I am back from Belgium where I have been working with a group of practitioners at the Huis van Hereniging to develop a new reunification service for Belgium’s alienated children and their families. This is another partnership for the Family Separation Clinic along the same lines as the Poliklinika-Djeca in Zagreb and develops our work in Europe as part of our commitment to the new membership body The European Association for Parental Alienation Practitioners (Eapap.eu).
The European Association convenes at its inaugural meeting in Prague on July 11th 2017. So far we have practitioners from thirteen countries in Europe attending a meeting which will further our vision of a governing body for anyone working in this field. For anyone who does the work of reuniting children with the parent they are rejecting, this body will provide support and protection, guidance and standardised practice, information and education to other existing governing bodies and consciousness raising in each member country. This is the Family Separation Clinic’s commitment to the alienated children of Europe and to the people who work with them. Practitioners who we know are in desperate need of more support to do what works for children rather than what is in keeping with the tolerance of governing bodies who continue to deny that parental alienation exists. With plans for more training delivery in Holland later this year and discussions with colleagues in several other European countries underway, we know that the European Association is an important step towards bringing a formal recognition of the problem of parental alienation and the recognised responses to it.
The Family Separation Clinic is a private venture which was created in response to the absolute lack of services to alienated children and their families in the UK. Run as an associate group of psychotherapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, independent social workers and mediators, the Family Separation Clinic provides bespoke interventions which support reunification of children and a rejected parent as well as post reunification care packages which ensure that the when a transfer of residence is used to intervene in a case of alienation, the problem is not simply transferred with the child. Increasingly we are being called in to deliver to Local Authority managed cases and we are providing the interventions which support children to emerge from alienation. From a position only five years ago when our work in the UK was questioned and attacked in some quarters, we are now recognised as providing a service which works for alienated children in England and Wales where we have done several reunifications already this year. In Wales, where CAFCASS Cymru are often more knowledgeable about the problem of parental alienation than their English Counterparts, we continue to be instructed and, where it is needed, to recommend residence transfer.
Recently we have begun to be instructed in cases in Northern Ireland and it was clear to me when I presented at the NI Law Society Children Order Conference in May this year, that the knowledge base there about parental alienation is present and growing. The only part of the UK to still lag far behind the rest is Scotland where, despite our efforts to educate the Judiciary last year, desperate decisions are still being made about Scotland’s alienated children. This is exactly the kind of poor outcome for children that the European Association for Parental Alienation Practitioners has set its sights on changing and Scotland will be first in line for the education and training programmes which will be co-developed with colleagues, to bring change to any member country which is lagging behind in its understanding.
Standardising practice with alienated children and their families will be one of the first key goals of the European Association along with sharing knowledge and skills and making those widely available across borders. For Scotland, where there is both a lack of understanding of parental alienation in family services, plus resistance from women’s groups focused on upholding women’s rights over children’s needs, a core focus will be upon delivering the education which we know is necessary to bring about systemic change. Until this is delivered on a consistent basis across Scotland and coupled with the delivery of psychological and psychotherapeutic services which properly meet the needs of alienated children, the lag seen in the Scottish judicial response to parental alienation will remain. The only way to challenge this lag is to provide the interventions which are known to work and to tackle systemically, the resistance in family and welfare services. It was done in England, it was done in Wales, it is being done in Northern Ireland and it can be done in Scotland as in any other country in Europe. When the interventions are right and services are delivered in the way which is internationally recognised as being right for alienated children, breakthrough will occur. Just as in Belgium last week, where the hard work of education and persuasion of hearts and minds has pushed through the wall of resistance, Scotland can be helped to come into line with the rest of the UK. Whilst I acknowledge that this is not yet a uniform UK in individual court responses up and down the land, enough progress has been made to ensure that there is a growing recognition of the need to do it right for children. In another five years time I expect to see a standard approach to the mental health and legal interlock which resolves parental alienation, not only in the UK but right across Europe. We know what works, we show what works and we share what works. Things change when people create change and we are creating change for children affected by parental alienation every single day now. Not in every case, I recognise that, but increasingly, as it becomes safer to be a practitioner in this field, people will come and more children will get the help that they need.
Making it safe for alienated children and their families to get the help that they need means providing for practitioners who do this work, the safety and protection that gives them the confidence to do things the right way. When governing bodies deny that parental alienation exists and alienating parents threaten to complain, any practitioner who is currently tentatively approaching this work is going to back off. In this scenario, asking for a ninety day separation protocol, which is at the heart of any successful reunification programme, will feel like asking for the moon and so practitioners will settle for what they can get, instead of doing what is proven to be the right thing for alienated children. But when settling for what you can get puts the child into a continued position where they cannot resolve the psychological splitting which underpins alienation, or worse, when they are continuously punished by a parent whose behaviours are not properly constrained, harming the child further is what some practitioners will do to keep themselves safe from complaint. This is an intolerable position for both practitioner AND child and we are working hard to provide within the new Association, the protection mechanisms that practitioners need to ensure that they do not find themselves forced into this position.
Only when our work as practitioners are aligned with internationally recognised standards, which have been underpinned by an immense body of research and only when all practitioners have the courage to do the right thing not the safe thing for themselves, will change for alienated children come on a large scale.
Through our work with partners in Europe and through our continued development of conferences, literature, training and awareness raising, we are committed to bringing this change in a unified way, in collaboration with colleagues who, like us, share a deep commitment to children and their families.
Today and tomorrow we continue to shift the shape of the future for alienated children and their families everywhere.
A special thank you
Tonight I would like to thank a father in Sweden who wrote to me to say please do not give up writing this blog because it has helped him to survive. I am touched by his message as I have been by so many others and I am grateful for everyone who has taken the time to write them. I promise that I will continue to do as you ask and keep writing. I may make some changes because I have recognised some very important things about this blog over recent weeks, but I will not stop writing because I know how important it is to so many people.