Ground-breaking approach to resolving parental conflict to be launched
01 January 2018
The term “parental alienation” is by no means a new concept in private law children proceedings. However recent reports in the Guardian and other publications suggest that the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) is set to trial what has been heralded as a “ground-breaking” new process in cases where parental alienation becomes or is a feature of the dispute. In essence, parental alienation is the result of a separated parent seeking to alienate the child/children of the relationship from the other parent.
In October 2017, Cafcass reported receiving almost 4,000 new private law cases, a staggering 16% increase on the figures in October 2016. Whilst parental alienation is unlikely to feature in the vast proportion of those 4,000 new cases, it is nevertheless a worrying feature of many cases which are reaching the family courts. In their article, the Guardian reported that “Cafcass said it had recently realised parental alienation occurred in significant numbers of the 125,000 cases it dealt with each year”.
The “ground-breaking” new process is to be known as the High Conflict Practice Pathway (HCPP) and, according to Cafcass’ website, is set to utilise the same approach as its domestic abuse counterpart, the Domestic Abuse Practice Pathway (DAPP). In June 2017, the DAPP was marketed as “acting as a best practice guidance document, helping practitioners plan and structure their assessments in cases featuring domestic abuse”. It is therefore assumed that the HCPP will follow the same structure of providing guidance in scenarios were parental alienation risks have been identified.
The HCPP is designed to identify a broad spectrum of behaviours with varying impacts and will therefore include, but will not be limited to, parental alienation. In conjunction with the HCPP, a 12 week Cafcass Positive Parenting Programme pilot is also in development with the aim of reducing parental conflict and the emotional harm this may have on the child or children in the relationship. The CPPP will be trialled in 50 rule 16.4 cases (where the judge has determined that the child or children need to be added as parties to proceedings through a Guardian).
However, Cafcass have been clear that whilst HCPP will enable practitioners to “identify cases which might benefit from the Cafcass Positive Parenting Programme”, just because HCPP is engaged, the CPPP does not automatically follow. A case which may engage CPPP would typically be where “there are medium levels of parental conflict and both are open to working with professionals as part of the intervention to help improve the situation”. Therefore, in cases where parties are firmly entrenched, unable to consider working with professionals or where parental conflict is very significant, admittance to the CPPP may be refused.
The announcement has received a mixed reception with some concern being raised about the ramifications of a determination of parental alienation within a Child Arrangements Order but others have identified it as a positive step forward in recognizing what is indisputably a challenging feature in many family cases.
The national launch of HCPP is expected in Spring 2018 and the success of the programme is eagerly anticipated.