It’s vital we move away from the highly polarised debate that has predominated to date and achieve a more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of each child’s experience.
As with domestic abuse, parental alienation should be seen as being on a continuum or a spectrum. It can be mild, moderate, or severe.
The impact on the child is the key issue and this will vary according to the resilience and vulnerability of each child.
Pure cases where the child’s rejection of the absent parent is caused solely by the behaviour of the favoured parent are relatively rare, although they do exist. It’s more common for the causal factors to be mixed or ‘hybrid’. This means the behaviour of both parents may be contributing to the dynamic to a greater or lesser degree.
Children themselves can be naturally aligned or have greater affinity for one parent.
We must be extremely careful not to categorise a situation as parental alienation when domestic abuse is the cause of justified rejection.
Coercively controlling parents can frighten children into rejecting the other parent.
Alienating behaviours can be perpetrated by men and women.
Cafcass is developing a High Conflict Practice Pathway to aid assessment in all high conflict cases, which may or may not include alienation. Feedback is being sought from interested parties over the next three months.
Cafcass is also piloting a structured intervention suitable for certain cases where parents are stuck in conflict.
Sarah Parsons, Principal Social Worker, Cafcass