It has been well over a year since the CEO of Cafcass, Anthony Douglas, openly acknowledged that his organisation recognised the existence of Parental Alienation or PA and were taking steps to adapt their internal processes, procedures and staff protocols and training to help address it.
At the start of the Summer, I composed a letter with a select group of well-informed parents, requesting an urgent update and progress.
We were sent a polite, but clearly “holding” reply, although we were assured that our suggestions would be factored into the improvement work.
Since then we have seen little practical change. We have learned that Anthony Douglas intends to retire in March yet no commitment has been made regarding the outstanding work. Although worryingly, it has been suggested by certain commentators, that people see the change work taking around ten years.
Our network includes lawyers, doctors, social workers, entrepreneurs and management consultants. So we asked shared parenting advocate Ian Buckingham, a respected change management and organisation culture change specialist who has spoken out about PA in the past, for his views on the position and what could and should be done to address an issue now affecting millions of children and parents in the UK alone.
“I’ve worked on change programmes with organisations across sectors from investment banks and oil companies through to charities and government departments and the first point, which should provide some comfort to suffering parents enduring this abuse, is that change starts when a senior leader has both the conviction and drive to lead it.Mr Douglas clearly has the conviction, but now he’s leaving, the drive is going to be questioned.
The second point is that a problem as deep rooted as this needs to be addressed upstream nearer the source, not just downstream where the symptoms present. With this in mind, PA is not solely the responsibility of Cafcass. It’s pointless blaming them. Many agencies contribute to the root cause, from the legal profession and police through to social services generally.
A cross-agency approach to finding a lasting solution is clearly required. And special interest groups like mothers and father’s groups don’t always help. They can entrench positions, if not careful. We are trying to change gender stereotypes and that isn’t easy because they have become ingrained in norms.
But to give people some sense of reality, you can change a corporate culture within 18 months. However, it requires cross-functional working between departments and the organisation needs a clear strategy. It must take a consistent systems and behaviours approach and implement it thoroughly and professionally with external support to keep the top team accountable and focused.
So, given the importance of the issue and the fact they have been aware and have acknowledged the problem, in terms of their sphere of influence, I would expect Cafcass to be most of the way there by now. I would also expect to see their CEO promoting a cross-agency solution, with the support of MPs. We have seen some signs of that. But progress appears to be very, very slow.
With regard to PA in the wider context, I believe the joint-working, cross-agency approach needs to bring about the following ten things:
- A law change to bring the same rigor to family law that we see now in employment law, where gender discrimination is illegal. This should mean 50/50 rights and responsibilities for both biological parents, meaning they both have to work out how to care and provide financially for their child and ensure that both parents have the security and stability to do so. This should be part rebuttable based on capability and fitness to parent based on hard evidence not conjecture or accusations.
- “No-fault” divorce to minimise acrimony and an exaggerated adversarial narrative.
- A law change to make shared parenting an absolute obligation, ensuring that biological parents have to work together to co-develop thorough child arrangement plans.
- Role of lawyers to change dramatically, with 1 lawyer appointed to a family and to focus on the needs of the children in the short and longer term based on the shared parenting and 50/50 premise and the child’s right to a relationship with both parents. This will take away much of the adversarial, winner-takes-all approach that currently creates acrimony and lasting harm. I would also expect to see different and better training of family lawyers to accommodate this.
- Much more support provided upstream for the family unit in the form of:
- marriage, relationship, grief and couples counseling
- facilitation and coaching to help parents move on respectfully and complete their shared parenting plans constructively
- child-centric mediation and conflict management
- child-centric courses and workshops
- mentoring and advocacy for family units
- Legal-aid available to family units, not individuals to help finance and ratify the agreements not prolong acrimony
- Court to ratify and finalise shared parenting only once these steps have been completed and to insist on a sliding scale of enforcement options.
- Enforcement to be a last resort, but to include:
- financial penalties (costs met by the defendant not litigant)
- community service
- modification of the financial arrangements and shared parenting plan
- Third party to provide a secure and confidential communications platform for couples to communicate about the child arrangements and to act as a permanent record, replacing contact books and the slew of ad-hoc data.
- An independent body (like an OFSTED) to own and review the process, continuously improve it and handle complaints.
Of course, the elephant in the room is that there are a great number of vested interests at play. Family law and its aftermath is a multi $£billion industry. However, resisting change for self-serving reasons renders complicit parties as guilty of contributing to child abuse as malicious parents. It is clear that unless the various government and other parties change, they will become obsolete. Witness the rise in LIPs and mounting talk of a class action by alienated parents.
The trade-off with this solution is that it is still likely that a similar quantity of funding will be required that currently trickles into the pockets of law firms and grief counselors downstream. Only, service providers who adapt to the upstream support model, however, will be able to fund their services. not as litigation specialists and enforcers, but as coaches, mentors, mediators and advisers upstream, preventing problems rather than creating or sweeping up after them.”
Interesting food for thought from someone who knows about culture change and how transformation works within organisations.
But perhaps Ian’s final words are the most pertinent.
“Of course, multi-agency change is more complicated than just changing 1 organisation. But assuming Cafcass is on track, I see no reason why PA shouldn’t become as extinct as institutional racism or sexism within 2 years, provided the reformers get the right people in the “room.
After all, if this were an oil company with a leaking pipeline, it would be sorted by now,. Yet arguably PA causes much more damage. We just don’t have the same photos of impacted penguins to grab the attention of the world’s press. “
There is now a very strong wind of change blowing, motivated by the passion of millions of voting tax payers clearly being widely bullied and abused, as their children are, by a system oddly no longer fit for modern purpose.
And what’s more important than our children?
The right change shouldn’t be so hard, should it? But the big question is, what do the people currently responsible for child protection and family law really care about:
- reforming to end the bullying and abuse?
- maintaining the lucrative status quo?
Very interested in your comments on this blog either by posting below or contacting us. Please do share this far and wide as we need to continue to raise awareness as, if you’re not affected, the odds are you soon will be.