The family court should not ordinarily permit the instruction of “experts who purport to be ‘experts in alienation’,” in cases involving decisions around child welfare, the Association of Clinical Psychologists (ACP-UK) has advised a senior judge.
The organisation made submissions to the high court at the appeal of a mother who had her children removed from her care against their wishes, after being found to have alienated them from their father.
In a court document seen by the Observer, lawyers for the ACP-UK claim those who profess to be “experts in alienation” display a “confirmatory bias and an unhelpfully narrow lens, which is likely to render them unsuitable for conducting, in an open-minded way, a psychological assessment of the family”.
Barbara Mills KC wrote that – much like an allegation of domestic abuse – the decision about whether or not a parent has alienated a child is a question of fact for the court to resolve and not a “diagnosis that can or should be offered by a psychologist”.
A shortage of child/ child and family psychiatrists and psychologists was widely reported throughout the country. As Table 1 demonstrates, adult psychiatrists too were in short supply across England and Wales (37% (n=110)). Risk assessors were also identified by a wide number of respondees (33% n=98) to be limited across the country. These experts are often considered to be “necessary” at the “welfare stage” in public law proceedings and in assisting the court in providing evidence as to mental illness, personality disorder, attachment issues and risk to a child. This shortage of experts self-evidently has significant implications; it is usually an assessment that cannot be undertaken by another professional within the proceedings.
Rarely I write two articles on a single subject in one day (and certainly not this late at night). However, I’m genuinely enthused about this latest initiative by the Family Justice Council and British Psychological Society. It’s a matter I’ve been talking and writing about for the past two years.
Last year, I worked with Families Need Fathers making proposals for improvements in family law related to contact disputes and cases involving child alienation. These were presented to the President of the Family Court at a meeting last September. My belief (then and now) was that there should be greater collaboration between the courts and organisations such as the British Psychological Society to develop and share best practice to improve outcomes. It’s a belief which is clearly shared and worked upon by others and I thank them.