Waving wands and making magic: supporting rejected parents and their families

A quick post this morning based on a comment I read on a Mumsnet Forum recently.  This comment made me think hard about how we talk about the work that we do at the Family Separation Clinic and how we convey to the people who need our help, what our help looks like and what to expect in terms of outcomes.

The comment went something along the lines of …. I spent a long time looking for someone to wave a magic wand and make everything alright again and then I realised that all of the professionals in the world cannot do that for children affected by alienation. They might be able to help us get ready for when the alienation lifts and our children come back to us, but there is nothing that they can really do now that will help us..… (not the exact words but the sentiment is the same).

Families affected by parental alienation are vulnerable and they are also extremely tangled in their emotional, mental and often physical states as well.  When we work with such families we have an overriding responsibility to first of all work through the tangled places to the core of who the parent is and set them in the context of the family that they live in and the influences that this family brings to the current position they find themselves in. When we have hacked through to this place we then have to set about looking at the structures and systems that the family lives in and is influenced by and then and only then can we begin to map the contours of the other place, the other family, the other lines of pressure placed upon the child. Then and  only then can we begin the work of making magic with that family. Then and only then can we begin to charge up the wand held by the rejected parent in order to assist them to make the changes that are necessary.

This is time consuming work and it is not for the faint hearted because in the midst of the tangles and the thorns and the thickets lie those family secrets and lies and illusions and half truths that bond together to form the one pointed force that pins a child into that frozen place.  It is rare to come across a case (though they do exist and I have worked with them) where the one pointed focus lies within one parent to such a degree that it is possible to spot it within seconds of seeing or feeling it.  The more likely scenario that the practitioner comes across is the tightly woven web of resistances, often passed silently through the generations like unexploded bombs wrapped up tight with a timer set for some time in the future.

One of the core resistances is often located in one person on one side of the family.  These resistances, formed by generational fracture lines and message warps are concentrated in the here and now in an often fossilised format that does not allow change.  When personality disorders and behavioural patterns configure themselves around highly charged emotions of loss, grief, anger and revenge, therapy won’t help and neither will tinkering around the edges with mediation.  The only thing that helps a child in those circumstances is removal from the influence of the damaged parent. As practitioners, it is incumbent upon us to be able to separate out those cases that can be helped in the here and now and those that cannot.  And when we can separate them out it is incumbent upon us to say, immediately, to those we are working with, the truth of the matter.

But there are cases where help can be given in the here and now and where charging up the magic wand and putting it into the hands of the rejected parent is a very powerful tool indeed.  In these cases, which are usually hybrid in nature, it is possible for parents to get closer to the child who is rejecting and to change the dynamics in the case.  The reality however is that this in itself takes an act of absolute courage and self belief by the rejected parent who is often, by the time we meet him/her, battered into submission by the onset of the alienation in the child.  This is why our first task after hacking through the undergrowth, is to brush the parent down, examine their selves and their souls alongside them and then begin the process of charging up their self belief, their self esteem and their knowledge base to get them ready for the quest ahead. Doing that takes time and patience.  When one is brushing down a parent who is hopping up and down saying ‘come on, let’s go and save him, that’s all that matters,’ one has to have infinite investment in the task. To be asked over and over -‘why are we concentrating on me when we should be working with the other parent and the child’ and still not lose focus and concentration on the task is demanding, but it is necessary if we are to be sure that when we do begin the process of working with the dynamics in the family, that parent will not fail the enormous task ahead.

And so the comment from Mumsnet is important to me, it is important for me to think about in terms of what it is conveying – loss of hope, cynicism about what help can be given with perhaps a dash too of realism.  Loss of hope because of the withdrawal of the belief that someone else can fix this, cynicism because of the lack of help in the world at large and realism because at the end of the day it is the absolute truth that the only people who can wave wands and make magic are those who brought the child into the world.  The magic is that all children, however they are conceived and brought into the world have only one biological mother and one biological father (not popular to say it in this day and age I know but it is the fundamental truth) and all children, however they are conceived will, one day, seek those roots.  Those roots, when they are filled with love for the child are the magic, the wand is the personhood of the parent themselves, skilled, knowledgeable and able to create the circumstances that the child needs to recover from what has been done.

Practitioners cannot claim to wave wands and make magic, we can only claim to be skilled enough to charge up the wands so that parents can make the magic.  Perhaps calling ourselves midwives to the magic might be a better way of describing what we do.


  1. Karen – as always thank you for your intelligence and sensitivity, especially when talking about the minefield you traverse with parents who are so wounded they cannot (bear to) move beyond anything other blaming others for the hell they are going through. Thank you for keeping going.

    An interesting blog post here from The Custody Minefield http://thecustodyminefield.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/litigants-in-person-government.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed:+TheCustodyMinefield+(The+Custody+Minefield)

    It begins “It would be nice to write a blog piece which wasn’t negative in respect of the Government and their grasp of life in the family court. Today, the Government announced a £1.4m fund to help litigants-in-person by expanding the Personal Support Unit, an advice service based at the courts, to help counter “the courts being at breaking point”.”

    The quote that stands out is the one from Anthony Douglas, Chair of CAFCASS who commented “They [litigants] are going through profound emotional distress, broken-hearted, betrayed and angry. Often [what’s important] is improving their relationship capability rather than having a definitive judgment.”

    I suggest that if it were possible, through a Freedom of Information request perhaps, to ask how many child custody cases that have gone through the court system ended with relationship capability being ‘improved’ (what a low bar is set there) rather than ending with ‘a definitive judgment’, it would be a miserably low figure.

    One answer to a FOI request recently noted:
    Cafcass say “…following the simplification of our complaints process in 2012(,)The number of stages involved were reduced from three to one and the classification of complaints as ‘upheld’ was ended. Figures for the number of upheld complaints during this period do not, therefore, exist. The focus of the complaints system is now on putting things right for service users while their case is ongoing so that any necessary remedial action can be taken.”

    (This was taken) ..to mean that Cafcass no longer records the outcome of any complaint because they say they are focussed on ‘putting things right’ whilst cases are ongoing. But since this is a ‘complaints’ procedure it suggest that a number of service users don’t think Cafcass are putting things right – but it seems no-one now is tracking how many complaints received and outcomes achieved – so its seems like its much easier to hide the vast number of service users who think Cafcass does anything but ‘put things right’. If you’re not showing that any complaints are ‘upheld’ it gives the (false) illusion that as a body you’re not either (a) getting something wrong, and/or (b) owning up when you do get something wrong.


    1. One word to sum up the idea of Anthony Douglas having anything to offer to LIP’s – Horror.

      His comment says it all – blame to parent not the biased, jaundiced, sick system that parents are forced through and abused by.

      I could say more, you get my drift.


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