Impact of Parental Hostility Tool

Estimated reading time: 6 min

Cafcass have a tool that they call their “Impact of Parental Hostility” tool – in their Tools Matrix they say it should be used:

Private Law: To be used post interview to analyse impact of parental conflict and the level of parental influence on wishes and feelings

Let’s start with with some basic information on this tool… like what it actually is…

First off, it’s a one page word document with 10 questions on it.

Cafcass and the Ministry of Justice refer to it in this context:

Cafcass practitioners understand and recognise the potential for implacable hostility by a party in high conflict cases involving child arrangements following divorce or separation. Practitioners, who are professionally qualified social workers with a minimum of three years’ post qualifying experience, are aware of the potential for children to be influenced by parental views and are alert to this possibility throughout the progress of a case. Cafcass has various tools available to assist practitioners in being able to assess the presence of implacable hostility. These include a tool for use in direct work with the family and a learning module

Quote from Ministry of Justice


We also have an “Impact of parental conflict tool” which can be used by practitioners when writing Section 7 reports to court. The tool provides a list of indicators to help the practitioner identify the impact of parental conflict and the level of parental influence on a child’s wishes and feelings



We are skilled in assessing the indicators of alienating behaviours. For example, we have ‘the impact of parental conflict tool’, a list of behaviours that indicate the child may be subject to alienating behaviours such as complaints being rehearsed, and describing respective parents unrealistically in either wholly positive or negative language

Cafcass, new Operating Framework August 2017 (page 62)


In 2015 Cafcass were asked a series of direct questions about this tool under a FOI request:

Who developed this tool for use for Cafcass – please give their job titles (if appropriate) and their professional qualifications?

This tool was developed within Cafcass by qualified social workers

[Editor’s note: When they say “qualified social workers they normally mean the National Improvement Service or their Librarian. More often than not it’s the National Improvement Service. The NIS is a department within Cafcass. They make it sound like it’s something much grander and independent. It’s not. It’s Cafcass’ own employees.]

What academic research, or other guidance, was used as a model for its contents – please list full references (author, book/article, publisher, year)?

Impact of parental conflict tool:


Fidler, B. J., Bala, N., Birnbaum, D., & Kavassalis, K. (2008). Understanding child alienation and its impact on families.


In B. Fidler, N. Bala, D. Birnbaum, & K. Kavassalis (Eds.) Challenging issues in child custody disputes: A guide for legal and mental health professionals. Toronto, Canada: Carswell

When was this tool was first issued to practitioners for their use, and what accompanying directions/guidance was issued?

All tools for evidence-informed practice were created and launched at the same time in September 2013

When this tool was first formally included in the Operating Framework?

Reference to the matrix of tools for evidence-informed practice (which includes the Impact of Parental Conflict Tool) was added to the Operating Framework in January 2014

List any revisions that have taken place – listing year and attaching previous versions?

No revisions have taken place to date; reviews and updates are due to take place in 2016

[Editor’s note: This FOI response was gained in January 2016. The tool still hasn’t been updated some 20 months later. ]

Current directions/recommendations/guidelines for use?

These can be seen on our website next to the link to the tool

so basically what they said earlier with a little bit extra:

Private Law: To be used post interview to analyse impact of parental conflict and the level of parental influence on wishes and feelings


This final tool should be used post-interview to analyse the impact of parental conflict and the level of parental influence on a child’s wishes and feelings.


You should complete this tool after you have conducted your interviews with the parents and the child (if appropriate). It will help you to identify, and clarify, any emotionally harmful influence of one or both parents on the child. Your findings can then be referenced in your report in the relevant section(s)

Current methods and procedures for managers to record observation regarding establishing use, and of managers checking, moderating and establishing, accurate and effective use?

Competent use of tools is covered by supervision processes and the manager quality assurance check of every report that is filed to court

So that’s what they have to say about it. Well almost. Remember that was January 2016. Let’s skip forward over a year to April 2017 and someone else starts to venture down the same path of questioning this tool and its use:

1. Please could you confirm whether you still use this tool when compiling s7 reports

We encourage staff to use the ‘Impact of Parental Conflict Tool’ in their direct work with children, where this is relevant and where the FCA consider its use is appropriate to the needs of the case.


The use of this tool is a matter for the practitioner’s professional judgement.

2. Please could you confirm whether this tool has been updated since it was initially deployed and if so when and by whom

The tools matrix for evidence informed practice tools, which includes the Impact of Parental Conflict Tool was reviewed by the National Improvement Service (NIS) in September 2016.

[Editor’s note: note how they say “reviewed” and not “updated’. And there’s that reference to the NIS we warned you about]

3. Please could you provide any internal and external policy documents that relate to this tool

Cafcass does not have a specific policy on the use of the tool or on the impact of parental conflict. The use of this tool is a matter for the practitioner’s professional judgement.

4. Please could you confirm whether this tool and the results/reportings/findings from it are specifically identified and reflected in every s7 report in which it is utilised

When using the tool, Family Court Advisers should refer to the tool and the analysis in the relevant section of the section 7 report but Cafcass does not collect information on whether this tool is used centrally; use of these tools is recorded in the case file and referenced in the report.


Competent use of tools is covered by supervision processes and the manager quality assurance check of every report that is filed to court.

5. Please could you confirm whether you have already or are planning to deploy any similar tools to cover Parental Alienation and if so please identify these tools by name and provide a date of deployment (an expected date if the deployment of the tool hasn’t happened yet)

Cafcass does not currently have plans to deploy any additional tools to support the assessment of Parental Alienation other than those which are already in place, such as the Impact of Parental Conflict Tool.

We could go on for hours; There are literately dozens of FOI requests about this tool and none shed any more information on it than the information we’ve listed above.

Let’s take a look at the tool itself now. What questions does it ask, how does it ask them, how are they answered? These are all important things to consider…

The child describes one parent entirely negatively, the other entirely positively
The reasons given for the dislike of one parent may appear to be justified, but investigation shows them to be flimsy and exaggerated
The child proffers the opinion of wanting less contact with one parent in a way which requires little or no prompting
The complaints have a quality of being rehearsed or practised
The child seems to show little or no concern for the feelings of the parent being complained about
Comments are inappropriate in view of the child’s age / developmental stage
The child’s anxiety and reactive behaviour to the contact are disproportionate to the risk identified
Siblings provide a highly consistent responses when it is probable that due to age, position within the family, individual characteristics their wishes and feeling could be expected to differ
The rejected parent had a good relationship with the child prior to separation
Emotional warmth from the resident parent directly correlates with the child remaining resistant to contact

Here’s a link so you can view it yourself:

But don’t just take our word for it. In May 2017 someone else had had enough of this nonsense and decided to get the tool publicly evaluated by Dr Craig Childress a leading global expert on Parental Alienation, the pathology, and the treatments that courts AND social workers should follow to deal with it.

Here’s his summary…

The Impact of Parental Conflict Tool appears to be a haphazard collection of symptoms that employs no underlying organizational conceptual framework in guiding the development or use of the questions (i.e., no construct validity).

Of course Dr Childress goes into much more detail, question by question, analysis by analysis, and also provides his own diagnostic tools and criteria for comparison. You can view his full analysis here:

So next time you hear anyone tell you that tool is fit for purpose you can point them at this article and this research.

Perhaps Anthony Douglas should consider this for his next webinar that hardly any of his staff bother to watch?

Was this article helpful?