How long have Cafcass known about Parental Alienation?

Estimated reading time: 6 min

In February 2017 Anthony Douglas the Chief Executive Officer of Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) gave an interview to Lexi Finnigan of the Daily Telegraph in which it was quoted that he had said:

…the deliberate manipulation of a child by one parent against the other has become so common in family breakdowns that it should be dealt with like any other form of neglect or child abuse.

The interview went on to say that:

According to Cafcass, parental alienation is responsible for around 80% of the most difficult cases that come before the family courts.

and it quoted Anthony Douglas directly:

It’s undoubtedly a form of neglect or child abuse in terms of the impact it can have. I think the way you treat your children after a relationship has broken up is just as powerful a public health issue as smoking or drinking
Anthony Douglas, Cafcass

Since then Anthony Douglas has personally overseen the drafting and publication of Cafcass’ new Operating Framework which mentions Parental Alientation. (more on that shortly) but to quickly summarise the drafting of this new framework, our researchers made several requests to Cafcas for some clarification on when it was drafted, who was consulted, who was it publicised to, and other pertinent facts.

The Draft Operating Framework was published on the Cafcass website on 3rd July 2017 and was published in full in August 2017. So who was told that it would be published and that stakeholders would be invited to contribute?

Cafcass responded to say:

No organisations or individuals were told that the article was going to be published in advance of posting.


Members of Cafcass’ Operational Management Team may have shared the fact that the Operating Framework was available on the website with their local contacts but Cafcass does not hold a record of this.

Oh dear come on now. This is an important document – a once in a generation document. Surely even Anthony Douglas took some time to let people know himself?

Cafcass responded:

We have a record of Anthony Douglas mentioning, in written correspondence, that a draft version of the revised Operating Framework would be made available for comment on our website to the following organisations:


  • Nagalro
  • ALC

Now this is important because those two organisations both made Cafcass and Anthony Douglas revert his last foray into formulating a policy without consultation. You can read more about that here and here. Nagalro issued their press releases in April 2017 and ALC issued theirs in March 2017.

The ALC concluded their statement on that matter by saying:

The ALC is concerned that, in entering into this agreement, Cafcass, which was originally created by Parliament to support the independent role of guardians in supporting the work of the court, does not respect their independence and professional autonomy, or the fact that they owe their primary duty to the children they represent and to the court, rather than to Cafcass. That independence is their core value – to children, their families and to a democratic society …

So Anthony Douglas shared his draft framework with two specific organisations that had challenged him previously but did not share it with anyone else. And that’s ignoring the very short window for commentary and input for stakeholders that they allowed before publishing it in full and deploying it to Cafcass FCAs.

But we digress…

In February of 2017 Anthony Douglas goes on record confirming that Parental Alienation exists, that it is child abuse, and that it affects around 80% of the most difficult cases in the Family Courts.

We believe that Cafcass have been aware of Parental Alienation for far longer though, so we went looking for the earliest public comments and requests to them that specifically mention “Parental Alienation”.

The earliest instance we can find, publicly, is in mid-2014.

In July 2014 Cafcass were publicly asked in a FOI request:

Do CAFCASS take concerns of parental alienation seriously?

They responded:

The term “Parental alienation” is more commonly used in the United States than in the United Kingdom, where the term “implacable hostility” is more common.

Cafcass does understand and recognise the potential for implacable hostility by an ex-partner in high conflict private law cases. Such behaviour may be so severe it becomes emotionally harmful to a child.

Cafcass recognises that cases where implacable hostility is a factor are particularly difficult to assess and resolve.

Our practitioners are aware of the potential for children to be influenced by parental views and will remain live to this issue throughout the progress of a case.

When communicating with children, practitioners are also very adept at picking up on “adult” turns of phrase, and can further explore such views presented by the child as part of understanding their wishes and feelings. Although the child’s wishes are taken into consideration, both our recommendations and the court’s orders are made in the child’s best interests which do not always correlate with the child’s wishes.

Instead, our recommendations and any orders granted by the court will depend on the full facts of the case and take into account all relevant welfare issues.

What advise do CAFCASS give the parent that is being intentionally alienated from their children?

What advise do CAFCASS give the parent that is intentionally alienating the child from the other parent?

Cafcass responded:

Cafcass’ primary role is the safety and best interests of the child or children involved in proceedings. Cafcass’ Operating Framework provides detailed information on our role.

In particular paragraphs 1.17 and 1.23 may be useful to you. They state that Cafcass can encourage those we work with to see the situation they are in through the eyes of their child, and to think about how they can make the most positive contribution possible to their child’s life.

Cafcass can assess the impact of a situation on a child. However, it is not the role of Cafcass to determine the particular facts in a case, that is the role of the court.

Please could you provide your documents on Guidance, SOPS (standard operation procedures) on regulation and standards with regard to Parental Alienation

Cafcass responded:

Cafcass has implemented a tool and learning modules to help assist our practitioners in being able to assess the presence of implacable hostility in private law cases.

For example, Cafcass has an online training module titled “Coached children” which explains types and examples of coaching, signs of a child being coached and consideration to be given when working with coached children.

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.

Our in-house library service also provides practitioners with resources on the concept of implacable hostility. The resources available are from peer-reviewed journals and reputable publishers and practitioners can refer to them when writing their reports to court.

Have CAFCASS worked with any other organisations regarding PA. I.e. NSPCC, domestic abuse originations, police. Specifically has any collaborative work been done with any parental alienation organisation? If so who?

Cafcass responded:

Cafcass has not worked directly with other organisations, or completed collaborative work, to look specifically at the issue of implacable hostility as a standalone matter.

Cafcass does, however, communicate frequently with relevant organisations and bodies about a range of professional matters relevant to our field. We are therefore able to make contributions to discussions about the issue of implacable hostility via those established links.

What happens if Cafcass detect Parental Alienation?

Cafcass responded:

This is a matter for the professional judgement of the individual practitioner.

The presence of implacable hostility may result in a recommendation to the court by Cafcass for a Section 7 report to be carried out, in which the child’s wishes and feelings can be assessed. Alternatively, in more complex and often long running cases, a Rule 16.4 appointment can made where a Children’s Guardian is appointed by the court to represent the child as a party to the case.

A Cafcass practitioner may also highlight issues of implacable hostility in their report to court. Any decisions on a case are ultimately a decision for the court and not Cafcass, whose role it is to provide advice and recommendations to the court. If parties are concerned about an issue they should therefore ensure they raise it with the court so that the judge is aware of all information before coming to a decision on a case.

Remember; this is 2014… and we are now in 2017.

We’re going to talk about those tools and learning modules in another post, but for now, here are the following tools and learning materials that Cafcass make available to their FCAs:

You can read other relevant posts here:


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