How It Looks To Me

I have been reading about children brought up in the care system and the way in which their whole lives were damaged by the way that the ‘system’ allowed them to be routinely abused.  Those children are now adults and they are seeking to be compensated for the way in which the care system failed them. And why wouldn’t they seek that compensation, their lives have been blighted by the anxiety, pain and suffering that comes from being vulnerable in a system in which the adults responsible for the care being given were dehumanized themselves.

It got me thinking about the UK’s approach to dealing with children who are unable to cope with parental separation and the way in which the lack of knowledge about the needs of those children create a system in which their needs are often overlooked, misunderstood and processed along a conveyor belt of tick boxes towards the eradication of one parent in their lives.

And it got me thinking about the way in which the focus in the UK and quite probably in other countries too, upon the ‘voice of the child‘ as the answer to all problems in the family system, condemns children to be the arbiters of their own descent into depression, anxiety and inability to form healthy relationships in their own adult future.

And how the lack of care and responsibility, the lack of knowledge and wisdom and the absolute lack of attention to the needs of children, in favour of the dependency upon their wishes and feelings, will inevitably lead to several generations of those children seeking the same compensation for the life challenges they face, as those who were brought up in care.

The ‘system’ as it currently delivers, is no way to deal with family separation, especially when the knowledge which is widely available and the skill which is desperately needed are both within reach of the people who are responsible for its delivery.

In the future, this is what is going to happen as the children of the generations affected by divorce and family separation, grow up to realise how they were left to flounder in the pit of their desperate attempts to cope with parental reactions.

These children will say –

This Is How It Looks To Me

I was walking alone across a bridge which felt as if it would give way at any time.

At either end of this bridge stood one of my parents, one scowling and angry, upset and disturbed, the other smiling and welcoming.  Depending upon which way I was walking, each parent changed their mood like the wind.  I was alone. I was terrified. I had no way of knowing whether the bridge would give way and if it did, who would save me and how.

My world which was safe became riven with fear and with dread and at times all I could do was hang on and draw inwards. I survived.

In surviving I shut off my feelings, became clingy to one and rejected the other. I didn’t know why I simply survived. I was terrified, lost and only just coping. No-one came.

In the end I was asked if wanted to keep making this journey.  Did I want to keep crossing that bridge? Hell no, I’d do anything, everything, even the unthinkable to avoid putting one foot back on that road.

Would you want to walk such a tightrope at seven years old?

Would you want to carry that burden?

A child is a child not an adult and has no capacity for making decisions beyond whether they want ice-cream or jelly or both.

Yet you asked me and asked me and carried on asking me.  What answer to give beyond ‘please leave me alone, I don’t want to go back on that bridge all alone‘.

It is not even as if you offered to walk with me, help me, protect me.  You simply just asked me, took my answer and never came back.

My ‘decision’ to cut out my father, my mother and half of my self and my soul, was made in the shadow of terror a child should not have to face.  A terror so great that my mind was impacted and my developing self cut away and split off and denied.

And you knew?

You knew that this terror was faced by a whole host of children but did nothing?

You knew?

Whilst I and the others were left to making ‘choices’ that led to a lifelong discomfort, you knew that the answers were already there to the problems we faced?

You knew?

This is how it looks to me today.

The anxiety, terror and shame that I feel, about the decision I made to kill off a parent and dispose of their body whilst they were still living, is a legacy left which I have to bear.

A legacy left by unthinking, uncaring, unaccountable adults who depended on voices of children too young to be asked what they want, what they feel, what they need.

This journey I made through my life has been blighted by lack of attention to the manner in which, the world that I lived in was fractured and broken and burned.

I said ‘I don’t want to‘ and you took it as read, shrugged your shoulders and went on your way.

You left me to deal with a parent not coping and another completely disbarred from my life.  And told me and then they that this was my choice and it should be upheld.

What child would kill off a parent they love without cause?

You listened too long to the people who told you that fathers don’t care and mothers whose children say ‘no I don’t want to’ are blameworthy.


I am blasted by sorrow and hollowed by pain by the ‘choice’ that I made.

A choice only I have to live with, a legacy left by intolerable lack of attention.

How it looks to me today is exactly the same as those children who were brought up in care.

Who deserved more than they got and whose voices are finally,  now being heard.

As will mine.

One day soon.

19 thoughts on “How It Looks To Me

  1. And then there’s the abusive parent who violently hits both the other parent and the children, and threatens “if you report me to the police or social services the children will be taken into care because of parental acrimony”. How do the children cope with that? They keep quiet and hope for rescue by the non-violent parent; but all too often unseen by the authorities and the family courts, all of whom are so easily lied to…


  2. A wider Justice system that values traditional wisdom and inertia. This Family Law branch has seen huge changes in society and understanding, (wisdom) over the last 60 years that have left it’s traditional solutions obsolete and counter productive. Repeating ad infinitum a formula from the 1920s, the ‘Best Welfare of Children’ pledge is guaranteed to fail in my opinion.

    As always good intentions and good people but:-

    Ninety two percent of Applications to Court for Child arrangement orders are not made by women. Irrefutable evidence of where power is held and where it isn’t and what underneath a Family Courts judgement the criteria is. After the Court processes completed nothing fundamentally changes- an official stamp of approval on the assignment of power and slight adjustments on details.

    Ninety two percent of single parent households are not men. Single parent households contain four million children today. Ninety three percent of families contained both genders in the 60s and today reduced to seventy percent.

    Half the population undermined by government and Family Court action. A ‘Best Welfare of Children’ does not give permission for children to be inculcated with a prejudice. If a child is raised by a single parent always of one gender that ‘education’ creates the future norm for that child, more strongly than any schooling. To think and expect and be equally responsible to raise children as a parent eroded away as both an individual child and society. The parenting ‘open to people’ ideal contrasted with the real hard edged discrimination of today.

    A free pass handed by out by our authority to the powerful encourages and rewards the powerful to seek more. Imagine instead a Court being colour blind to gender, it’s outcomes decided by a flip of the coin-

    The toxic bundling of children with property and income becomes disentangled from gender. The responsibility retured to the couple to settle with children returned to being children separated from the battleground. No financial reward to encourage children to take a side.

    What about the other major battleground, the real controlling, alienating behaviour? Controlling behaviour found equally uncommonly in both genders according to science. In Courtrooms it is common and very gendered. Reasonable to expect child alienators in Courtroom situations but comprising equally of both genders. If this equality indicator is not present then our Family Courts may inadvertantly reward and encourage ‘part time’ child abuse.

    My opinion only Karen and maybe not the place to raise the contravsey around Family Courts! It does overlap with the intent to look after children however.


  3. I reread this Post and find again I can’t breathe. For in my ignorance and blindness I have played my unwitting part in creating another generation who’ll suffer in this way…such a burden to carry. May they forgive me one day…


    1. Ss this is about the people who could and should help parents and their children but don’t, it is not about parents or blaming them it is about the horror of the way in which the state knows the problems separation causes children and does nothing about it. I know this because of the years I spent working for the UK government, telling them, showing them, creating services for them, writing for them, begging and pleading with them to do something the way that will help families and they did nothing or what they did do they allowed to be ruined by the women’s rights lobby who want only the best for women not for children and who see women whose children say I don’t want to see my mum as being children whose mothers are really bad people – so much for women’s rights. This post is about those who know and who do nothing to help children. You should never have to carry this burden and neither should any other parent or child, you did the best you could without any help or knowledge, the knowledge is out there, it is written it is available and the UK government could make it available to every separating parent in the land but they won’t and they won’t because of the vested interests of political ideologues which run the state delivered family separation services. I know, I’ve been there, I’ve seen what they do and don’t do and the blind eyes and deaf ears they turn. Just like the care system, just like other institutionalised forms of abuse, the reality of what happens to kids in family separation and how we have spectacularly failed families, will one day be widely known – sooner rather than later if I have my way x


      1. Thanks Karen for your compassionate support. Logically I know I couldn’t do what I didn’t know or understand …just sometimes when you write so eloquently about the pain of the children, it is hard not to feel guilty for the part one has played in creating such pain, albeit through ignorance….. I wanted to do better for mine than my parents were able to do for me and have abjectly failed in this goal….for that I will always feel sorrow.


  4. I can imagine what you say to be true about the sad future of adult children of parental alienation. Amy Baker has told the stories of damaged, hurt and confused adults laboured with a history of parental loss and manipulation in their childhoods; “breaking the ties that bind”.
    I am at a complete loss as to how you can approach a “One day practitioner training on June 28th” given that your audience are being told by their employer that it is all about the “wishes and feelings” of children. On the Cafcass website today there is a video in which children are encouraged to express their feelings to Cafcass Officers.
    As if somehow the wonderful Cafcass officers make their recommendations to the Court based on what the child has told them.
    Instead of continuing to help the child move between two imperfect parents and at the same time educate and enlighten the parents the Cafcass Officer’s job is to make a recommendation contained in a report which holds the child responsible for making a choice between parent A or parent B.
    Fathers are condemned to being violent and therefor unsuitable as parents. Mothers are condemned to being inadequate and replaceable, mentally unstable
    …………………………. you just couldn’t make it up, but Cafcass officers do.
    Cafcass officers promote the splitting of families through the denigration of one parent and the complicit support of the child at the hub of this process.
    The most damaging tool at their disposal is called, “safeguarding”. It is widely used not only in social services but all spheres of the health industry. It is supposed to be used to protect individuals from harm but it is more commonly used to split families apart; into an idealised world of one good parent and the other bad. This is “safeguarding” at its most damaging; a crude and blunt instrument if ever there was one. It is completely at odds with an empathic healing process.
    In theory, it may make logical sense to split parents at war, and then hope that parents “come to their senses” and start to parent in a reasonable fashion or imagine that one parent will suffice, but the reality is somewhat different.

    The standardised social services report will invariably end with the words; “this concludes my findings”, “our services are no longer involved in your case”, “the future depends upon how you and your family choose to proceed” ……………. etc.
    From the perspective of an emotionally fragile parent who is trying to hold onto a relationship with their children this is how it feels to receive the report;

    “you have made observations about me which simply aren’t true which you are presenting to the Judge and now you are telling me to piss off………I feel wretched, thanks for nothing…….”

    In the context of family therapy what is needed is an understanding of the dynamics of relationships and an empathic supportive network for both would be alienators and would be targets.
    Over the years I have watched target parents and alienators limp blindly into the future guided only by a hurt or a furious self-righteousness to impress upon their children.
    There is a job vacancy here for therapists who wish to enable free-running confident and contented children in the context of family separation.


    1. To be clear, the training on June 28th is not for CAFCASS it is for Psychologists and Psychotherapists. Our training for CAFCASS and Social Workers starts in a different place with examination of children’s wishes and feelings. K


  5. Reblogged this on LOST DAD and commented:
    Another insightful article from Karen Woodall. This time from the viewpoint of the children taken into care.


  6. Interesting that the UK view is ‘voice of the child’. Here in Germany the core of the process is ‘Kindeswohl’ – ‘The best interests of the child’, where the child’s voice is also paramount. It is well known her that the residential parent will do their best to influence the child and then the hands of social services (Jugendamt) and indeed the judge are tied.

    @lostmyfamily I believe as well the situation is within easy reach – train the professionals to see what is happening and techniques to alleviate before the situation becomes hopeless.


  7. The problem is that the adult children of alienation I know are blaming themselves. They are not looking to see what others should have done for them. They too buy into “the voice of the child was listened to” and this was the choice they made for which they are responsible. As one said to me “I was asked to chose and I made the wrong choice because I didn’t understand” Never this this young man stop to think that no one should have asked him to choose in the first place. Likewise a young woman in her mid twenties cried when she told me how she had treated her dad as a nine year old, being rewarded for shouting abuse at him. I told her that she had only been a child and couldn’t be held responsible for what she had done, but the guilt she felt for what she had done, was immense.


  8. “My ‘decision’ to cut out my father, my mother and half of my self and my soul, was made in the shadow of terror a child should not have to face. A terror so great that my mind was impacted and my developing self cut away and split off and denied.”

    “My world which was safe became riven with fear and with dread and at times all I could do was hang on and draw inwards. I survived.

    In surviving I shut off my feelings, became clingy to one and rejected the other. I didn’t know why I simply survived. I was terrified, lost and only just coping. No-one came.”

    Karen, you refer to the “terror” the child feels in the process of alienation….. could you expand on the mental health presentation of such kids? And how, if at all, the presenting mental health symptoms, might differ in ‘justified’ versus ‘unjustified’ estrangement/ alienation?


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