This week I have been thinking about the post residence change child and the challenges that face the family living in the new household as well as those living in the household that the child has been removed from. I was reminded of the challenges by the arrival of this email, from a parent I worked with last year. This was a relatively easy case to ‘treat’ because it was one of those very rare pure cases which from the outset I knew would be remedied by removal. What I am reminded of however is that treating the case was only the start for the targeted parent. What happens afterwards can be as bewildering and emotionally charged as everything that went before, a stark underlining of the fact that alienation in its purest form is a terrifying experience and one which leaves a family absolutely shell shocked for months and years to come.
This parent speaks of the unexpected reactions that hit after the children had been removed from the alienating parent.
I know that without you I would never have seen my children again, the thought of what if they hadn’t agreed to your professional assistance is distressing. I found it strange at first having the children back with me as everyone including myself thought I’d be ecstatic but to be honest I felt depressed, even at Christmas, I think it was a type of post-traumatic stress. Can that happen? I felt that I was keeping going to fight for the children and then after the final hearing my body and mind just collapsed.The good news is that in the new year I started to feel different and finally enjoying my life with my children. I know that their other parent will want to be part of the children’s life again, which I support, knowing that it will be supervised contact gives me reassurance that it can be monitored. I still have my fears that when they are teenagers they may be easily swayed maybe with gifts or money but I suppose there is nothing I can do about that. I will always have that fear that parental alienation will rear its ugly head at any time and the feeling of helplessness that comes with it.I suppose really, I wanted to send this email to say thank you very, very much for your help and believing me at a time when I thought I would have to walk away for my own sanity. You helped save my children from the abuse. Thank you.
As I continue to finish up writing the handbook on coping with parental alienation I am including information about post residence change parenting and the different reactions that come with it. The terror that comes through this email is the question’what if’.. what if no-one had listened to this parent, what if ‘they’ meaning CAFCASS and the Family Courts, had not allowed my input into the case. What if indeed. In this respect, this parent is facing the absolute reality facing so many parents in the family courts today, the reality that they know that their children are in danger, emotionally, physically, mentally and psychologically and no-one can see it or worse, they can see it but they have no idea what to do about it.
The work that we do at the Clinic is not so specialised that only we can do it. If you look around the world there are many different formats of family separation support, all of which recognise the issue of alienation in all of its forms and all of which work with highly conflicted families. The terror of the question ‘what if’ however, is, in my experience, very very present in the UK, which continues to resist, at policy level, the concept of parental alienation and the dreadful damage that it does to children and their families. Indeed the Welsh Government, petitioned only recently to formally recognise the problem of Parental Alienation has decided that to do so would be to undermine the principle of the ‘best interest of the child’ as enshrined in the Children Act 1989. As for the rest of the UK, we can pretty much forget formal acceptance at policy level, reducing the issue to something akin to an old wives tale, treated by snake oil and witch doctors in the eyes of too many. Little wonder this parent asks what if no-one had allowed our input. It even seems like a miracle to me that we were able to do this work, so much is the issue dismissed and derided by those who work in the family court system.
Not by everyone however. The reason we were able to work with this family was because they had a Guardian who understood that what was being presented by the children in terms of their wishes and feelings did not sound normal. Although this Guardian had no idea what the issue was, there was enough awareness to prompt the search for outside input and through that, we were able to help. Whilst the top of the CAFCASS tree continues to this day to deny that alienation exists, we were able to discover that, in this case, that not only was this a case of pure alienation, the most severe type possible, it had also been recognised in a previous analysis by a social worker. This however had been dismissed by the local authority because although they had the tools to demonstrate that something was seriously wrong, they did not have the skills set to analyse what it was or what to do about it. Thus these children had continued to be seriously abused by the alienating parent, under the very noses of all concerned, creating an unholy mess around the family, whilst the professionals looked anxiously in every direction but the right one. Thank goodness for a CAFCASS Guardian who was unafraid to say the unsayable, with the courage to do something about it, even in the face of outright denial by all around.
Little wonder so many targeted parents feel as if they are losing their sanity. Not only are their children being taken from them by the determined and wilful actions of the child’s other parent but the professionals, living and working in a world where the issue is denied, are upholding children’s behaviours as being normal, or at worst, are sitting like rabbits in headlights without a clue what to do about it. So much of the work that we do at the Clinic is helping parents to hang on to their sanity whilst all around madness prevails. In the midst of this, working with traumatised parents who know that something is dreadfully wrong, whilst dealing with professionals with power over their situation but who continue to deny reality, is a really tough job. When emails like this arrive in our in box, it gives us the strength to keep on keeping on because if we can keep on keeping on in the face of so much denial, then parents can too, which makes surviving easier and post reunification roads easier to travel.
This parent describes a feeling of post traumatic stress disorder and a sense of collapse after the final hearing. Whilst the children in this case were in the category that is easiest to treat by removal (they emerged from alienation almost immediately), this parent still took time to recover and still fears the return of alienation. This in fact is a healthy response to a very real experience which created terror and helplessness. Fighting an unknown and unseen phenomenon, which is psychological in its foundation but which has mental and emotional as well as physical impacts, takes its toll over time. Fighting professionals who are not trained to understand and who, in many cases (not this) are also uncaring, brings a sense of distorted reality. In so many ways the treatment meted out by family court professionals in these cases mirrors that of the alienating parent, with wholesale blame being projected onto the rejected parent and the children’s wishes and feelings being used as the unquestionable road map to resolution. How many of these same professionals would, eventually, if they were forced to track the children they have worked with, who eventually change their minds and restore their relationship with the parent they report as being hateful and scary, understand the lens through which those original wishes and feelings are being projected? Asking kids to tell us what they would like to happen after separation is like breaking their legs and then asking them which shoes they would like to wear. Its cruel, its an abdication of professional AND parental responsibility and it is NOT, in any shape or form, about being child focused.
Divorce and family separation harms children, full stop, end of, nothing more to say. Other countries accept that and have developed the kinds of support structures to protect their children from the worst of what divorce can do. This country does not and does not show any sign of doing so in the near future either. The pathetic and paltry offerings of our institutionalised services do not begin to go near what parents need in very difficult circumstances. Sticking a plaster labelled mediation, over a wound gouged to the bone is not going to mend the hearts and souls of the children who are covered in the blood of that wound. And the PTSD concerns, expressed in this email, are a reflection of the horror of recognising that, in my view.
There is an absolute need for the kinds of services that support families struggling through and beyond separation in this country. Services which are not underpinned by women’s rights, in which domestic violence is the headline issue and everything else becomes subservient to it. If one listens to the likes of Women’s Aid, an unashamedly political organisation, which analyses all family separation through a political lens of patriarchal power and control, one is lead to believe that this all of this nation’s families are headed by monsterous men who beat, shame and control, passive and terrified women and their children. And that after separation, all fathers are dangerous and should be muzzled, castrated or otherwise disposed of. This absolutism is, in itself, terrifying, leading everyone to look in the same direction, again like rabbits in headlights, too terrified to know what to do next without the sisterhood telling us what is permissable. Parental alienation in this world is quite simply the imaginings of men who continue to seek to control women. In other words, it doesn’t exist.
But it does exist and righting the wrongs of its existence means acknowledging it, recognising it and treating it. And it also means supporting the families affected by it, through therapeutic means, through coaching, through information and education and by offering ongoing support on the road after reunification. Parental alienation is a mind bending, reality altering, distortion of the dynamics of an adult relationship, in which both men and women can be alienators and men and women can be alienated and the ones who stand to suffer most are children. Alienation in the minds of children is a powerful phenomenon, capable of turning a child from loving to obnoxious overnight and it has lasting impact. Our motto at the Clinic is ‘once an alienated child, always a child vulnerable to emotional and psychological alienation‘, this parent is right to be worried about the future, it’s never plain sailing, even when reality has been restored.
I will be writing about post reunification work soon as part of my drive to close the book and make it available to you as soon as possible because there is so much to say, so much we are learning, that if I don’t stop soon, I will be writing the sequel as well. As I look around at the dearth of information and support in this country for parents suffering from alienation (in all its forms) I wonder how long it will be before the reality facing too many parents will finally be faced by the powers that be. How long before these services can be accessed routinely and parents are not left with the traumatic after effects, even when the right outcome has been achieved, of thinking ‘what if.’
Until then, on the road before and after reunification, we keep on keeping on. Thank you to this parent for sharing with us the experience of the post reunification world, hoping that we can help on the road ahead as well as the road just travelled.