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.


pexels-photo-462360.jpegIs this a scrabble typo?

Cafcass recently had a glowing report from Ofsted. Here are some remarks that put Ofsted’s report in context. This is what Andrew Webb, the director of children’s services for Stockport, thinks about Ofsted reporting.

  • “[Ofsted] neither evaluates actual social work practice, nor provides a rigorous assessment of system impact”.
  • “There isn’t any evidence that inspections improve outcomes.”
  • “[Ofsted] are still using this completely arbitrary grading framework. They mark first the quality of record keeping, not the quality of practice.”
  • “What good looks like here is almost certainly different from what good looks like elsewhere.”


It seems that some social workers don’t think much of Ofsted reports. I wonder why that could be?




man-person-clouds-apple.jpgThere is a big difference.

Transparent – (of a material or article) allowing light to pass through so that objects behind can be distinctly seen.

Translucent – (of a substance) allowing light, but not detailed shapes, to pass through; semi-transparent.

Opaque – not able to be seen through; not transparent.

One of our main aims at NAAP is to shine a light on some very dark corners of the family courts. Transparency or even translucency and openness are therefore vital principles if we are ever to make any improvements.

Unless you are one of the many parents that has been forced to learn about the family justice system, to either restore a severed relationship with your children or heal a wound when someone is trying their level best to remove a limb, lectures staged by the Family Justice Council may not vie with the X-Factor for your attention.  But if you feel strongly that family justice should strive to be both open and transparent then you should read the transcript of this most recent Bridget Lindley Memorial Lecture delivered by campaigning journalist Louise Tickle. Alternatively you can listen to the podcast whilst doing the ironing i.e enjoy a tickle whilst ironing.

The Q & A session that follows Louise’s presentation also contains a few insights into the system. There seems to be a consensus that, subject to safeguards to protect the identities of parties to family proceedings, we should be doing a lot more. Indeed, compared with the criminal courts the family courts is still dwelling in the dark ages.

However, whilst these sentiments used to give me a ‘warm feeling’, how much more hand wringing and how many more years will we need to wait before before the family court and its inhabitants get dragged kicking and screaming like naughty teenagers into the  21st century.

This quote from Sir James Munby during the Q&A session caught my eye and gives an insight into the extent of the problems we face.

“Well, one of the problems… I mean I have an enormous postbag. Every day they come in. They’re special delivery, addressee only letters from people who think the family justice system has failed them and many of them are parents, many are grandparents, and the answer I’m afraid is terribly simple. There is nothing I can do because, although I’m head of family justice, judges are independent. I can’t tell the judges what to do and the remedy is simple or straightforward in theory. If it’s judicial misconduct, you write to the judicial misconduct people and here is their address. If you don’t like what the judge has done, go to the Court of Appeal, and that is the stance which, as a matter of constitutional propriety, I have to adopt but I’d have to have a heart of stone not to be very moved by some of these letters and sometimes reading some of these letters, you know, four, five, six pages from an articulate grandmother, one’s left with very uncomfortable feelings. Now that’s rather a round way of answering your question.”

Whilst the independence of the judiciary and even children’s guardians are hallowed principles they can only be respected and honoured when the judges and guardians conform with the rule of law. When they do not play by the rules then we are encouraging arbitrary justice. That needs to be stamped out and must never be tolerated: NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES!

Sir James says that:

‘“The emperor’s got no clothes on,” and I think we need more and more people sniping at us, informed people like Louise and others sniping at us, saying, “Actually this emperor’s got no clothes on.” If you want to go out and blunderbuss, fine.”

We will take that as an invitation. Thank you Sir James.


Screen Shot 2018-04-03 at 14.13.21(Cafcass and the family justice system make our beleaguered police service look like boy scouts)

Today’s Times headline spoke volumes.

Hot on the heals of Alison Saunders departure from her post as head of the CPS todays Times article is causing a furore. The Times quote, ‘The comments in the dossier include one prosecutor saying:

“In even quite serious cases, officers have admitted to deliberately withholding sensitive material from us and they frequently approach us only a week before trial. Officers are reluctant to investigate a defence or take statements that might assist the defence or undermine our case.”’

Only last week MacFarlane LJ upheld the view that severing the relationship between a parent and child is. ‘… rightly, regarded as the most Draconian orders that a family court, or indeed any court, can make.’

A recent poll carried out on the D.A.D.S facebook page disclosed that 55% of Cafcass section 7 reports did not arrive until 1 working day or less before the court hearing.

Therefore, where courts are considering orders, which are second only to the death penalty, in terms of their severity, impact and consequences, families get even less notice of the evidence against them than criminals accused of often much lesser offences.

Furthermore, this is not the only similarity because we have found that vital information is sometimes withheld or misrepresented by Cafcass. It is common for hear say, and the credence given to it, to be elevated in importance whilst good un-refutable evidence is ignored or withheld.

MacFarlane LJ also compared and contrasted the application of standard public law principles to the conduct of a recent string of private law cases that had resulted in the severance of the parent / child relationship. He said:

‘The adoption decision in every case is therefore afforded corresponding respect in terms of time, resources and judicial concern. Based on the evidence provided from the four recent cases that I have cited, I fear that the same cannot be said of potentially intractable contact cases.’

It would appear that children and their parents enjoy far fewer legal safeguards than criminals and parents in private law get far loss respect than the parents of children in public law where abuse can be so serious that the state removes children from parents.

Something is clearly very, very wrong with a system that is supposed to make, ‘…the child’s welfare…the court’s paramount consideration.’

Why is no one shouting from the rooftops about the dismal way children and their parents are being treated AGAIN?

Victor Meldrew said, “Cafcass report from Ofsted!… I DON’T BELIEVE IT !!”

pexels-photo-355952.jpegThe 2018 Ofsted report on Cafcass came as a shock. It’s a bit like going through the family court mill: one has to pinch oneself often to remind oneself that this is really happening and not some surreal dream.

We suggest that ‘Outstanding’ is not an adjective we would use to describe the organisation that is largely responsible for the daily horror stories that form the bulk of our mail bag. There is a huge cognitive  dissonance between the heavily PR laden press releases of the CAFCASS froth machine on the one hand and the sheer desperation, woe, grief, isolation and intense frustration that flow from the correspondence we receive on the other. Something is plainly wrong and something simply does not add up.

When we checked the Cafcass site we had to strain our eyes and enlarge the screen to see the link to the actual report. We hoped that this would shed some light on the matter and relieve our migraines.

Here is a link to the 2018 OFSTED REPORT which followed an inspection between 2 February and 2 March 2018.

Here is a comparison of the principal ratings which compare the 2014 and 2018 inspections.

2014 2018
The quality and effectiveness of Cafcass private law practice with families Good Good
The quality and effectiveness of Cafcass public law practice with families Good Good
The leadership and governance of the national organisation Outstanding Outstanding
The leadership and management of local services Good Outstanding

This quickly reveals that overall there has been an improvement in a solitary area. ie The leadership and management of local services has improved by one notch. Therefore, in all other respects the service we receive from CAFCASS has remained unchanged.

At NAAP the bulk and focus of our work involves private law so this is the area that we will be briefly drilling down to (through an apparently superficial layer of surface gloss to see what lies beneath) in order to get a flavour of what is really going on.

Wishes and feelings

The 2014 report had this to say in para 24:

There is a good focus on understanding children’s wishes and feelings.

& in para 25.

‘Reporting children’s wishes and feelings to the court is effective, but this could be strengthened further by making children’s wishes and feelings more clearly articulated within the case analysis in addition to reporting them verbatim. This is also the case in public law casework.’

Tucked away under para 14, the 2018 report also commented on wishes and feelings:

‘Inspectors consistently found strong evidence of how children’s wishes and feelings are actively sought and how the voice of the child influences future planning. Particular strengths are direct work and engagement with children of varying ages. Children are seen and seen alone when this is in their best interests.’


The 2018 report gives no indication of whether children’s wishes and feelings are now reported verbatim. If they ever are then it would also be necessary to record the interviews to understand what questions the children are answering.  We did not anticipate much enthusiasm for this in 2014. The 2018 report seems to indicate that this recommendation has been kicked into the long grass. The Ofsted report appears to focus upon what Cafcass standards require. We feel that it should focus upon what the law requires since Cafcass are prone to adjusting the rules to suit themselves.

Filing reports

In 2014 Ofsted said in para 28:

‘Cafcass has been successful in meeting its targets for the filing of reports in private law proceedings. The frequency of Cafcass requesting extensions for reports is reducing (from 35.3% in 2012/13 to 28% in the year to date 2013/14 April 2013 to February 2014) and the numbers of addendum reports have been reduced significantly in some areas which reflect a real determination to reduce the duration of cases in children’s best interests.’

In 2018 Ofsted said in para 14:

When children require a post-first hearing service, work is allocated and most reports are filed with the court in a timely way. ‘


Ofsted findings on the data presented by Cafcass are simply not borne out in reality. What does timely mean anyway? In reality 55% are received just 1 working day beforehand. 30% are received 2 – 4 working days beforehand and only 15 % are received 5 working days or more beforehand. Some even reported receiving reports after hearings.

High Conflict Cases

In 2014 Conflict in relation to families was only mentioned as a footnote on page 22

‘Separated Parenting Information Programmes are designed to help parents learn more about the challenges of post-separation parenting, including the effects on children of on-going post-separation conflict.’

In para 17 in 2018 Cafcass said:

Cafcass has continued to work collaboratively with judges to ensure that only the most complex cases are dealt with in this way. It is trialling new ways of working, using a more structured intervention for children and their families in these usually high-conflict cases. This is intended to help parents understand the emotional harm to children when conflict is unresolved and to promote more timely case resolution. Early findings from this new approach are promising.


When one considers that parental alienation has been recognised in the courts by name since 2003 and as implacable hostility since 1983 the sudden interest in PA is welcome if not glacially slow in arriving and long overdue. Awareness can only be positive even if the cherry picked focus flies in the face of expert opinion, the experience of survivors and research.


In para 27 in 2014 Cafcass said:

Most work in 16.4 appointments is strong…

In para 18 2018 Cafcass said:

Most work in rule 16.4 appointments is strong…


No changes. It seems that cutting and pasting is very widespread. However, around 2009 Cafcass wanted to have s41 of the Children Act 1989 changed. The proposed changes involved appointing Cafcass as opposed to individual guardians by name. This met with a wall of opposition from Nalgro (the guardian’s professional association) and many others who wanted to preserve the independence of Guardians. The role of guardians arose from the Maria Colwell inquiry during the 70s. Maria was brutally killed by her step-father and the inquiry found that her voice was not heard. Hence the concept of named guardians came into being. NAAP ask, ‘Is this same level of independence and practitioner autonomy necessary or even desirable in Private Law where a detailed knowledge of phenomena such as PA is of greater importance than the level of ignorance and lack of applied training which has been engendered by independence?

How are children seen?

In para 14 in 2018 Ofsted said:

‘…Children are seen and seen alone when this is in their best interests.’


If the legislature and the courts frown upon alleged victims of domestic abuse being interviewed by or in the presence of their alleged abusers then why are they not up in arms at the prospect of alienated children being interviewed in the home of, within earshot of and even in the presence of their emotional abusers. Children are the most vulnerable members of society yet their interests have been subsumed by or conflated with others. NAAP want children’s interests to be properly recognised, elevated and given an appropriate degree of long overdue priority.


In para 20 in 2014 Cafcass said:

Cafcass practitioners are consistently well prepared for the FHDRA, professional in manner and confident in their advice to the court. Both parties and judges told inspectors they valued the work of Cafcass practitioners at court.

…in excess of 97% of private law cases are allocated to a family court adviser at month end, which is good.

In 2018 Cafcass said in para 12:

Work prior to the first hearing dispute resolution appointment (FHDRA) is good. Children are allocated to an FCA without delay. The local EIT prepares safeguarding letters.


No substantive changes reported

General Conclusions

In the sphere of private law the detail in the Ofsted findings confirm that life at the coalface, for the average consumer or Cafcass practitioner, has remained essentially unaltered since 2014.  The hurried and reactive nature of the introduction of the high conflict pathway has meant that early experiences have been described as both ‘chaotic’ and ‘shambolic’. This is surprising since PA has been widely recognised by the courts since at least 2003 and possibly as far back as 1983. Anthony Douglas tells us that he has personal experience of PA yet it has taken him 13 years and much case law since 2003 before even acknowledging or beginning to address it.

I wonder whether Cafcass, as a public body, might bear some responsibility for failing to act in order to prevent the inhumane and degrading treatment of the children that it bears a statutory responsibility for safeguarding? By failing to educate their social workers and turning a blind eye to or mischaracterising the emotional abuse of scores of children Cafcass may have breached the article 3 rights of the children it is statutorily responsible for safeguarding.

Commitments to ‘mandatory training’ give us all a warm feeling but when the basic premises are seriously flawed and the means of getting autonomous officers, particularly guardians, to follow the training given have yet to be adequately addressed we must remain sceptical until such time as there is less emphasis upon PR and greater attention given to the duties Cafcass have a statutory responsibility for fulfilling.

At NAAP we think that Cafcass need to avoid resorting to their echo chamber and start looking at the real issues involved if they are to begin addressing the welter of problems that lay beneath a thin coat of surface gloss.