Sarah Parsons: Principal social worker and assistant director at Cafcass, the Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service in England.
Julie Doughty: Lecturer in law at Cardiff University. Julie (with Nina Maxwell and Thomas Slater) conducted a review of research and case law on parental alienation for Cafcass Cymru in 2018.
What is parental alienation?
“This is a controversial subject and there is no one definitive position adopted across the literature… The position that we adopt in Cafcass is where a child is rejecting or resisting a parent in a post-separation context, and that resistance or rejection is disproportionate or unjustified in relation to their actual experience of that parent.”
“For our purposes we used a definition of ‘an unwarranted rejection and negativity by the child towards one parent, and an alignment with the other parent’. The original terminology was known as ‘parental alienation syndrome’ and that’s been controversial and we’ve moved away from discussion about whether or not it’s a syndrome, fortunately. But the original idea, then, was that it was rather focused on one parent alienating the child and the other parent. Whereas I agree now with Sarah’s definition that it’s much more useful to look at the concept from the point of view of the child who’s resisting or rejecting a relationship.”
Is implacable hostility the same thing as parental alienation?
“It was originally a term that was used in the very significant case of Re L in 2000, where the experts there – the child psychiatrists and the judges – said they preferred to use the term ‘implacable hostility’ for these very high-conflict cases where either one or both parents can’t see contact in a positive light at all. But it was a very wide definition. So we would say that it doesn’t totally equate with parental alienation.”
“I think one of the things that we would want to add to that is that ‘implacable hostility’ is an adult-centred term. It’s about the relationship between the adults. What we want to do all the time as children’s social workers is to think of the impact of that behaviour on the child, that the implacable hostilities between two parents doesn’t really convey the same sense of meaning as alienation, which intrinsically involves the child aligning with one parent or the other and rejecting one parent. So it’s a term used but it is distinctly different from parental alienation.”