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Research review on parental alienation published

Cafcass Cymru publication provides an evidence base to guide practice

A new review of the research literature and relevant court judgments on parental alienation has been published by Cafcass Cymru. The review was written by a team in Cascade, the Children's Social Care Research and Development Centre at Cardiff University: Dr Julie Doughty at the School of Law and Politics and Dr Nina Maxwell and Dr Tom Slater at the School of Social Sciences. The review was commissioned by Cafcass Cymru to provide an evidence base to guide their practice.

The review found little empirical evidence of the prevalence of alienation, its effects, or the basis of any interventions. This is partly because the term itself is contested, with no clear definition. Despite this lack of consensus, the term is widely used in North America and parts of Europe as a label for the unwarranted rejection of one parent by the child, influenced by the actions of the other parent. However, taking the child's standpoint, it is essential to differentiate between situations where they are justified in feeling estranged from a parent from situations where they may have no independent, rational reasons for taking that position.

The research literature is dominated by a small number of authors who tend to hold polarised views. However, some measures and tests for alienation have emerged amongst psychotherapists. The review found that these have not been robustly evaluated so as to as to assure any reliability or validity. It is clear from the court judgments that implacable hostility or alienating behaviour by a parent is not a reason for denying a contact order, when this is in the child's best interests. Outcomes are more likely to meet the child's needs where there is early resolution of disputed facts about domestic abuse or allegations of emotional abuse and, where appropriate, early consideration of the child being represented under a rule 16.4 direction.

The report concludes that the evidence base for parental alienation is very limited because of the lack of strong empirical studies. Although instances of a child rejecting contact with a parent with whom they previously had a positive relationship appear to be rare, there is increased media and public interest in the concept of parental alienation which requires a clear approach to the respective legal and social work functions of the family justice system. The report lists some key implications for practice in the family courts.

For the review in English, click here and for the review in Welsh, click here.

24/5/18