Following on from recent posts about discussion in the UK around the issue of parental alienation I thought I would share information that we have written recently on working to international standards of practice in cases of parental alienation.
Anyone practising in the field of parental alienation should be aware of the international research which is prolific and which is increasingly being collated and made available. Failing to work to the proven standards of practice in this field is therefore not difficult and it is unethical in my view for anyone who says that they are expert in treating cases of parental alienation to not to be able to demonstrate both their understanding AND their expertise in delivering successful outcomes for children in this field. And let us be clear, delivering successful outcomes in cases of parental alienation is about helping children to reunite with a rejected parent using the mental health and legal interlock to free the child. Nothing less will do and anyone who is offering anything which falls short of this is not an expert in parental alienation but is experimenting or pretending.
Currently in the UK Family Courts, there is a growing awareness of the issue of international standards in intervention in cases of parental alienation but a continued mixed response from the Judiciary and from court practitioners such as CAFCASS and NYAS. Some courts are welcoming and are already using international standards, others are less keen. This leads to a postcode outcome for families in which the willingness to use such standards depends upon the experience and understanding of the court practitioners/Judiciary. However, there is an increasing interest in the higher courts and in London and the surrounding area, in evidence based outcomes in this field which makes it much more possible to argue and achieve delivery based on international standards of practice. The Family Separation Clinic is both delivering outcomes and evaluating them as well as working with other key practitioners in the field to develop protocols in working with parental alienation in the UK. This work will, eventually we hope, lead to a standardisation of delivery which ensures that all families receive best practice in this field. Our delivery of training to other practitioners is part of our work to ensure this.
Please Note: As part of our committment to families and to the practitioners we work with, we offer the opportunity to speak to at least three parents and three practitioners with whom we have worked successfully in reuniting children, ahead of any intervention we make.
Recognised standards of practice in cases of parental alienation
The following standards of practice are drawn from the work of recognised experts in the field of parental alienation and are demonstrably replicated by the work of the Family Separation Clinic in delivering residence transfer care in pure cases and therapeutic care in a structured format within a court setting in hybrid cases. The Clinic has undertaken residence transfer for seven children so far this year, the intervention in each of these cases has conformed to international standards of practice and all have been successful. In doing so, the Clinic provides assessment, formulation and a work plan and is cross examined on this before judgement. After judgement the clinic staff carry out the residence transfer and then provide a twelve week therapeutic post residence transfer care package to the children concerned. After the twelve week care package is complete, testing of the children’s resilience to contact with the parent they have been removed from is undertaken to ensure that counter rejecting stances do not develop. All of the children who have been cared for by the Family Separation Clinic in residence transfer have successful made the transition to the rejected parent and have recovered from the alienation reaction.
Interventions: severe or pure cases
Severe or pure alienation is indicated by the child’s phobic and fearful response and refusal to countenance any contact, coupled with the aligned parent’s lack of insight and a ‘good enough’ parenting style in the rejecting parent.
It is also indicated by the child’s inability to emerge fully from the alienated state due to the continued influence of the aligned parent and the child being stuck in the double bind or encapsulated delusion that the rejected parent is dangerous.
Further indicated by the aligned parent showing lack of insight and continued interference in arrangements. Additionally indicated where personality disorders are present and there is no opportunity to ameliorate the impact of parental behaviours upon the child.
The international research indicates that the most suitable intervention is likely to be a transfer of residence with a 90 day cessation of contact with the alienating parent, leading into a structured testing of the capacity of the aligned or alienating parent to show insight and behavioural change, and the capacity of child to withstand contact.
Note: Desensitisation approaches do not work (forced contact) and can increase the risk of harm to the child as they fail to address the underlying dynamic. There is no research globally which shows that desensitisation works in cases of severe or pure alienation. There is additionally no research evidence globally, which shows that transfer of residence harms the child (Warshak, 2015).
Interventions: severe to moderate or hybrid cases
Severe to moderate or hybrid cases are indicated where assessment demonstrates that the problem of alienation arose in the transitional relationship of the child between both parents and where the aligned parent may show insight.
Also indicated where the rejected parent has a ‘good enough’ parent style and shows flexible responses to psycho-educational input.
Additionally indicated where the child is not showing strongly phobic responses but is varying in responses to contact.
The international research indicates that the most suitable intervention is likely to be multi-modal, including a combination of behavioural agreements, parenting co-ordination, monitoring of contact, psychotherapeutic support, psycho-educational input, support to the rejected parent for managing children’s behaviours, and court controlled contact which is increased in length when contact restarts. The power to bring about change can be strengthened, where necessary, by a suspended transfer of residence.
Note: A hybrid case is not a case where both parents are to blame and it is not a case where high conflict has caused the withdrawal. A hybrid case is one in which the child’s changing needs have caused an inability to transition between parents and one parent has exploited and upheld this as an opportunity to gain control over the contact routine, or, where one parent has undermined the other in a coercive controlling pattern of behaviour, or where there is a fixed pattern of thought and behaviour in one parent and a flexible pattern in the other, or where one parent is controlling and the other parent is more passive. Hybrid cases MUST be managed via the court and must involve contact being lengthened significantly as soon as the child is a contact relationship.
Sample supporting evidence: severe or pure cases
Baker, A. J. L. and Ben-Ami, N. (2011) To turn a child against a parent is to turn a child against himself: the direct and indirect effects of exposure to parental alienation strategies on self-esteem and wellbeing. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 52: 472489.doi:10.1080/10502556.2011.609424.
Baker, A. J. L. & Verrocchio, M. C. (2014). Parental bonding and parental alienation as correlates of psychological maltreatment in adults in intact and non-intact families. Journal of Child and Family Studies,
Baker, A. J. L. (2006). The power of stories/stories about power: Why therapists and clients should read stories about the parental alienation syndrome. American Journal of Family Therapy, 34(3), 191-203.
Friedlander, S., & Walters, M. G. (2010). When a child rejects a parent: Tailoring the intervention to fit the problem. Family Court Review, 48(1), 98-111.
Saini, M., Johnston, J. R., Fidler, B. J., & Bala, N. (2012). Empirical studies of alienation. In K. Kuehnle, & L. Drozd (Eds.), Parenting plan evaluations: Applied research for the family court (pp. 399-441). New York: Oxford University Press. –
Warshak, R.A. (2015, June 22). Ten Parental Alienation Fallacies That Compromise Decisions in Court and Therapy/ Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Advance Online Publication.
Sample supporting evidence: Hybrid Cases
Johnston, J. R., & Goldman, J. R. (2010). Outcomes of family counseling interventions with children who resist visitation: An addendum to Friedlander and Walters (2010). Family Court Review, 48(1), 112-115.
Kuehnle, K. F., & Drozd, L. M. (2012). Evidence-based practice. Parenting plan evaluations: Applied research for the family court (pp. 577-582). New York, NY, US: Oxford University Press, New York, NY.
Toren, P., Bregman, B. L., Zohar-Reich, E., Ben-Amitay, G., Wolmer, L., & Laor, N. (2013). Sixteen-session group treatment for children and adolescents with parental alienation and their parents. American Journal of Family Therapy, 41(3), 187-197.
Walters, M. G., & Friedlander, S. (2016) When a Child Rejects a Parent: Working With the Intractable Resist/Refuse Dynamic. Family Court Review Volume 54, Issue 3, pages 424–445, July 2016
Walters, M. G., & Friedlander, S. (2010). Finding a tenable middle space: Understanding the role of clinical interventions when a child refuses contact with a parent. Journal of Child Custody: Research, Issues, and Practices, 7(4), 287-328.
Please note that we have just two places left on our training for practitioners using the above international standards of practice. This training takes place in London on 28.6.2017 and includes membership of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.