Over 172 family law academics, domestic violence experts and children’s rights organisations around the world have written to the World Health Organisation (WHO) raising concerns about the health body’s decision to consider classifying parental alienation as a “Caregiver-child relationship problem”.
The classification is being considered as an entry to the WHO’s official guide on diseases.
The Memo of Concern, which features signatories from 10 different countries, asks the WHO to remove references to parental alienation and related concepts in a section of the agency’s formal guide on health conditions about diseases on the grounds that alienation allegations are used to mask domestic abuse and frustrates decisions intended to be made in the best interests of children.
“It has recently come to our collective attention that the World Health Organization is considering the addition of “parental alienation” (PA) as a “caregiver-child relationship problem” in ICD-11, the International Classification of Diseases 11th Revision.
We are surprised by the lack of prior consultation in connection with gender equality issues associated with the concept and are deeply concerned about this proposal from a women’s safety and child development, health and safety point of view, as well as from research and science perspectives.
We are requesting removal of all references to “parental alienation” and related concepts in ICD-11 for the reasons set out in the attached document. Our research and experience in court has demonstrated that parental alienation, which lacks credibility, is frequently employed to divert attention from domestic violence and abuse and other evidence relevant to the best interests of the child.”
Legal Action for Women and Global Women’s Strike have expressed outrage over the way in which Woman’s Hour handled a parental alienation debate on its show last week.
Selma James, who helped launch the Global Women’s Strike (GWS) and who coined the word “unwaged” to describe the caring work women do, has written a letter to the BBC radio show condemning the programme for ignoring underlying concerns with parental alienation as a concept and a tool to place vulnerable parents and children in danger.
Legal Action for Women, who are calling on listeners upset by the programme to send in a complaint to the BBC, published a press release with more details about the concerns raised by themselves and GWS:
“We are outraged that on Friday 26 April, Woman’s Hour (about 30 minutes in) featured a discussion about “parental alienation” with a woman psychotherapist and a woman barrister, following a march on Downing Street the day before by Families Need Fathers to mark “Parental alienation day” – a relatively new invention used to undermine mothers charges of violence by former partners, which is very common.
As the complaint by Selma James (Global Women’s Strike) makes clear, the Woman’s Hour discussion made absolutely no reference to how often mothers who are victims of rape and/or domestic violence, including coercive and controlling behaviour, and are trying to protect their children, are dismissed by the family courts, sometimes with deadly consequences for themselves and their children.
The programme accepted at face value the claim of “parental alienation”, when it is in fact a controversial invention whose “discoverer” has been discredited – see here. None of the women guests or the presenter even mentioned the misogyny and worse of FNF – see here.
They backed Families Need Fathers’ claim that “parental alienation” causes “emotional harm” and welcomed judges increasingly using it to remove children from their mothers and send them to live with their father.
These are the kind of professionals we are up against in court and a major reason so many mothers lose their children.
Woman’s Hour is asking to hear from anyone affected by these issues. It would be good if as many people as possible contact them to complain and let them know about your experience, particularly mothers who have suffered violence and whose children have been taken on the grounds of “parental alienation”. Such sexism must not go unchallenged, especially by a programme which is supposed to speak for women.
Please email your complaint to: email@example.com and send a copy to us.
We will also raise that FnF had one event and got discussed on Woman’s Hour while mothers at Support Not Separation [LAFW’s campaign group) have been picketing the family court monthly for two years and they have shown no interest in speaking to us.”
A French documentary produced by media outlet Le Monde En France revisits the lives of children who were forcibly removed from their parents in the UK three years after being separated from their families.
The programme, “England’s Lost Children” aired on French news channel France 5 on 16th April. It is the second instalment of a series which offers a deeply critical look at forced adoption in the UK.
The first programme, called “England’s stolen children” was aired in 2016, and won an investigative award in 2017 (Figra), and was also selected as a finalist at the Prix Europe in Berlin that same year. Researching Reform shared details about the programme in English for anyone with an interest in the subject matter unable to speak French.
“England’s Lost Children” features individuals who will be familiar to child welfare professionals and campaigners in Britain. The programme’s reporters spoke with Vicky Haigh, whose case made the headlines in the UK after she lost custody of her daughter in 2012.
Journalist Florence Ballone was also interviewed for the programme. She spoke to Researching Reform about the programme and the debate which followed the documentary’s premier on France 5 last week:
“During the debate Hynd Ayoubi-Idrissi, from the United Nations Children Rights committee, confirmed that transferring children from their natural family environment to the child protection industry is a trend spreading around the world. The difference is that most countries do not have a forced adoption policy, choosing voluntary adoption practices instead,” she said.
Florence added, “This means that, as in France, middle class parents who challenge care orders, including those involving babies and toddlers, have a chance at re-unification. Of course, it’s much more difficult for isolated single mothers and socially precarious families.”
“We are now very used to fighting for oppressed minorities. That there is a major battle ahead for children and families who are neither hungry or excluded, or living in conflict zones has yet to be acknowledged,” she noted.
The second programme is in French and does not include subtitles, however we’ve added a translation of the programme’s press release below. Some parts of the programme also include interviews in English.
ENGLAND’S LOST CHILDREN
Le Monde En Face, hosted by Marina Carrère d’Encausse, presents the documentary “England’s Lost Children,” directed by Stéphanie Thomas and Pierre Chassagneux.
The documentary will be followed by a debate. France 5 rebroadcast the first part of this series, “England’s Stolen Children,” on Sunday, April 14 at 23.30.
The documentary England’s Lost Children is the second instalment of a two-part series devoted to British social services and more particularly child protection in the UK.
The first documentary, England’s Stolen Children, was rebroadcast on Sunday, April 14, 2019 at 23.30, and tells the story of the thousands of children unjustly taken from their families. A system where the absurdity and consequences of a law called the Children Act 1989 makes suspicion of child abuse enough of a reason to remove a child from his parents, a system which also takes the view that couples or single mothers in poverty cannot be good parents.
In this second instalment England’s Lost Children, broadcast Tuesday, April 16, 2019 at 20.50, the filmmakers retrace the steps of thousands of children, who, once permanently removed from the custody of their parents, were either adopted when very young, or in foster care if they were older at the time of separation. In the United Kingdom, this part of the child welfare system has been entrusted to the private sector for many years. As a result, neo-liberal policies prevail over the idea of a public service supporting the most vulnerable.
After the broadcast of this documentary, Marina Carrère d’Encausse will host a debate with several guests:
Alice, who is French, was a witness on the programme “England’s Stolen Children” in November 2016. At the time she was fighting against British social services to get custody of her cousin’s 5 year old son who had been placed in foster care. She recovered the little boy in July 2016.
Vicky Haigh, a British national, has been living in France since 2014. She lost custody of her daughter to her ex-husband after being accused of emotional abuse for saying that the father had sexually abused their daughter. After social services threatened to take her second child by her current partner, she fled to Ireland where she gave birth. She was subsequently imprisoned for nine months in England with her baby daughter for speaking out publicly to British parliamentarians about her history and how she had been treated by social services.
Florence Bellone, a journalist, was the first to publicize the problems within British social services, and is a winner of the special radio prize Lorenzo Natali of the European Commission in 2011.
Jean-Luc Rongé, a lawyer and publisher of the Youth Law Journal, was particularly interested in how child protection operates in Great Britain.
Hynd Ayoubi Idrissi, an expert and member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child of ONU is also a panel member.
You can watch the documentary below.
Many thanks to Flo Bellone for alerting us to the programme.
HMCTS, the official body overseeing the law courts for England and Wales has invited service users to give feedback about the organisation and its reform programme in a survey published yesterday. Respondents can also give specific feedback about the family courts.
This site completed the survey and invited HMCTS to incorporate family court service users’ experiences and advice into their reform programme. User engagement was a central theme running through all of our answers. The survey can also be answered by legal professionals.
There are over 25 questions, some of which ask for personal information about respondents completing the survey – these questions don’t have to be answered.
Interesting questions inside the survey include queries about trust levels around HMCTS and which news outlets respondents feel offer impartial, trustworthy updates about the court system. While the survey is an effort at gauging the organisation’s success, it also reads like an evaluation of its new head Susan Acland-Hood, who was brought in to try to improve the court system.
We’ve added the main questions below so you can get a feel for the survey. (Some of the potential answers offered may not show up in full).
A newly published government guide on how to disrupt child exploitation in the UK highlights the many problems with our child protection system.
The guidance, which was published on 15th April, offers a summary of the law and policy addressing child exploitation so that frontline workers can make the most of the powers available to them to prevent children from being trafficked and abused.
But the 78 page document, arguably decent for its pit-stop guide on legislative powers tackling exploitation, only serves to outline concerning gaps inside the child protection system and the failure of the law to properly define forms of exploitation.
While the press release says the toolkit is an attempt at safeguarding children from exploitation, most of the measures focus on available actions after a child has gone missing. The toolkit also offers no guidance on how to report or record details of missing children, nor does it encourage local authorities and child welfare bodies to ensure that robust details about these episodes are formally lodged.
As a bare minimum councils should be advised to record as much detail as possible about missing children, particularly why they go missing, where they go, who they go to, or with, what they engage in during their absence and how their initial escape was enabled. This information is crucial to understanding exploitation and stopping it. And all these details should be set down in records which should be made available to the public while maintaining the anonymity of every child involved.
The toolkit highlights another worrying area in child protection – the Child Abduction Warrant Notice (CAWN). These notices are not regulated by legislation or statute and effectively allow the government to threaten a suspect with arrest if they fail to comply with the Notice which can include not communicating with a child, without any tangible evidence.
Researching Reform wrote about similar Notices called C5s last year after finding a Notice online being used by police which revealed that suspects being issued with these leaflets were not told of their rights in relation to signing and agreeing to the documents. A police force slide show we found online about the C5 even calls suspects ‘perpetrators’, a term which should only be used for someone who has been found guilty of a crime. Another concern with these types of Notices includes police powers to monitor a suspect indefinitely.
The guide also explains that there are currently no legal definitions for child sexual exploitation or child criminal exploitation, making it a great deal harder to bring in suspects.
The need to engage with an exploited child’s parents should also be a priority for the child protection sector, instead the toolkit dedicates five small bullet points to parental involvement.
There is no sensitivity in the guide either on how to approach and engage with vulnerable children, which is likely to make any action selected by child protection workers fraught with complications.
The Best Practice section at the bottom of the toolkit is a nice touch, though in reality it doesn’t offer best practice guidelines so much as additional information on various topics covered by the guide.
If you’ve read the guide we’d love to hear what you think.
Many social workers and their managers believe so strongly that an authoritarian approach to child protection is right that they not only feel comfortable trying to control families going through child welfare proceedings but also advocate strongly for such practices, according to research published by Dr David Wilkins, a Senior Lecturer in Social Work at Cardiff University, Assistant Director of CASCADE, and project lead at the What Works Centre which assists regulatory body Social Work England.
The paper argues for an inclusive form of social work, where families feel empowered and safe. Dr Wilkins explains, “Working in a participatory way with families means, at the least, seeking to collaborate with rather than control or unduly influence them.”
The research, which was published in 2017 in the British Journal of Social Work has been uploaded onto free research site Academia, and was co-produced with Charlotte Whittaker, the curriculum lead at social work training school The Frontline.
Charlotte is responsible for developing the teaching, learning and assessment of a practice model called motivational interviewing (MI), which Psychology Today describes as a practical, empathetic, short-term counselling method which helps people find the internal motivation they need to change their behaviour while taking into account how difficult it is to make life changes. It is this form of counselling that the research paper focuses on.
Dr Wilkins’ research highlights positive social work practices using MI which have made a difference to families’ lives while also pointing out the dangers of trying to control and coerce parents during child protection proceedings. The research also calls for ground-level reform within social work as well as structural reform to make sure that social workers can put children and families at the heart of their practice.
Parents reacted to the research on social media. One mother told Researching Reform:
“My Cafcass officer doesn’t collaborate on any level. She won’t even contact me directly. She does it through my solicitor costing me more money. Having been in a controlling relationship I definitely feel I have stepped straight into another with her.”
It’s incredibly important to point out that we don’t tolerate coercive behaviour in almost any other context – all we need to do is look at current legislation which prohibits people from using controlling behaviour in a relationship to get what they want from each other. We call that kind of conduct abusive because we know it damages adults, and children.
The paper is a must-read for anyone working with families in a child protection setting, and for families too who have either experienced the child welfare system or are going through it at the moment.
The research is also an important reminder that coercion never resolves an issue as families are never fully on board with an idea they haven’t engaged with or feel any agency towards. It traps families inside a cycle which sees them return to the child protection system over and over again.
This kind of control also creates a deep and lasting mistrust of social workers and the sector.
The research makes several interesting observations about social work practice:
“Participatory principles such as collaboration, empathy and the right to self-determination are embedded in many of the codes of ethics that underpin professional social work practice (BASW, 2012; Levin andWeiss-Gal, 2009). Unsurprisingly, almost all the workers we spoke to believed they embodied these principles in their work (or said they aspired to even if they were not always able to achieve them). And yet our analysis of observed practice suggests that many workers find it hard to acknowledge parents’ feelings, to respect their choices or to draw on their expertise. In discussion with these workers, we found that, whilst they could explain what principles such as collaboration and empathy meant in theory, they found it more challenging to describe how they might be shown in practice.”
Dr Wilkins is part of a growing group of social workers who believe that working collaboratively with families is essential to excellent social work practice and that the system is there to serve families and children. Researching Reform agrees with this view.
New research suggests that family court judges are more likely to award custody of a child to a parent after they make an allegation of parental alienation in cases where the other parent brings up an allegation of child sexual abuse.
Professor Joan Meier’s and Sean Dickson’s research published in 2017 found that family courts only believe a mother’s claim of a child’s sexual abuse 1 out of 51 times (approximately 2%) when the accused father alleges parental alienation.
The investigation also discovered that in cases where alienation is not mentioned, family courts only believe mothers’ claims about child sexual abuse 15% of the time.
Professor Meier, who is a nationally recognised expert in the US on domestic violence and the law told Forbes in August 2018 that a lack of belief in mothers’ claims impacted the way custody decisions were made.
Meier noted that mothers lost custody of their children 28% of the time when they alleged child sexual abuse, with mothers losing custody of their children more than half the time (56%) when alienation was mentioned in the decision.
Meier told Forbes, “Once again we have found that child sexual abuse allegations brought by mothers and children against fathers are almost never credited… In addition, the data confirms what we have seen in the courts — that rates of mothers losing custody to alleged abusers are at their highest when the mothers allege child sexual abuse.”
A report from Court Watch in 2014 also highlighted concerning practices around domestic violence cases in Montgomery County, which Forbes also mentions. The report notes that judges “sometimes appeared to second guess the mother’s description of risk to herself and her children… At times, the manner of these judges appeared highly skeptical, incredulous, even trivializing of the petitioner’s claims.”
Professor Meier has been the national lead on several domestic violence projects in the US, has co-written several important pieces of federal and state legislation, and also trains attorneys, judges and a range of professional organisations.
Sean Dickson is the Senior Manager of Health Systems Integration at the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors.
The government has launched a project which aims to keep children out of the care system. The £84 million initiative will target councils with the highest numbers of children in care across the country, but will not include bids from failing councils.
The project comes at a time when the child protection sector is seeing unprecedented levels of children in care.
Up to twenty councils will receive a share of the £84m set aside for the “Strengthening Families, Protecting Children” project over a period of five years. The project offers three programmes designed to improve the safety and stability of vulnerable children and to reduce the need for families to access services. Selected councils will implement one of the three featured programmes.
Three ‘early adopters’ have already been chosen to test the project and will begin implementing the programmes in the Spring. The selected councils are Darlington, Cambridgeshire and Middlesbrough.
Only councils with an Ofsted rating of ‘requires improvement to be good’ can make bids for the funding and take part in the project, making the project’s aims questionable. The current ratings offered by Ofsted are Oustanding, Good, Requires Improvement and Inadequate.
The What Works Centre for children’s social care will evaluate the success of the project sometime after 2024, but as the project will not be allowing councils with an inadequate rating to join the programme, arguably councils in most need of the support, it is unclear what use the evaluation will be in assessing the viability of the programmes in the project.
The Department for Education’s press release offers more detail on the programmes being offered:
Leeds Family Valued: working with the whole family unit and any support network to encourage long term changes at home that keep children safe, working with families rather than imposing measures on them. Independent evaluation of the project’s impact on the target population shows that between 2011 and 2017, Leeds reduced the number of children on children’s services Protection Plans by nearly 50% (974 in 2011 down to 515 in 2017).
Hertfordshire Family Safeguarding: creates teams consisting of mental health practitioners, domestic abuse workers, probation officers and children’s social workers to strengthen the bond between couples, support fathers and male partners to prevent violent behaviour. Evaluation shows this resulted in a 39% reduction in the number of days children spent in care, for cases allocated to the safeguarding team, a 53% drop in in hospital admissions for adults in that family, and a 66% reduction in contact with the police.
North Yorkshire No Wrong Door: creates ‘hubs’ where young people at risk of going into care get targeted support to cope with the multiple issues they face, including lack of accommodation or contact with the police. Independent evaluation showed the programme saw a 38% fall in arrests of individuals involved during the first 18 months of the programme and a 57% reduction in A&E visits.
The launch of the project coincides with the Children Act 1989’s thirtieth anniversary.