Parents who try to alienate their children from their ex-partners are committing a form of child abuse, the head of Cafcass has claimed.
The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) works with children and their families involved in care proceeding and also with those caught up in private disputes. Chief Executive Anthony Douglas has now openly condemned the phenomenon of ‘parental alienation’, in which one divorced or separated parent openly denigrates the other to their children or encourages them to think of the absent parent as threatening or frightening.
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Mr Douglas compared the behaviour to child neglect or abuse and said it could have a significant impact on the long-term wellbeing of affected children.
“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.”
Cafcass believe that deliberate parental alienation accounts for the majority of the most intractable family disputes: perhaps as much as 80 per cent.
The absence of a law specifically outlawing alienation complicates matters, Mr Douglas continued.
“But we do have family law and through assessments and enforcement proceedings, we do have the ability to send parents to prison or give them community sentences.”
But such penalties are rarely applied, he added, “because ultimately the punishment on the parent will rebound on the child.”
Nevertheless, some family court judges have begun to acknowledge the issue, and respond to deliberate alienation by taking children away from the care of the badly behaved parent. The Chief Executive warned, however:
“…this is fraught with difficulty. It’s a rocky road and a difficult process.”