The Real Deal or Snake oil? How does one decide?

rattlesnake-toxic-snake-dangerous-38438.jpegBob Marley was the ‘Natural Mystic.’

To combat PA and a system, that can feel like it is pitted against you, it helps instead to become the ‘natural sceptic.’

Our aim is to build a cohort of court users who are better equipped and educated in PA than the court professionals. Realistically, that should not take very long to achieve.

It is a sad fact that as awareness of PA grows then so do the numbers of ‘experts’ and ‘specialists’ offering their services and claiming to have special knowledge of the subject which is usually available to you for a relatively large wad of cash. We have seen a lot of professional advice at NAAP. Some of it has been excellent. However, it may be early days, but the general standard is pretty dismal. The Professor Jane Ireland Report in 2012 was highly critical of psychological reports in particular.

Six years after Professor Ireland’s review and 2 years after the Family Justice Council jointly  published guidance for psychological experts with the British Psychological Society in family law it would be reasonable to expect to see a considerable improvement in the standard of reports coming before the courts. Sadly however, anyone expecting to see a rise in standards since that had better, if our experience is representative, brace themselves for a shock.

Never has the Latin phrase ‘Caveat Emptor’, which means buyer beware, been more relevant. It is never more true than in the world of PA where the stakes are highest because we are talking about whether targeted and alienated parents get to see their children or not and whether their children are consigned to stollen years of emotional abuse and emotional harm.

It seems that there is a kind of Klondike gold rush happening in the family court where the ‘professionals’ are falling over themselves in the rush to stake their claims to exclusive rights and territories. Even Cafcass have joined the race even though the sudden growth in PA awareness ‘rather took them by surprise’. Some ‘charities’ even sell territories to anyone gullible enough to buy them. Others, provide a marketplace for Mackenzie friends and solicitors to vie for trade and peddle their wares. In the coming weeks and months we aim to help you navigate through the nonsense and make informed choices that truly represent your own and your children’s best interests. 

For anyone that has done some higher education and been coached in critical thinking (CT) skills just think about your most awkward lecturer and turn the controls on your BS detection apparatus up to 11. For anyone that did not go down this road and anyone that wants a refresher course you could do a lot worse than read and digest chapter 12 – The Fine Art of Baloney Detection – from this great book: ‘The Demon-Haunted World Science as a Candle in the Dark’ by Carl Sagan.

Carl Sagan discusses the main devices used in fallacious arguments in a way that is readable, accessible, understandable and useable. 

Please don’t run off with the impression that I want everyone to throw away their pet beliefs or ideas because I really could not care less about them. You are welcome to them. What I am trying to do is give you information to work out who and what you can trust to deal with your most valuable assets and who you should not give the time of day.

Anthony Douglas likened ‘the lived experience’ of children, who are aligned with a manipulative and abusive parent, to being ‘like living in a cult’. For anyone that knows me, please relax: this is one of the very few matters that Cafcass and NAAP agree on! Despite making such an insightful remark the draft of Cafcass ‘High Conflict Pathway’ and its lack of evidential basis indicates that any hope of a sudden change of ethos from Cafcass  is premature. 

Just in case anyone does not understand what an evidence base is Lord Justice Ryder gave some valuable guidance last week.

He outlined three key principles that were involved in judicial problem solving and decision making. These include an evidence base.

For his first principle Sir Earnest advised us that first principle is that (#Cafcass please take note) ‘…the approach to improving and enhancing judicial decision- making must be systematic, evidence-based, and tested.

He further advised us ( #Cafcass, please again take note) that:

We cannot afford to pluck best practice out of thin air. It is neither whatever is the latest fashion of the day, nor is it what any particular judge finds attractive or interesting: even less the sometimes uninformed and historically hidebound views of those who happen to exercise power. It is no use a judge advising other professionals about their skill and expertise without the benefit of access to evidence based materials rather than mere common sense or personal preference. Best practice and its development cannot be an exercise in ad-hocery. It must be thought out, considered and rigorously tested. And when its lessons are implemented, they too must be tested and monitored.

Turning to the second principle: (Yet gain #Cafcass please again take note)

‘…reform needs to be implemented through rigorous and informed training. It might be said that judges do not need to be given training in how to make decisions. After all judges, both before and after appointment, have spent their careers testing evidence, hypotheses or theories of the case, and drawing conclusions accordingly. Critical thinking is in the judge’s DNA. It is. But there remains much that can be learnt to improve those skills.’

Last but by no means least for his third principle he stated. (Yet again, #Cafcass please, please also take note once more ).

It is the need for the provision of high quality materials to assist judges in carrying out the decision- making role. It should be clear that such materials will be needed for training purposes. We will need to develop and enhance the role played by the Judicial College in preparing training materials and training judges.

As I Stated at the outset, our aim is to build a cohort of court users who are better equipped and educated in PA than the court professionals. Realistically, that should not take very long to achieve.

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