Why Parental Alienation is Child Abuse and Why Punishing Such Abuse Can Never Rebound on a Child.

A child’s parent breaks the child’s legs and pretends that the child fell over.  The parent bruises the child and tells the child it is her own fault.  A child is sexually abused.  A child is neglected and left to fend for himself.  A parent engages in a campaign of hatred and denigration of the child’s other parent, persuading the child into a fused and encapsulated delusion that the parent is harmful and has done harmful things.

Q. Which of these are child abuse and which are not?

A. All of them are child abuse.

Q. Which of these should be punished and the child protected from suffering such harm?

A.  All of them.

Apparently not according to the head of CAFCASS who in a somewhat bewildering statement to the Telegraph this week tells us that parental alienation IS child abuse but that abuse cannot be punished because doing so would ‘rebound on the child.’  Which pretty much echoes the belief of too many professionals working with this horrible problem, which is that parental alienation is about parents acting badly, it is about conflict and it is about both parents not just one. And even if it is about just one parent acting against the other, well, it’s just a contact dispute at the end of the day and punishing the alienator is only going to cause the child to suffer.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Wrong on so many counts.

Parental alienation is NOT about contact disputes it is about the exercise of power by one parent over the other using the child as a conduit for control.

Parental alienation is NOT about conflict between two parents even though it may look like that from the outside to the naive or unaware professional, it is about the actions of one parent, often an unwell parent, who is causing the child to reject the other parent, which causes the rejected parent to feel upset, hurt, unheard and often angry that help is not available.

Parental alienation is NOT about parents acting badly it is about one parent acting badly and the other being drawn into a desperate struggle to save their relationship with their child.

Parental alienation IS child abuse and like all child abuse it is harmful to the child not to intervene AND stop it AND punish the perpetrator especially if that person will not stop it and cannot show insight into what they have done.

Listening to the narrative that intervening in such child abuse rebounds on the child makes me concerned that the very concept of parental alienation is considered by CAFCASS as being something that is impossible to deal with. Alternatively, the notion that therapy is what is needed for these families is bound to be posited at some point soon, (it usually follows the idea that there is nothing to be done)

In reality, without the strongest of interventions and the tightest of judicial control, such child abuse is simply continued by the alienating parent. That should be backed up with the toughest of headlines to deter alienating parents.  Unfortunately, with the idea that punishment rebounds on the child being put forward by the head of CAFCASS, the message to any parent so involved is carry on as usual, we can’t stop you.  Not exactly the hard line approach one needs in dealing with this issue.

Alienating parents can be stopped from causing their children significant harm –  Nothing concentrates the mind of an alienating parent more than the prospect of a change of residence (transfer of power) and nothing separates the really unwell alienating parent from those who have found themselves dug into an unconscious battle with the other parent faster than the threat of one.

I work with alienated children daily, it is what I do.  No-one  can tell me that parental alienation is not serious child abuse and no-one can tell me that that serious abuse should not be stopped and the children protected from it. And if a parent will not stop then the toughest penalties possible should be used. We all cried out in fury when Baby P died. Where is the corresponding outcry when children’s minds and psychological selves are murdered by alienating parents?

In the worst cases I have worked with, children are without sound mind by the time they are rescued and are so confused, so disturbed and so utterly bound into the mind of the alienating parent that it impacts severely on their mental health.  As someone said about his daughter, found in a mental health hospital many years after being alienated from him by her mother, ‘suffer the little children, because as adults they still do.’

We would not ever speak about other forms of  physical, mental, emotional or psychological child abuse as being unpunishable because it would rebound on the child, why talk about parental alienation in that way?

Because in truth the reality of the abuse that is parental alienation, which is actually the forcing of a child back into the coping mechanism of an infantile split state of mind, is not properly understood by government agencies and family services. As a result it is still considered to be a contact dispute or a parental rights issue, it is neither.

Parental Alienation in its true form is a cruelty to the child which robs them of their right to an innocent and unconscious childhood. It forces upon a child the adult issues which they should not be privy to and it damages their psychological and even their biological development.  It is a lasting harm which can be found to be passed down the generational line and it is a legacy which no child should inherit. It harms the child’s future by interfering with perspective, it causes fear and anger to be unmanageable and it causes unremitting anxiety which the child cannot manage because of the repressed feelings of guilt and shame.

Protecting a child from that harm using the strongest interventions and punishment measures available can never rebound upon that child, it can only free them to live their lives in peace and in health.

And everyone working in the field of family separation should know that.


Understanding Parental Alienation: learning to cope, helping to heal

by Karen Woodall and Nick Woodall

Due for publication by Charles C Thomas, Spring 2017:

‘Understanding Parental Alienation is unique… a balance of scholarship and practical, hands-on experience.’
William Bernet M.D., Professor (Emeritus) of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, Vanderbilt University, TN.

‘Understanding Parental Alienation is… a highly valuable resource for parents, and a must-read book for every mental health professional, social worker or legal professional working with families in divorce.’
Professor Gordana Buljan Flander, Ph.D. Psychologist and Psychotherapist
Director of Child and Youth Protection Center of Zagreb

19 thoughts on “Why Parental Alienation is Child Abuse and Why Punishing Such Abuse Can Never Rebound on a Child.”

  1. Hi Karen
    The quote from Mrs Justice Parker demonstrates how some of the judiciary actually ‘get it’ but how other parts of the family justice system are impervious to any changes.
    ‘I regard parental manipulation of children, of which I distressingly see an enormous amount, as exceptionally harmful. It distorts the relationship of the child not only with the parent but with the outside world. Children who are suborned into flouting court orders are given extremely damaging messages about the extent to which authority can be disregarded and given the impression that compliance with adult expectations is optional. Bearing in mind the documented history of this mother’s inability to control these children, their relationship with one another and wholly inappropriate empowerment, it strikes me as highly damaging in this case. I am disappointed that the professionals in this case are unable truly to understand this message.’
    I expect that before too long we will see more judges speaking directly with children. This will be no bad thing.


    1. Put not your trust in judges, nor in CAFCASS, in whom there is no help.

      Psalm 146:3 King James Version


  2. “causes the rejected parent to feel upset, hurt, unheard and often angry ” I would say decimated, mentally destroyed and unable to feel anger because of the huge hollow hole in their heart.
    However, you are quite right in your more urgent motive to protect the child.


  3. Brilliant article, Karen! We are starting again with lawyers & will be taking this blog for them to read! Please make sure your comments get in front of Cafcass CEO.


  4. Alienating parents can work the system which seems full of people unable to stand by the courage of their convictions!

    Having had 2 successful contact meetings with my 15 year old son, full of laughter, tears, hugs and kisses, another was arranged!! Next day however his father rang the GAL to state that my son wanted no further contact with me and indeed wished to speak to the judge! At court I watched my son handed over to his paternal grandmother and hurried away and we went in to hear what the judge had to say! Halfway through telling us of how my son felt about me, he stopped, asked the GAL if she thought any of this was true and she said no, but that she felt this was as what my son felt his dad wanted to hear!! The statement read out by the judge included abuse which had occurred, but it was abuse inflicted by his father, the reason I left and took my children in the first place!
    Judge instructed social services to investigate further but the father said my son would not be seeing me again!
    3 years on….he was right!!! And the point of it all…..???

    If the system will not do what it was set up to do then it is deeply flawed, and indeed it is!!!


    1. “If the system will not do what it was set up to do then it is deeply flawed”…Frankie, sorry to hear you have suffered so much.

      Sadly like you I too thought for a long time that the system was meant to help and protect the children of this country from such blatant abuse. As I have witnessed more and more flagrant disregard and indeed malicious compounding of such abuse, read about CAFCASS Team Leader Suzi Smith http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2720414/Why-I-falsely-accused-father-abusing-daughter-Police-leant-stand-claim-social-worker-told-tribunal.html then I have had to conclude that the systemic abuse of our children is what CAFCASS, the courts and all the other so called Child Protection agencies and nNGO’s (non-Non Govt Orgs) are in fact what they are set up to do. It is quite a paradigm shift to make that cross over but the outcomes support that in my view.

      I was fortunate several years ago to be in a position working to promote equal parenting and had access to all tiers of CAFCASS management so am aware of the culture that in my view empowered Suzi Smith and her colleagues to feel able to make such false allegations with impunity. It wasn’t very long ago that Anthony Douglas said he wouldn’t even question why a child was saying they never wanted to see a parent again. At a local management meeting I attended to raise equal parenting Ms Smith failed to turn up with I interpreted as her contempt for such ideas. Later during a meeting with a Head of Service I suggested that CAFCASS’s view on PA was reprehensible. I drew an analogy with a case in Germany several years earlier where a father, Josef Fritzl, kept his daughter in the cellar for 24 years and produced a grand-daughter by raping her. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-562377/Pictured-Inside-cellar-father-locked-daughter-24-years-repeatedly-raped-her.html. I made the point to the HoS that if CAFCASS had been leading the ‘rescue’ of the daughter they would have recommended leaving her in the cellar as it would have been more harmful to her to remove her. A perfectly accurate analogy in my view which still applies indicated by Karen’s excellent piece. The HoS made a complaint about me to the organisation I was working for as she found it “offensive”……

      I’m in no doubt that in 20 years time we will look back and wonder what we were thinking, just as now we recognise shipping children off to Australia at £15 per head was child abuse.

      God help our children….cos no one else is. (and I’m an atheist).


  5. Reblogged this on | truthaholics and commented:
    “Parental Alienation in its true form is a cruelty to the child which robs them of their right to an innocent and unconscious childhood. It forces upon a child the adult issues which they should not be privy to and it damages their psychological and even their biological development. It is a lasting harm which can be found to be passed down the generational line and it is a legacy which no child should inherit. It harms the child’s future by interfering with perspective, it causes fear and anger to be unmanageable and it causes unremitting anxiety which the child cannot manage because of the repressed feelings of guilt and shame.”


  6. Question: How can I explain to my loving but semi-entrenched son that this is why his sister sits in a corner with her arms wrapped around herself quivering with anxiety???? Its over two years since I have seen her and he is trying to deal with this. He calls his father to help her…..


  7. My 17-year-old stepson, who has been alienated almost completely for 2 years, was in the psychiatric hospital for depression and suicidal thoughts at age 15, shortly after he stopped coming to our home. He insists he’s very happy and especially so since he doesn’t have to deal with his father anymore, but nothing about his appearance, the hateful texts he sends his father, his grades, his school attendance, or the revolving door of incompetent therapists he sees says “happy” to me. Yet at the last court appearance, his alienating mother walked out with a paper saying she was the “superior” parent based on the lies that she and my stepson sold to the judge. At least in the US, the system is completely broken in regards to alienation.


  8. Rage. Suppressed. For those alienated parents who have gone to their graves never united with their children and for those who will never get the time back that was stolen from them. For those children who are lost forever and living incomplete lives on a mezzanine of lies and having to deal with the shame, guilt and denial for the rest of their lives. For the grandparents past who never got their end days with the grandchildren they adored.

    I am utterly amazed. I dont know what to put it down to, whether men are just really really divine by nature and wish to bring harm to no-one, even when the faint dim traces of hope are extinguished and they are brutalised over and over again, or whether they have been hit on the head so much by social expectations borne out of gynocentrism that they are literally shell shocked, hollowed out, or that due to being hit on the head so much they live in fear of more of the same or to be classed as less than a man if they fail to live up to expectations, social norms and fail to suck it up like a proper man.

    Anger, Anger tickles. Alienation is murder by stealth, gynoculturally acceptable.

    Rage suppressed to be civil and retain humanity, sanity(a gynocentric humanity) which ironically cruelty is the centre of…..get out there and fetch me a T-rex burger or die trying…me and the kids are starving, theres plenty more where you came from, chop chop) …rage suppressed to not be the monster, to not be all that the alienator projects, rae suppresses to be the provider, sustainer, protector, rage suppressed to be acceptable, to retain a sense of dignity in the cruel gynocentric humanity, to have a sense of belonging and fitting in, a sense of purpose and worth, to accept with both hands ignorance and denial of reality.
    Rage suppressed while the dimmest of hopes remain.

    They can not be allowed to get away with what they do, what they take, what they destroy…..even if they dont know what they do, take and destroy, more the point to enlighten them and knock their shit filled noggins off. For those who do know what they are doing, the masters of alienation, i think perhaps we should reinstate the death penalty, im not kidding either. Alienation is slow murder by stealth……more horrendous than a bullet to the head as the target is driven insane as the alienation suffocates all joy meaning hope light purpose belief and their reality is fragmentted and torn apart…..leaving them one step from the cliff edge. To be or not to be when life no longer has any meaning and the daily compromise between sorrow and survival, grief and drudgery, when desire is dead, Rage suppressed.

    It absolutely amazes me. Really. I wonder if theres a trigger, a switch that is flipped to begin a chain reaction. I think the reality is, the vast majority of men are indeed divine by nature…..nobody wants to hurt anyone, only ever if they must or feel threatened at an extreme push or they realise their children are in grave danger. ……because if not…..there would be slaughter out there.

    Maybe the vast majority havent yet made the connection and realised the grave danger imposed upon children by alienation because they are so used to being told they are disposable, unworthy, not needed, irrelevant. Maybe when men wake up from their gynocentric induced slumber and realise they are not disposable, they are worthy, they are needed, they are relevant….then a great sound will be heard like a horn in the sky all around the world and men and womens ears will ring with the song of freedom, escaping the cruel brutal prehistoric gynocentric tournament history of humanity…….we evolve.

    We become more as time on any scale passes in spite of entropy. A dramatic shift in conciousness and awareness leads to evolution of thought, knowledge, understanding, mind, body, capability, environment, life itself. We are more today than we were yesterday. We will be more tomorrow than we are today. Rage Utilised. Fuck the dieing of the light. I am Garnhalf keeper of the flame imperishable, YOU SHALL NOT ALIENATE.


    1. Indeed. And my experience, in which I have learned everything I know from the children and families I work with, shows me that the rage suppressed is borne as much out of the alienating ignorance of family services as it does from alienating parents themselves. i detect small lights of hope – not from the words of the head of cafcass but from the way in which my own work is increasingly received – we continue to gather evidence and work with colleagues and push all the time to raise this issue from darkness to light where the lack of skill and knowledge is highlighted. Too late for too many but never too late to stop the next generation being harmed. One day, the institutionalised ignorance and lack of action will be questioned. Until then we press on utilising everything we have to bring light into these dark corners.


  9. I haven’t seen my once extremely close son in two years. I’ve been told I’m the one causing his distress because I don’t listen to his wishes. I’m selfishly damaging his education because I’ve fought to see him. I’ve been told to step away by his school because my presence upsets him. He’s now 15. My ex husband did the same thing to my middle son who is now 26 and unable to work due to mental health difficulties. He was a very abusive man to me throughout my marriage. I have fought and struggled against this with all 3 of my sons for over 10 years. I’m only just starting to reconnect with my eldest. The damage to all of us can never be undone. I’ve tried everything. There is no help or support. With your work Karen there is hope for those in the future. My sons and I are forever lost. God bless you Karen and the work you do. x


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