Video of Anthony Douglas CBE introducing Pat Riley who reads from Serpent Child

After an early childhood ravaged by family conflict, at age seven Pat Riley was made a Ward of Court. Far from improving her lot, however, the judgement condemned her to the life of a nomad, for the next ten years being shuttled every few weeks between boarding-schools and the homes of her warring parents. Her mother continued to demand her total loyalty; her father retaliated by getting Pat’s school to punish her for not siding with him.

Pat became determined as an adult to do whatever she could to improve the care given to children from backgrounds such as hers, becoming a social worker and foster-parent. Not content with those achievements, in retirement she has written of her childhood experiences in the hope this will help prevent today’s parents from making the mistakes her parents did.

Serpent Child is the result, and it often makes for painful reading; although this is also a triumphant story of a strong, determined child. Parental alienation – the systematic brainwashing of a child by one parent to get it to reject the other parent – is nowadays recognised worldwide as emotional abuse. It is a factor in thousands of UK cases dealt with every year by CAFCASS, the Children and Families Court Advisory and Support Service.

In a video introduced by Anthony Douglas, former CEO of CAFCASS, Pat reads an extract from Serpent Child, a book he considers a very significant contribution to our knowledge of survivor experience and one that should have an international reach. The video can be viewed on Stairwell Books’ YouTube channel at, and Serpent Child can be purchased on-line for £10 plus postage and packing.

Further information about CAFCASS can be obtained from