a few (short) points to Dr Childress

I have just read Dr Childress’s second response to my critique of Foundations.

I only really have three things to say to in response.

1. I do not consider myself a Gardenarian and do not really know what that means.

2. Hybrid cases are not the same as pure and it is disengenous to suggest that hybrid cases do not exist because they do.

3. I have never said, here or anywhere else that children living with pure alienators should be left with them.  In those circumstances we fight hard to have the child removed. It is a wholly wrong assertion by Dr Childress to suggest otherwise.

And that’s it.  I am still not fighting with him, I still stand by everything I said, I still do not believe that he has THE answer and I still believe that in the UK his approach is risky and that taking up arms in the way he advocates IS risking relationships with children because of professional inability to understand the concepts he is advocating.  I cannot support the idea that children’s lives should be sacrificed in order to somehow force through a change that he is advocating. This is not a civil rights issue, it is a child protection issue and the lives of children must be protected first, last and always. As I see it, calling for target parents to behave in this manner is seeing those families as collatoral damage for a greater social change. I am not able to support that, not now, not ever because every child’s life matters to me.  The rest of what he has to say is, in my view, not for me to respond to. We do what we do and I know that in doing it we are successfully helping families in this country.

I still admire Dr Childress’s work immensely and hope that he can see the value of debate to the professional community and the parents who depend upon them for help and support.

There are enough people attacking those of us who work in this field without us falling out with each other.


  1. Dear Karen. Speechless with sadness at Dr Childress’s response to you, but not surprised as he, like you, operates in an often adversarial arena. I’ve copied below my reply to him, and consider that closed now, although I know that by responding I’m continuing the conversation. Best wishes to you Karen, as always.

    Dear Craig Childress
    as you know I am a supporter of your work. I have benefitted enormously from your writings.
    I am also a supporter of the work of Karen Woodall. I have benefitted enormously from her writings, advice and support.
    I am also the wife of a father alienated, in the pure sense, from his son, and caught up in the court system in the UK.
    As all these things I can see, very very clearly, how the pathologies you describe have infected my step-son to such an extent that he has had no choice, in order to survive, but to disown his father and his entire wider paternal family.
    I have several years experience now of helping my husband try to get recognition and understanding, let alone action, within the UK court system, for what is actually happening within the family dynamics. So sadly and painfully I know, at first hand, how the system is beset, at all levels, with professional ignorance, lack of care, lack of competence and lack of accountability. The court and child welfare system here was, in our case and anecdotally in many many others, unwilling to take on responsibility for really getting to the bottom of what was actually happening. It was unwilling to go beyond the ‘expressed wishes and feelings of the child’ to look at the behaviours and ask those simple questions that if this doesn’t seem normal, is extreme in nature without good reason, and there is a previously good relationship history, they why does the child act and speak as they do.
    Dr Childress, we couldn’t even get anyone to accept that the reams of evidence about disrupted contact, and emotional pressure over the son on the part of the Mother should in any way even be censured. And we tried very hard, time after time after time, using your words just as much as Karen Woodall’s. To no avail, because the system here, especially outside the capital, is backward and in need of change. That change in the UK is coming, very very slowly. In part it is coming through the work that Karen Woodall does day in and day out – by her writings and by her persistence in the face of opposition. In part it is coming because of the changes Sir James Munby, as President of the Family Division of the High Court of England and Wales, is putting in place with regard to transparency in court reporting, meaning that cases where PA is identified are more often now coming out into the public domain. And in part it is coming because Karen Woodall is starting to make an impact where it is needed here, with the very practitioners who are charged with identifying what is going on in these cases – she’s starting to work much more with the very people who sit in front of these children and are charged with finding out what is going on, and crucially charged with coming up with a solution that is truly, really, in the best interest of the child.
    But it is slow. I wish it were not so. I wish courts here took a stronger, more proactive position much more quickly when child protection issues, in relation to the psychological abuse a child is experiencing, as opposed to the much more easily visible physical abuse, become evident. But we are a way behind that, although things are slowly slowly changing.
    So my point here is that I am saddened by your attack on Karen Woodall’s critique of your work. Saddened because you speak so eloquently yourself of the splitting within the profession, and that isn’t what is going on here. Karen knows the system here and her approach is child focussed – which is to say focussed on the child sat in front of her, and trying to do what’s in that child’s best interest.
    You both have done so much for the parents who read your work, who find comfort, and also much deeper pain, in the recognition of their own miserable experiences, and hope in the realisation that there are solutions, even if they can’t yet (or ever) be applied in their own personal cases.
    I understand why your approach needs to be so actively resolute, but the adversarial nature of your choice of words in response to Karen Woodall’s review feels, to me, like a friend needlessly taking pot shots at another friend. I know neither of you are my friend, but I think you could do well to acknowledge how Karen’s response is professionally respectful, and acknowledges the challenges you both face, operating in two completely different systems.
    There is space for both approaches, in a world where any advance is a good advance, and all of it, in the end, will hopefully help the children and parents caught up in the nightmare of un-recognition.
    Respectfully yours.


  2. This is obviously very distressing for you, Karen. Maybe it will be helpful for those of us who have the time to look into this in more detail. I’m not sure when I will be able to do so, but certainly can say straight away that all my attempts to engage mental health professionals or to get anyone even remotely related to that, involved – have been undermined at every turn. And yes, even when a family crisis has been staring them in the face – the mental health professionals that I have seen have been unable to see it or their potential role.

    So as much as I might have sympathy for Dr Childress’s perspective – it would appear to me that our whole Family Services mental health provision is in such an inadequate state that we simply cannot begin to implement what he is suggesting. As you know, I am hopeful that a breakthrough may be able to come about significantly more on a local community level as ordinary people start to realise that destruction of families is an issue for all of us to be concerned about – which I think your work will support extremely well.


    1. Hi Woodman, oddly enough I am not distressed, just disappointed that Craig seems hellbent on misrepresenting me as well as damaging me, I don’t really understand why but it is clear that he is quite simply furious and so I have said what I need to say and will say no more. I completely agree with your view of our system, it is utterly wrong for anyone to suggst that doing what Craig suggests is right for this country, it is not, parents who do it will lose, I know, I have seen it over and over again. We have work to do in this country and we are doing it, I stand by what I said and please do not worry – I was far more distressed in the summer when those two so called experts used the BACP sanction to try and discredit me. Craig I understand and respect, those two I neither understood nor respected. I just hope that someone can talk Craig down from this because it doesn’t help anyone.


  3. Hello Karen.
    Do you think the three symptoms Dr Childress mentionned in his post relevant to diagnose parental alienation?
    Thank you


  4. Something I completely disagree with. Saying that Target parents shouldn’t advocate for our children.
    Of course parents should!

    In the medical field it is not uncommon to get 2nd opinions, and parents should ask about a particular doctor’s experience and success rate.


    1. Marsha, I think you have been reading Dr C’s misrepresentation of what I have said. What I said in my critique was that parents in the UK who go into the family courts telling professionals that they have the answer and it is Foundations are risking being seen as obsessed and the problem for their children. What Dr C doesn’t understand is that in the UK where professionals are in control of your children’s lives and can make decisions which are unaccountable and enforced by the state, telling professionals that you know the answer and you want a second opinion if they don’t agree is tantamount to locking the door to your children and giving them the key to throw away. Family court professionals hold ultimate power here, if they decide that you are obsessed and that parental alienation, attachment based or otherwise is nonsense, you are more or less judged as THE problem. Wehave to help parents avoid that bind and so we educate parents on how to manage the court professionals, how to present their case strategically and how to avoid being blamed. That is not telling parents that they should’t advocate, it is showing them how to manage a very very alienation unaware system in a way which gets results. You ask about our success rate? This year, 16 reunions, all of which were with children who were severely resistant. 3 changes of residence included and 1 removal. Our general success rate (which we determine as a child being helped to be in relationship balance with parents (whether that be with the previously rejected parent and the alienator being supervised or with the previously rejected parent and no contact with the alienating parent) is around the 82% mark. I have worked in cases where severely personality disordered parents have kept their children despite our efforts for removal (including 7 hours in the witness box being cross examined on why the child should be removed) and where children have been removed on our recommendation and have failed to emerge from alienation staying in foster care because they would not and could not respond to intervention). This field is not so certain as some make it out to be and in the UK parents have to be very very careful otherwise they will lose their children for good. I say that because I know the system inside out, I also know that education and awareness training is imperative and we do that all the time here, I am speaking next week at a Family Law conference on the issues and we are training social workers and the Judiciary up and down the country on it too. But I will not advocate for parents here to take a route which is risking their relationships with children simply to further a construct which is one amongst others which work. I know what works here and whatever works is what I am going to use because at the end of all this, the ONLY thing that matters are the children.


      1. Hello Karen. I asked a question and received no answer. If it’s not relevant could you tell me why please?
        You are using Richard Gardner’s eight symptoms and the mild or severe (pure or mixed) distinction. This is contradictory to Dr Childress three symptoms to acknowledge the pathology as described in Foundations. Do you acknowledge the pathology and the way Dr Childress describes it?
        I’m from France and we’re facing the same incredulous court system as in the UK and the US. Do you believe the first answer to erase this pathology must come from the mental health professionals?


      2. I am on holiday Eddy and I am trying to deal with this in and around getting some rest. You assume I am using Richard Gardener’s eight signs in my work, why? Is this because Craig is stating that? This issue is not a binary issue for me. I am not a Gardenarian – I don’t even know what that means – I use an eclectic and integrative approach and I use whatever works. In our work at the Clinic we use a mix of assessment approaches, we evidence our interventions with these and we do whatever works to free the child, including removal, including transfer of residence where we can persuade the court that that should happen and where it is indicated. I am not going to be drawn into binary arguments about Gardner versus Childress constructs, that is not my interest, my interest is in helping children and families and using whatever works to liberate the child and educate our system over here. Please do not assume things about me which are untrue and remember that we have lives too and so if I cannot answer a question immediately it is not because I am avoiding it it may well be because I am busy doing something else. I am not going to be dragged into a battle which is absolutely not of my making, this doesn’t have to be an either or situation, either you are with Craig or agin him (with targeted parents or agin them) that is such an unhelpful approach to dealing with what is an incredibly complex issue and which is not going to be resolved in my view by switching from one construct to another. Finally, Craig is the one who is crusading about mental health professionals and I have absolutely no intention of entering into this kind of crusading behaviour, I am sorry, I know what work is necessary here and I am doing it. I don’t need to be involved in other people’s crusades.


  5. Karen – I don’t get it either and Childress appears to not be allowing any dissension in the comments. I was polite as I think he’s very smart but way off the mark in his attacking you repeatedly and honestly I think it’s weird and is making me lose respect for him. Anyway, just wanted to say that I support and appreciate you and hope this hasn’t messed up your vacations.
    Best – MP


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