It is widely recognised that one of the factors contributing towards the fast-spreading social plague that is parental alienation, is the refusal of the reactionary institutions allegedly set up to defend our liberties and promote justice for all citizens to even recognise the term, let alone the resultant symptoms and their impact on targeted parents and their children.
Here in the UK, however, Anthony Douglas (Chief Executive) of Cafcass, the body established to represent the interests of children in the family court system, has now publicly acknowledged the term.
He has also stated that the practice of 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 as any other form of abuse.
Here he features in The Telegraph at the start of 2017. Divorced parents who pit children against former partners ‘guilty of abuse,’ and he was recently quoted in The Guardian and The Independent discussing the measures Cafcass will be taking by Spring 2018 to address persistent alienating behaviour by targeting parents, usually resident parents.
Sounds like a major step forward for desperate parents and abused children alike.
The classic rebuttal of parent alienation has been the flawed idea that rejection of one parent is the fault of that parent for perpetuating hostility toward the other. It’s a clever, if cruel reversal of logic and reality. For if one parent dominates 80% of time with the child and targets the other parent in a variety of subtle and less subtle ways, to describe this as a conflict, when it is actually an abuse of power, bullying, is ridiculous. Clearly one parent is desperately trying to retain contact while the other is kicking at their clinging fingers, yet the system rewards the abuser and abandons the children with them.
Our network includes a wide and fast growing range of parents and grandparents, many of whom are professionals and experts in organisation and individual behaviour from professional services leaders though to psychiatrists, nurses, doctors and management consultants.
What has puzzled us has been how an organisation like Cafcass, which has clearly known about and acknowledged the very damaging practice of parental alienation and whose leader has described it as “child abuse” can have just spent another year seemingly doing nothing about it and thereby enabling the abuse of what must be tens of thousands of children and parents.
Talking is good, but it is not enough.
The recent Westminster Dialogues that included a debate on parental alienation estimated that there are 1 million children in the UK currently alienated from one parent by parental alienation. That’s doubtless a conservative estimate.
Yet one of the biggest complaints by our network is that, in meetings with Cafcass representatives as recently as last week, they have no knowledge of their CEO’s words, his strategy or the Cafcass stance and plans to address parent alienation. And social services are even further behind the change curve.
So we asked Ian Buckingham, an organisation culture, leadership and communication specialist, author of books like Brand Engagement – How Employees Make or Break Brands and columnist for the CIPD’s magazine People Management for a comment.
“I have worked on business change programmes with senior leaders across sectors, including various government departments, NHS trusts, probation services and councils. I have also helped major corporations like Shell , Nuffield group and Zurich develop business strategies that connect employees to the purpose and goals of their organisations and guided them on how they bring those strategies to life every day when interacting with the general public, communities and their customers.
Private or public sector, the principles remain the same.
Talking a good game is important. But what employees need to see is leaders walking the talk.
What line managers do, what they communicate daily and what they measure in appraisals and support with skills development is what gets done.
Organisation culture, which is the sum of that behaviour, repeated in unique patterns, processes and rituals, is what the stakeholders outside the business experience as service.
If the senior leader and especially the CEO makes a public statement about policy, the organisation should already have engaged the employees with that policy. Every employee should be clear about the goals and priorities of the organisation as they have to implement them.
If leaders are saying one thing but employees are doing another, as would, on the face of it, appear to be the case here as reported by your members, then it’s a leadership problem, an engagement problem and potentially an institutionalised culture problem by which I mean that the disconnect has become normal practice.
Same applies to legal firms, for example, that claim a code of ethics or brand values in their marketing yet clearly practice to a different set of values.
One then naturally wonders that if their core is rotten, what other policies and practices are not being properly followed?
It’s one thing buying a product. But we’re talking about the well being of children here, their happiness. Is there anything more important than that?
I can’t think of any leader who would want to be saying one thing to the press yet not be confident that this is what clients experience when they meet his employees. Imagine the impact on you, the customer, if you walk into John Lewis, a family owned company with clear values, and the staff are rude to you for bringing your kids to their store. How long would the store manager last?
That is the sort of mis-match that has caused many organisations to implode in recent times. Consider the banking scandal, emissions scandals in the automotive industry, various social services safeguarding issues, cash for calls issues at the BBC and institutional racism allegations in the army and police force in the late 90s which persist today.
It isn’t easy managing large organisations and change in fundamental policy, especially where it may require mindset and ideology adaptations for individuals, does take major effort. But choosing whether to adopt the policy of the senior leaders is not optional, regardless of the sector. It is mandatory, a contractual concern.
Failure to take collective responsibility could lead to serious consequences for the individuals and the organisation. This has to be especially acute where issues like harm to children could be linked to failure by people on the front line to follow core strategy, especially where that strategy and policy was shared in the public domain by the senior leadership and there can be no back-tracking.”
So it sounds like Anthony Douglas has quite an organisation transformation challenge on his hands given he appears to be saying one thing yet his employees, in our experience, are either seemingly not engaged, disengaged or at very least not aligned with the policy.
Whether this boils down to competence, confidence or something deeper like the ideology of members of the workforce, that is something for the Cafcass leadership team to address.
Without a full investigation, we’re not sure whether abuse arising from PA can categorically be said to be, in large part, the result of institutionalised incompetence. But as desperately concerned parents, just taking 2017 as a measure, the absence of progress between the Telegraph and Independent articles and recent experiences of our large and growing network is disturbing.
The good news is that respected culture change experts like Buckingham believe that an organisation culture, with leadership commitment and example and a dedicated change programme, can transform within 18 months.
But, can and will Cafcass?
A lot of damage can be done to vulnerable children in that time, however. This is what keeps alienated parents awake at night with worry.
If resolution of this issue continues to be undermined by those resisting change, it seems increasingly clear that the buck will eventually stop on someone’s watch with far-reaching consequences for the organisations, leaders and individuals in question. Because this is no longer a a minority issue.