High Conflict Practice Pathway

What is the High Conflict Practice Pathway?


The High Conflict Practice Pathway is a practice framework being developed to help our practitioners systematically assess cases which feature adult behaviours associated with high conflict. This includes but is not limited to parental alienation, which is best seen as a broad spectrum of behaviours with varying impact.

The pathway enhances our existing practice tools such as the Impact of parental conflict tool, guidance and research available to our practitioners in these cases, as well as introducing new resources.

Bringing these together under one framework promotes a consistent and evidence-informed approach, helping practitioners find an outcome which is truly in the best interests of the children involved. It supports the accurate and early identification of exactly what is happening for each child, distinguishing between parental alienation and the justified rejection of a parent by a child due to inappropriate or harmful behaviour.

As with all of our work, the pathway keeps the child’s needs, wishes and feelings central to the recommendations we make to the court on who they should live with or spend time with. Each case is assessed individually and the final decision is made by the court.


Why has Cafcass developed the High Conflict Practice Pathway?


The damaging impact of parental conflict and alienating behaviour, which are best understood on a spectrum, are well known. The pathway has been developed to provide clearer framework for the robust assessment of the impact of such behaviours on children and to help practitioners see more closely what is happening in each case.

It draws on emerging research in these areas and is intended to support practitioners’ existing practice knowledge and skills by equipping them with a set of tools to structure and enhance assessment. This systematic approach can also help with the early identification of such cases so appropriate work can take place with the family to improve the situation.

The model we’re using is inspired by our Domestic Abuse Practice Pathway, introduced to support and strengthen the systematic assessment of cases involving domestic abuse or domestic abuse allegations.

Once we have finalised the pathway we hope to share this best practice across the sector.


Testing the High Conflict Practice Pathway


  • How, where and when is the High Conflict Practice Pathway being implemented, and who will be involved?

    The HCPP was developed by an advisory group from Cafcass England, comprised of approximately 40 of our practitioners from across the country and led by Sarah Parsons, Assistant Director and Principal Social Worker for Cafcass.

  • Will I be informed if the pathway is going to be used in my case?

    Yes, the case plan, including the plan of work and the tool being used will be shared with you by the allocated practitioner.

    From 1st November 2017, practitioners from the internal advisory group have been using the ideas from the pathway as part of its ongoing development. They have not been using the proposed new assessment tools. These will not be in use until after external stakeholders have had the opportunity to feed in their views and after the full training programme that will accompany the formal launch of the pathway.

    This early use will not only assist assessment of the impact of parental conflict in these cases but will also help identify any improvements that can be made to the pathway.

  • Can I volunteer to be assessed using the pathway?

    Cafcass is only able to undertake work when directed by the courts and the pathway is for use in our assessment of families involved in family proceedings. Practitioners involved in the High Conflict Practice working group (see above) will apply the pathway in cases they assess are suitable and parents will not be able to volunteer their cases for inclusion.

  • Will there be an evaluation, and how will this be shared?

    Practitioners who have used the pathway will provide feedback on its use, including what worked well and what can be improved. Cafcass will also seek views from sector experts to help shape the pathway before it is finalised.

  • Will there be a sector consultation on the pilot?

    While Cafcass is not legally obliged to carry out any formal consultation on the practice tools and guidance that it issues we will be asking a range of sector experts and family justice stakeholders for their views about its effectiveness and content. This will include the judiciary, lawyers, academics, therapists, mediators, parental groups and children’s advocacy groups. Their feedback will be considered alongside feedback from Cafcass practitioners as part of the pathway review to give a rounded picture as possible.

  • As an individual am I able to give my input into the review of the pathway?

    As the pathway is a professional practice tool the review is primarily seeking professional opinion on the pathway. However, we recognise this is an important issue that a wide range of parties will want to comment on and share their own experiences, and will be publishing a draft of the pathway on our website in Spring 2018 when interested parties will have the opportunity to write to us with their views ahead of the pathway being finalised.

    General enquiries about the pathway can be made to [email protected]

  • What will happen at the end of the review period?

    Once we have collated feedback from practice staff and stakeholders, we will use this information to develop the pathway further. A finalised version will then be rolled out nationally and made available on our website from Summer 2018. It will be treated as a living document, incorporating updates in line with practice developments, as well as undergoing a formal review under our annual tools review.


Parental alienation


  • I have concerns about parental alienation, who do I speak to about this?

    If you have an open case before the family courts, please discuss your concerns with the allocated Cafcass practitioner.

    If you have serious safeguarding concerns for the welfare of your child outside of family proceedings or after our involvement has ended, it is important you raise these directly with the local authority, or the police if three is an immediate risk.

    You may also find it helpful to visit our resources for parents and carers page, which includes a list of organisations who support children and families.


  • I have concerns about how parental alienation has been handled in my case, who do I speak to?

    Although we try hard to provide high quality services to children and their families, we know that sometimes service users might be unhappy with the way we have worked. If you are unhappy with our handling of your case, please tell your Cafcass worker or their manager as soon as possible so that they can quickly understand your concerns and try to put things right.

    If you would like to make a complaint you can find further details about our complaints procedure on our website. In line with our complaints procedure, complaints should be raised during our involvement or within six months of this ending.

    Please note that where we have been ordered by the court to write a report and you do not agree with our recommendations or professional opinions please raise your concerns in court where they can be explored. These types of concerns can only be dealt with in court and not as part of the Cafcass complaints procedure.


The Cafcass Positive Parenting Programme


  • What is the Cafcass Positive Parenting Programme and who is it for?

    Our Positive Parenting Programme pilot, is a 12-week programme for families that works to reduce parental conflict and emotional harm to children. It encourages parents to place themselves in their children’s shoes and understand the effect of their behaviour. We use restorative practice principles to help the child recover with the support, where possible, of both parents.

    A group of Cafcass practitioners have been trained to deliver the programme and it will be piloted in 50 new Rule 16.4 cases assessed to be suitable. Cafcass will identify those cases which might benefit from the programme. This will be discussed with the judge for each case and if agreed, the case will be allocated to one of the practitioners trained in the programme.

    Evaluation of the CPPP pilot will take place once the 50 cases have been identified and those involved have completed the programme.

  • How is the Cafcass Positive Parenting Programme associated with the High Conflict Practice Pathway?

    The pathway and the Cafcass Positive Parenting Programme are different practice developments. Use of the High Conflict Practice Pathway will help practitioners to identify cases which might benefit from the Cafcass Positive Parenting Programme. This is generally where there are medium levels of parental conflict and both are open to working with professionals as part of the intervention to help improve the situation. Use of the pathway in a case does not automatically signify that a case is suitable for the CPPP.

  • Can my family have access to the CPPP if we are not involved in family court proceedings?

    Cafcass is only able to work with families when directed by the courts. The CPPP is not available to families outside of family court proceedings.


We will update this FAQs document with further information if there are themes arising from further queries.

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