There is a revolution coming in the UK in terms of the recognition that a child’s complete rejection of a parent is a maladaptive response to the family drama of divorce and separation. This revolution, which could be a bloodless coup or a downright messy, all out war, is coming off the back of the tireless work which has been done by pioneers in this country for decades. As such, I was heartened today to read Dr Hamish Cameron’s name in the minutes of a Westminster debate on the issue, because if anyone has done the hard slog of making sure that abused alienated children are not forgotten it is he. In the rush to claim the space (and no doubt the subsequent government funding), many will be claiming the crown in terms of their skills and presence in this space. In case we ever forget however, parental alienation has been a scandalous problem which has lain dormant because of the complete lack of interest and at times the sneering dismissal of it as a reality in children’s lives by those who should have know better.
One day some of those people will I hope, be held to account. For now, let’s push on the agenda and make sure that those of us who know, lead the dialogue and the practice in this field.
The clear dialogue to be had about parental alienation in the UK can be defined as follows.
- It is not a parental rights issue, this is not about contact, it is about mental health.
- The issue may arise in the context of the post separation landscape but it is often present before separation and it is the result of the maladaptive responses of one parent to the family drama of separation and divorce.
- Children do not reject a once loved and loving parent without pressure being applied upon them to do so from somewhere.
- Parental alienation has many components to it and the eight signs of alienation which are seen in the child are the child’s way of signalling that there is something very very wrong.
- The healthy parent is the child’s best therapeutic hope of recovery from the problem and the healthy parent should be recognised as the most valuable resource for the resolution of the problem.
- This is not a he said/she said problem, it is usually the result of one parent’s decompensation of their mental health and their resulting responses and beliefs about the other parent.
- The problem IS NOT and NEVER WAS routinely, the result of high conflict BETWEEN parents. What looks like high conflict from the outside is often the actions of the alienating parent and the responses out of desperation, of the other.
- Parental alienation is a triangular problem, it is caused by the actions of one parent, the responses of the other and the lack of resilience in the child.
- Standard forms of therapy are absolutely contraindicated in cases of parental alienation and any therapist proposing this route is working against the internationally recognised standards of practice in this field.
- The response to parental alienation DEMANDS the legal and mental health interlock for successful treatment routes – these cases simply CANNOT be resolved outside of the court.
- Anyone telling you that a transfer of residence is the ‘nuclear option’ does not understand parental alienation and has fallen for the belief that the rejected parent has done something to contribute to the problem.
- CAFCASS are not trained to understand or recognise parental alienation and the high conflict tool which is being said to be the basis of such training is so problematic that anyone using it will cause more harm than good. This is a deeply concerning document which cherry picks research, asserts untruths and completely ignores all of the internationally curated evidence and scientific studies which demonstrate that parental alienation is real and that there is a particular approach to resolving it for children.
Fortunately for the UK, the Family Separation Clinic is leading on the setting and certification of internationally recognised standards of practice in this field as part of the work of the Parental Alienation Study Group which met for its first international conference in October this year. This means that there exists, within the UK, the expertise which is working with and curating, the most up to research evidence, outputs from leading researchers and practitioners and the most successful reunification programmes in the world.
The UK therefore stands in a good place to effect rapid and significant change and it will be interesting to see, in the coming months, how much of this global expertise is sought and used by CAFCASS and others in their response to this horrible problem. We and others will, on behalf of all children and families affected, be tracking and monitoring this going forward.
After years in the wilderness, parental alienation is coming to the consciousness of the world. As it does so I find myself thinking of all of the parents and wider families and all of the children whose lives have been utterly blighted by this most pernicious and distressing issue. Children who are now parents themselves, some of them going on to find their own children being pulled away from them as they reap the consequences of what was done to them as they grew up. For the truth of the matter is that alienated children are the people who bear the brunt of the harm that is done to them. They bear it now and they bear it in their adult years.
For all the grief and suffering that the healthy rejected parent carries (and that is immense and I do not diminish that by these words), the children who bear the scars of being alienated are those whose lives are utterly brutalised and whose life chances are stamped out before they even get chance to fully become alive. In fact I call them the half alive generation, the children who have attempted to kill off and silence half of who they are as a maladaptive response to the damage done by one parent acting against the other. A response which is escalated by the family courts in far too many instances, a response which is entrenched by unaware ancillary services, including CAFCASS and social workers and a response which is eventually the cause of their own alienation from their own children in the next generation. Because the half alive ones, grow up to believe that being stripped of their own sovereign right to a sense of self and their own right to a relationship with each side of who they are, is normal. And in believing it to be normal, they seek out partners who will uphold their internalised sense of what it means to be loved, which is actually about being controlled and denied their own sense of self.
Alienated children do not grow up to become alienating parents, they grow up to become alienated parents and that, in a nutshell, is the transgenerational tragedy which is currently being passed like a relay baton from one family to the next, unhindered and in many situations actively assisted by family court professionals.
What abuse are we inflicting upon these children, to allow them to be pushed into such a maladaptive response that they are forced to ‘choose to lose’ one parent in order to keep the other. And in allowing that we are knowingly condemning them to risk losing their own unborn children in the years to come. And in enabling the ignorance of this child abuse we freely, as a society, ignore the pleas of the healthy parent who knows what is wrong and who is desperate to save their child, or we collectively, snootily and dismissively, assert, as one unaware (ignorant) MP did yesterday, that the court only (rarely) orders indirect contact where there are safety issues. (You can drop Dr Phillip Lee a line at his email in the link below and educate him if you wish to).
‘Orders limiting such involvement to indirect contact—my hon. Friend mentioned a case in which only a Christmas card was permitted—are usually reserved for cases where face-to-face contact is deemed unsafe. Such orders are relatively rare and the court will not take the decision lightly.’ (Dr Phillip Lee – Parliamentary Under-Secretary Ministry of Justice)
There is no excuse for such ignorance and no justification in the way in which this issue is wrapped up in excuses and denials and lack of clarity. The expertise exists, the research exists, the evidence exists, the practice exists, there is no excuse any longer for anyone, anywhere to deny the reality that a child who is completely rejecting a parent who was once loved and loving is a child in trouble who needs help.
Let this generation be the children of the revolution, led by those of us who know, whose collective voices now need to be heard more loudly than they have ever been.
These children and their children are depending on us to say the words that they cannot express.
Give us back our childhoods and help us make peace in our minds and our hearts and our souls with the horror we have been put through.
Our London Workshop for parents on December 2nd is almost full – just two places left, act fast to be with us in central London where we will take you through your case, help you to understand the issues, assist you to build a court strategy and work with you to help you cope and heal. Book Here
What people have said about our work our work.
After over three years of struggle I thought that I would never have a relationship with my daughter. I had used barristers, a contact centre, Cafcass workers, independent social workers and a psychologist to no avail; after 23 court hearings I thought that the were no further options available to me. I was informed of the Family Separation Clinic and the work of Karen Woodall through a father in a similar position. After The FSC’s careful and considered assessment of the situation and report to the court I now have shared care of my daughter. Without Karen’s input and the input of the Family Separation Clinic I know that this would not have been possible.
Richard, Father to Miranda aged 10
I shudder to think what would have happened to my children without your input. You were there from the start to help us to understand what to expect when the children were moved to live with us and you were always available to guide us through the difficult times. Your skill in helping the children to adjust to the changes was obvious and we will always be grateful to you for your professional and knowledgeable care at such a difficult time.
Mr F and his wife, receiving parents of three children in a transfer of residence in 2017, now reunited, healed and in a shared parenting arrangement.
Without you my children would still be alienated. You have not only helped me to understand and cope, you have reunited me with my children and helped me to heal them. It is not possible to put a value on what you have done for my family.
James, father to two children, now reunited and healed.
Thank you for your help throughout all of the difficult times we have faced, you have brought us to a place where we both understand what has happened and know what to do to assist our child. This has been a long road but you have done everything possible and more to help the children and to make sure that they are properly healed from the problems we saw in them before you worked with us. As a parent I feel more confident and more capable of doing what the children need and can spot the signs that they are not coping so well in plenty of time to prevent the behaviours from starting up again. I have learned a lot from you both and you have always made me feel that I am capable of doing this.
Alexandrea, mum to three boys in a shared care arrangement.
About our other work with families
Your writing kept me alive at a time when I didn’t think I could go on. Your words and your compassion jump out and hug me when I feel most alone. Being an alienated parent is a terrible, horrible experience. I am ignored, I am blamed, I am alone in this nightmare experience. When I need help there is no-one to give it and so I come to read your words and I know that I am not alone, that there is someone who understands and someone who cares.
Jaynie – Mum of three boys who are alienated from her.
Your coaching was the beginning of a journey to understanding and healing and because of that I am coping much better so that I will be here when they come home.
Mark -Father to two children aged 6 and 8
Understanding Parental Alienation: learning to cope, helping to heal
by Karen Woodall and Nick Woodall
Published by Charles C Thomas
Available from Amazon
‘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 PsychotherapistDirector of Child and Youth Protection Center of Zagreb