Something special happened in the world of parental alienation work this weekend as a large group of academics and practitioners in the field, gathered to discuss how to bring together a unified approach to raising consciousness, changing practice and ensuring that alienated children and their families are effectively and consistently supported. Being there to hear different people speaking and to share our work from the UK with our peers, allowed us to showcase what we know works and learn more from others about how to enhance our practice.
Our small but dedicated English contingent gained a great deal from the experience, not least that our practice is on par with the best in the world in terms of our reunification work, although it is configured somewhat differently. Hearing Brian Ludmer speak about the mental health and legal interlock which creates the framework for lasting change for families affected by PA, was particularly satisfying. Outlining everything we know about the role of the Judge as ‘super parent’ helping to reset the family hierarchy, Brian gave us a lucid and detailed description of the orders which are necessary to support this approach.
Earlier in the conference programme, Nick presented on the educational needs of practitioners working in reunification programmes. Throughout he visited the protocols necessary to meet internationally recognised standards of intervention with alienated children and their families. Protocols which are curated and set down by the research, which is abundant and robust in this field. During the day, as we discussed the interventions which really work for children and it became clearer to me that conveying this information to the wider world is both urgent and necessary on an ongoing basis.
There was a clear and overwhelming consensus for example, that therapy in any of its traditional forms, does not work in cases of parental alienation and in many cases it serves to make it much worse. Discussing examples of reunification programmes from the USA, Family Bridges and Turning Points for Families, Deirdre Rand and Linda Gottlieb shared the reality that such programmes are based upon supporting the dynamic shift in a child’s mind through structured and compelled intervention. Although we do not use a formal programme in the same way, I shared with the conference, examples of how the Family Separation Clinic convenes a bridging programme to accompany transfers of residence and the success we have had in reuniting 33 severely alienated children with a parent over recent years. All of the panel agreed that in doing this work, clear protocols such as a cessation of contact between the child and the formerly aligned parent for a period of up to ninety days is necessary, to allow the child’s psychologically split sense of the world to heal.
The conference also discussed the multi layered assessment process which must be undertaken before intervention can take place and Nick discussed the Clinic’s continuous assessment and intervention process which has been demonstrated to be successful in severe cases. This work very much echoes the structured intervention discussed by Brian Ludmer and in my view it is this which hold out strong hope for a more widely available intervention which can be easily replicated and implemented around the world. Starting with the agreement that the eight signs of alienation are the child’s way of signalling to the outside world that something is wrong, the conference unpacked the multiple issues which are present in alienation cases, including attachment disruption, psychiatric disorders, parenting strengths and deficits and explored a range of ways in which to assess and report on these. In addition, the essential ingredient which is the mental health and legal interlock, was explored in depth.
I will leave PASG to announce the agreements made to take forward a strategic approach to raising consciousness, developing standardised practice and certification and other key tasks which will move the work of this international group of dedicated academics and practitioner experts to the next level of influence and dynamic change. Being involved in taking this work forward is a privilege and I left the conference feeling that something important happened this weekend which will trigger lasting change. As we move forward with plans for the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners, we are now considering not only European standards of practice but the internationally recognised approaches which make a difference to children and families.
Most of all this conference felt to me that collectively there is now the necessary move to shift this horrible problem into the sphere where it properly belongs, that of mental emotional and psychological health of children in families. Whilst I absolutely welcome all of the work done by rejected parents in this arena, the location of this problem in the parental rights field has, for example, allowed too many people with power to assume that this is simply a post separation fall out between two parents, when it is nothing of the sort.
Parental alienation is not about contact, it is not a problem about high conflict, it is a issue in which our first act has to be to ensure the child’s safety and our second act has to be to protect and rebuild the child’s relationship with their healthy parent.
As practitioners who work with alienated children we have a duty to say it like it is and call upon others to do so to. We need to get the message to the outside world that children’s lives now and in the future, are being damaged, not by conflict between parents but by the failures within our society and legal systems which allow a child to make a life changing choice to lose a parent with whom they have shared a loving bond.
PASG 2017 was not just a talking shop but a vibrant and dedicated place of learning and sharing and I leave today feeling that we have achieved a great deal.
We are now moving towards a world in which competence in knowledge and practice will be properly and fully certified in this field and this is a strong and powerful step. This will bring more practitioners to do this work around the world, giving families a greater protection and right to a properly trained workforce.
Practitioners who are properly trained and certified via international standards of recognised practice, will no longer need to remain risk averse to suit the guidelines of their existing governing body, but will be liberated to do what we know works for children. Protecting families from having to make do with services which shoe horn the issue of parental alienation into the comfort zone of current accepted practice, will bring healing and positive change to generations of children to come.
People change systems and when systems change the world in which families live changes. The people who attended this weekend are a richly determined and committed group of people whose attendance during the weekend, all at their own personal cost, was heart warming.
There is much work to do now but what happened this weekend will change many lives in the weeks, months and years to come.
I was delighted to be part of it.