One of our Researchers made a FOI request to Cafcass about the consultations on the proposed High Conflict Pathway as follows:

We have been informed that consultation packs on the proposed High Conflict Pathway have been sent out to various external parties. Please provide a list of any and all external parties that you are consulting with on this new pathway.

Cafcass responded to say: As the pathway is a Cafcass tool there will not be a formal consultation on the pathway. Cafcass are planning to contact a range of stakeholders, such as the judiciary, lawyers, academics, therapists, and men’s and women’s groups to set out clear information about the process for obtaining feedback. However no groups or external parties have been contacted yet in regards to their views on the pathway.

Please provide a copy of the consultation pack.
Cafcass has not produced a consultation pack for the High Conflict Pathway as Cafcass is not having a formal consultation on the pathway.


We also believe that Cafcass should bring in legal experts to review the legal aspects of what they’re proposing within the context of family proceedings, especially where Cafcass FCAs will be operating outside of their area of expertise in assessing and deciding matters such as the existence of domestic abuse, parental alienation, and mental health issues within what they’re terming as “high conflict cases”. The existing court system and Cafcass workloads indicate that neither will cope with an increase in Findings of Fact Hearings (“FoF”), and we believe that this needs to be considered.

Likewise Cafcass need to recognise and accept that the Judiciary are reliant on the accurate reporting and professional recommendations contained within a Cafcass FCA report regardless of whose ultimate decision it is to make the final court order. In these high conflict cases there is the potential for great harm to continue to be visited upon the children and this will require a cultural change within Cafcass, not just mandatory training and a shiny new pathway.

Next steps

Comment your hearts out below – we’d love to hear what YOU think of this, and especially the High Conflict Pathway that Cafcass are proposing as a solution.

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