This week’s Parliamentary debate on Family Court Reform and CAFCASS, contained statements from one side of what is a heated and often toxic debate. Claims that children are being purchased by wealthy fathers, using legal loopholes and that children are routinely given to abusive men were made without any substantiating evidence, demonstrated how far one area of public discourse is, from the reality of what happens in the family court.

To be clear, children are not removed from parents as a punishment, they are not removed from a parent because that parent has been accused of parental alienation, children are only removed from a parent, where the Court, having made all of the deliberations and having considered all of the evidence before it, in cases which often stretch over many years, consider that the harm done to the child, has met the Welfare Threshold in the Children Act 1989. In other words, children who are removed from a parent in divorce and separation, are removed due to significant emotional and psychological harm, which is being caused by the behaviours of a parent with control over them. The removal to a parent who has hitherto been rejected, is undertaken when that parent is assessed and evaluated as having the capacity to provide safe, kinship care.

Legislation in England and Wales is very clear that behavioural patterns in parents and the complex dynamics which cause a child to align and reject, are recognised as causing serious emotional and psychological harm. Clarity in the process by which harmful behaviours are identified by the Court, was recently provided in F v M (3): [2022] EWFC 89 meaning that the decision about a child being caused emotional and psychological harm is always made by the Court. In my experience, this has always been the case.

Away from the public debate, the work to protect children of divorce and separation continues. with increasing understanding in social work, of the underlying behavioural patterns in parents who cause emotional and psychological harm to their children. The issue of children’s alignment with a parent and rejection of the other in divorce and separation, being a structural problem of power and control over a child, (Ieading to exposure to further behaviours which cause attachment maladaptations), is properly placed in public law. This is because protecting children from all harms, is the role of the state and social workers, having statutory power, are best placed to provide the child protection interventions when emotional and psychological harm meets the Threshold.

FSC works with social work teams in private and public law, delivering structural therapeutic interventions in serious cases of emotional and psychological harm, with mothers as well as fathers in the rejected position, to help children to recover an integrated sense of self through the treatment of attachment maladaptations. This work, which is being evaluated, provides the foundation for a model of statutory intervention in cases where the pathological behaviours in parents have caused serious harm to children. This is the future of this work, where children are protected from harm first before therapy is provided and therapists are protected from harassment and successful outcomes can therefore be achieved rapidly due to the structural social work intervention.

The unsubstantiated claims made by MPs this week, are unfortunate. These contributions are based not on the reality of what happens in Court but on a one sided public discourse. This can cause great suffering to parents who are already coping with the loss of their children after divorce and separation.

To reassure those families affected by this problem however, what lies beneath, is increasing understanding and continued progress in enabling protection of children in divorce and separation. Some of the work being done, will be presented to MPs, ensuring that any ongoing debate is properly evidenced.

Despite the noise, work to protect children of divorce and separation from emotional and psychological harm, does not and will not stop.

Family Separation Clinic News

FSC works with Local Authority Social Work teams in cases of serious emotional and psychological harm of children. This work is being independently evaluated to provide a model for statutory intervention when children are removed from parents who cause harm. Results from this evaluation are due in 2024/5.

Evaluation of outcomes for children in Private Law cases, who were moved from parents who caused emotional and psychological harm between 2009 and 2021 continues.

Spring/Summer Schedule of Parent Support Services

Listening Circles, Higher Development Course and Saturday Seminars will be published next week.

Instructing the Family Separation Clinic

Due to an intensive development phase, the Clinic cannot accept any instructions for therapeutic interventions until mid September 2023.