Recently, the work that I do with families in court has been, shall we say, less than satisfying, despite the successful outcomes we have achieved for children in the process. Thinking this through in one of my meanders around London, I have begun to realise that this is because it feels as if I am operating on families using blunt implements in a war zone. Hearing from others around the world who work in this field, that I am not alone in feeling this, as I meander I turn back to the ways in which children need a better way of being helped when they are being alienated. As well as the way in which a much a much greater degree of healing needs to be applied to these families in the psychological war zone and the court needs to be the protective factor in assisting this work to be done.
Children who are alienated suffer serious psychological damage and it can take them many years to recover from the harm that is done to them. Chidlren are vulnerable to the persuasions of others and their brains are not fully formed for perspective and reasoning. Healthy parenting does not cause a child to fully reject a parent, only leakage of hostility, blame and resistance causes that. Children who are justifiably rejecting a parent, often go to great lengths not to reject before they finally begin to do so and even then they will blame themselves first before they blame the parent for what has been done to them. Only in the scenario of parental alienation do we see the self righteous echoes of the influencing parent and the adamant and complete rejection by the child. The child’s mind has been affected by the parental hostility in such scenarios and whether that is conscious or unconscious, the damage is the same, the child arrives at a psychologically split experience of the world where everything is good or bad but never in between.
You will recall that we were in Zagreb in the summer, where we worked with Psychologists and Psychiatrists at the City Child Protection Centre. There we met a Judge from the Family Court in Zagreb who told us about the Centre’s approach to interviewing children in child sexual abuse cases, some of which will be those cases we work with, where children are influenced to make false allegations. I was intrigued and heartened to hear the way in which this Judge was psychologically aware and how she heard cases at the Child Protection Centre with the child being interviewed remotely by a Psychologist. We discussed the inquisitorial system of justice which prevails in Croatia and compared it to our adversarial system. There, for me, lies the kernel of a new way of working with families affected by parental alienation, a human way and one which provides for the whole family, the intervention which creates the generational change which arrests these patterns of behaviour in the here and now. Meandering yesterday, as I often do through the streets of London I thought about how simple a new way of working with these cases could be.
Post separation arrangements for children could be a mandatory requirement for all separating parents to achieve and have ratified at the time of their divorce (as in the Scandanavian countries)
Using the principles of early intervention, any such case could be heard by a Judge with inquisitorial powers at the outset of any relationship issues arising in the post separation arrangements for care of children.
Any case showing signs of problematic behaviour patterns in parents could be dealt with immediately, domestic violence and sexual abuse allegations could be heard on a fast track system within the first seven days of the issue being registered in court. Findings made would then guide all interventions with the family thereafter.
Guidance for how to care for children in co-parenting households could be made available to all separating couples through the legal system.
Solicitors could become highly skilled triage mediators, helping to identify only those cases where mental health problems are the cause of problems and referring them to the mental health professionals trained to deal with those matters.
Barristers would be only necessary in those cases where parental health is in question.
Every mental health professional engaging with a child in the midst of parental conflict where alienation is a risk, would be required to be trained in psychological understanding of the risk of harm to children in such circumstances.
It all seems so simple to me and yet, having worked in the UK family courts for many years and having advised government on social policy around the separated family and having written about, worked with and helped separated families for over twenty years now, I am increasingly aware that the reform of this arena is just not simple.
Not because the answers are not simple, but because the way in which the whole issue is set within the cultural expectations of a society which has built an incredibly complex and wieldy approach to resolving the issues. Look closer and you will see that the complex structure is in fact not built to meet the best interests of children but the best interests of their parents, or at least, within the adversarial system, the best interests of one of their parents. We have built a system which actually rests upon the notion that the best outcome for children after separation is to have one parent with whom they live and one with whom they are more distant from. A popular 1970’s idea which came in with the rise of the divorce rate. I leave it to you to decide whose interests that served.
It is 2016 for goodness sake. Men and women are more keen than ever to be part of their children’s lives before and after separation. When things go wrong in the separation (and they inevitably will because you cannot pull apart a relationship without there being some fall out), the children become at risk of the becoming the conduits through which parents fight their battles. Alternatively, they become the conduits through which the unwell parent expresses the decompensation into mental ill health. Either way, when this happens intervening to protect the child is essential. It’s not about being on one side or the other, is is simply about protecting children from the psychological war zone that often erupts in these cases. Our whole focus should be upon encircling the children with protection and then stabilising the parental battle, identifying the issues, triaging the case and getting people the help that they need to stop what they are doing. That way alienation reactions are prevented from escalating, both parents are helped and the children do not have to lose a parent to keep the other.
I’m going out for another walk shortly, as I proceed I will be pondering on all of this, largely as a defence mechanism I deploy lately, to protect myself against a sense of helplessness that strikes at times in this work.
The world that children live in so simple, it is full of love for the adults around them and for the unfolding world and the joy this brings them. It should not be infected by adult issues and adult concerns and we should be able to protect children in the midst of parental separation better than we currently do. We should take responsibility so that children do not have to.
It really is, that simple.
Karen your words continue to be like a breath of fresh air and I find myself mentally saying YES, YES! to almost everything you write :
Quote :Healthy parenting does not cause a child to fully reject a parent, only leakage of hostility, blame and resistance causes that. Children who are justifiably rejecting a parent, often go to great lengths not to reject before they finally begin to do so and even then they will blame themselves first before they blame the parent for what has been done to them.
My childhood was not a happy one. I was threatened with a stick but never beaten. I was well fed. But my mother was cold and couldn’t wait to get rid. There was no love or affection. I couldn’t wait to leave home and did so at 18. I tried to keep my parents in my life from a distance and could never find the words to describe how I felt. I used to use the word GUILT, but even that didn’t seem right. You hit the nail on the head in the quote above. I spent my life up until my mother’s death aged 87 trying to work her out and understand why she was as she was.
Quote: Only in the scenario of parental alienation do we see the self righteous echoes of the influencing parent and the adamant and complete rejection by the child.
My daughter from age 15 onwards was drip fed by husband within the marriage. I had no defence against what came about. She used the exact same phrases he did even down to the “WAIT!” when I was asking if I could get past him/her in a narrow space. Trying to explain to either of them that they only needed to take one step left or right and let me past was as alien a concept to them as the realisation of total alienation was to me.
Quote: It’s not about being on one side or the other, is simply about protecting children from the psychological war zone that often erupts in these cases. Our whole focus should be upon encircling the children with protection and then stabilising the parental battle, identifying the issues, triaging the case and getting people the help that they need to stop what they are doing. That way alienation reactions are prevented from escalating, both parents are helped and the children do not have to lose a parent to keep the other.
It’s too late in my case but it gives me great hope that there are people like you who are so determined to change things for the better. You are obviously a very dedicated person. I hope that one day the world will be full of such people 🙂
Keep up the ponderings Karen, they make so much sense!
I have worked in peds for many years. Some kids come in to the office and are happy. Other kids come in fearful, anxious and uncooperative. I ask the mom why is she up set. Mom says well I told her she is getting a shot today, it’s going to hurt really bad, for no reason whatsoever but after I will take her ice cream. So essentially the mom scared the crap out of kid they now think med staff are hurting them for no reason and the all good parent saves the day. So parents simply create fear and anxiousness in kids with distorted actions and words. I recommended that maybe just don’t make a big deal out of shots; they are normal not harmful. Alienators create the fear and doubt; this causes kids to depend on them to save them.
“We discussed the inquisitorial system of justice which prevails in Croatia and compared it to our adversarial system. There, for me, lies the kernel of a new way of working with families affected by parental alienation, a human way and one which provides for the whole family, the intervention which creates the generational change which arrests these patterns of behaviour in the here and now.”
How absolutely phenomenal, amazing, lovely would that be!! An inquisitorial system…music to my ears that is (actually eyes cause I just read….but anyway…)
At the moment, this just seems like a fantasy in this country, and yet I harbour hopes that it is achievable, just like I harbour hopes of an achievable reunification with my children. It all seems a fantasy, but I KNOW it can happen. I have read here, and been told, that a time will come that they will contact me. The urgency is to make that time come sooner so that the damage is lessened, controlled, even healed.
A very nice, simple recipe you have put together here Karen for this delectable delicacy in this much needed gourmet menu (sorry – I haven’t got a clue where all that came from!). A lot of it can be put together with legislation but there are potential obstacles that I want to point out – not to be negative, but to be pragmatically prepared – so that they can be overcome at the earliest.
All these obstacles pertain to so-called-professionals….
The first obstacle is the solicitor: in my case, the o/s solicitor gained a helluva lot financially and otherwise. There was no way that lady (?) was not going to take advantage of this situation. What makes it worst is that I perceive that there a lot of solicitors like that around. These are blood-sucking people (?) out for their own selfish gains, regardless of children suffering. They are not going to go away, they are not going to stop and change their ways? How to overcome it? One answer would be to make an embarrassing example of them – can I volunteer this be done with the other side solicitor in my case…..cause she just wouldn’t change her adversarial stance no matter what.
The next obstacle is the barrister: Again in my case, that chap was earning something like £9000 per day! Yes, you read that right, there is not typo and I haven’t gone mad. He charges that much, he’s a QC, he’s from a top chambers, and even I sometimes ogled open-mouthed at how brilliant he was in court – against me! That’s how good he was. He also milked the other side for as much as he could, kept it in court as long as possible and was cunning enough to be able to do so. Again, there are many more like him out there and they aren’t going away. They thrive on the adversarial system and they have the wiles to do what they can, even unethically and behind the scenes, to keep it going.
The other obstacle is the social worker/CAFCASS: Just 10 days ago, I came across a social worker working in a very complex child related case. Yes, this was a fiercely complex case where both the alienating father-now-in-prison-for-attacking-the-mother-but-still-aligned-with-the-child against the alienated-mother-unable-to-even-look-after-herself-let-alone-her-child but desperate for contact. It was a case, in my untrained eyes, that wasn’t completely at the parental alienation stage, but which was about to get there, and the social worker had not even heard of alienation! Ummm, excuse me, we are in 2016! And that’s 2016 AD, not 2016 BC (I almost wrote BS instead of BC but quickly rectified it!).
The fact here is that social workers/CAFCASS actually tend to have an immensely complex job, like in this case I came across. But they are also incompetent to understand alienation. How many people actually understand alienation if they haven’t gone through it? I’ve actually stopped trying to explain it because the pattern is people immediately sympathise and blame the other side and then very soon accuse me of having done something drastically wrong and I just don’t know how to get it through to them that even if I have then I haven’t done anything THAT wrong. But they just don’t understand so I take the stance let sleeping dogs lie.
Regarding both types of lawyers, maybe the way around it is the fear of more than just severe reprimand for adding to the controversy.
For the the social workers/CAFCASS, the answer may be to recruit only those with a certain standard of qualification (cause some of them are just stupid! There, I’ve said it) and especially those working in children related cases would have to have certain exceptional and particular qualifications, and not just written ones.
It’s all a pretty tall order methinks. But perhaps a good start would be to emulate the Scandinavian countries if it works better there.
PHEW! So much steam I needed to let out it seems!
Karen, that helplessness you feel is what targeted parents and their supporters feel – what’s happening seems so glaringly obvious to us, but is completely missed by the court system that doesn’t understand personality disorders or alienation dynamics. My husband and I watched in horror as my stepson went from crying in the night and apologizing to his father for lying to attorneys about him, to refusing all contact and developing that “self-righteous” rejection that you describe, full of hatred and condemnation for his father that could only have come from his mother. All the while, the court and therapists helped the process along unwittingly or otherwise, with their adversarial system that encourages lying and false allegations, and their belief that somehow, children should decide their own custody matters. In Family Court, the one who lies the best and can get the child “on their side” “wins”, period. And most therapists believe allegations of abuse without any effort to discern the truth and end up supporting the alienation.
I’ve come to the conclusion that in our area, dealing with court is far more traumatic for the children than losing contact with the alienated parent. I hope your work in changing this will influence US courts as well.
Hang in there Karen… you’re my role model in going back to study social works for the next 4 years to come, and make the so needed difference
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