So in terms of current recognition of parental alienation here in the UK, we have Anthony Douglas (Chief Executive) of Cafcass publicly stating via numerous mediums that parental alienation is a form of emotional abuse. He even goes so far as to state that parental alienation should be treated with the same severity of any other form of abuse. The following is just one of many examples. Divorced parents who pit children against former partners ‘guilty of abuse,’ The Telegraph, 12th February, 2017.
However Cafcass as an organisation appear to be struggling with disseminating this acknowledgement down to their front line staff. From my own personal experience, Cafcass front line staff have told me they are not permitted to use the term parental alienation in their case notes, court reports etc! Again from personal experience, they have informed me that they are only permitted to use the term ‘exhibits alienating behaviours.’
So therefore this difference between theory and practice within Cafcass is of epic proportions. And even more concerning when they claim to be an organisation that safeguards children.
Remaining on the subject of recognition of parental alienation as a form of abuse we then also have Children’s Social Services. And this is where it becomes even more concerning, regarding the lack of safeguarding for children.
Children’s Social Services do not recognise parental alienation as a form of abuse. From personal experience, I have asked their front line staff and their only answer is “we recognise the term.” It doesn’t matter how many times you ask them, their answer is always the same. They cannot bring themselves to outrightly state that they recognise this as a form of abuse. Unfortunately for my three children, my case has now been passed over from Cafcass to Children’s Social Services. My children have been denied contact with me, by their mother since July 2016.
With regards to my own case, Cafcass were dragging their heels, but at least there was beginning to be some progress. However my case has now been taken over by an organisation that claims to safeguard children, but does not recognise what is happening to them as a form of abuse.
As a mental health nurse the above incompetence, negligence and potential malpractice between these two organisations got me thinking of the following scenario.
Imagine if you will that as a mental health nurse I admit a patient to my psychiatric unit for a period of assessment.
Please imagine if you will the Chief Executive of the NHS Trust that employs me recognises depression as a form of mental illness and has publicly stated this on numerous occasions. However as head of this NHS Trust he is not disseminating this recognition down to his front line staff.
As front line staff we are aware of his numerous public declarations of the above. However we have been given no direct or formal guidance or training to enable us to recognise, assess and treat depression. Our only guidance is that we must not use the term depression or depressed, we must only use the term sad.
So in returning to my hypothetical patient, I have now assessed his mental state and overall presentation for a number of days. As a mental health practitioner, he presents to me as sad, possibly depressed. But imagine if you will, my clinical knowledge of depression is lacking.
As a mental health nurse I am asked to write an assessment report of my findings. I write the following: “Joe Bloggs presents to me as low in mood, minimal engagement, self-reports a sense of hopelessness and reports his current mood as one out of ten. Self care is poor, a lack of motivation, little to no appetite. My clinical impression is that he presents as sad.”
Joe’s parents visit him on the ward. On one particular visit they approach me expressing concerns regarding our current assessment of his mental illness. They inform me they believe he is depressed. They also inform me they have recently read in the media that my Chief Executive acknowledges depression as a form of mental illness. I inform his family, that although as an organisation we recognise depression, we have been instructed by senior management to not use the term depression, instead we must use the term presents as sad in mood. They rightly question this further and feel that the response from me is not good enough.
They put in a complaint against the NHS Trust. Within the content of the complaint they report that they have done some research regarding this NHS Trust’s assessment and management of depression. They report finding out that training for the assessment and treatment of depression is offered to front line staff, however it is not mandatory. They also report having found out that little to no staff attend. They also highlight their concerns regarding the nature of the training. According to their findings the depression training informs front line staff to approach cases of potential depression with extreme caution. The rationale for this is that the patient might be pretending to be depressed.
This complaint results in somewhat of an improvement of the assessment of their son Joe. As his named nurse I continue to document words to the effect of “my clinical impression is that he presents as sad.” However due to the complaint, management have become directly involved in his assessment and they are beginning to come around to the idea that Joe might actually be suffering from depression.
However, within this hypothetical NHS Trust culture, there is a reluctance to admit to this due to a lack of clinical expertise, an overall lack of communication between upper management and front line staff and of course fear of being seen as negligent and being vulnerable to litigation. Despite this negative work culture, the family are beginning to feel that there has been some form of acknowledgement, be it unofficially, of his depression. With this they feel that our assessment and treatment is slowly improving.
However, once again please imagine if you will that Joe’s period of assessment with us is now over. He is now about to be transferred to a neighbouring NHS Trust for a period of treatment. The family is initially pleased. They feel this transfer of care will result in their son’s recovery.
However they are horrified to find out that the NHS Trust their son is being transferred to does not recognise depression at all as a form of mental illness.
I accept the above imagined scenario would not be accepted in the field of mental health. So why is it acceptable within the context of safeguarding our children.
How can one organisation recognise parental alienation as a form of abuse (be it somewhat tentatively) and another similar organisation to them, not recognise it is as a form of abuse?
It just doesn’t make sense.
“In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” Laurence J. Peter,