Breaking down the risks ahead for parents and children affected by parental alienation in the UK, we looked earlier this week at the high conflict myth.

The notion that PA is all about high conflict is one which has been enthusiastically embraced by CAFCASS in their recent declaration of expertise in this field.  For a body which has hitherto denied all efforts to raise consciousness about PA, the about turn on the issue is fascinating to observe.  It is also concerning, especially when, their assertions that they are ‘consulting with experts’ is one which to date, appears to be without foundation.

Parental alienation is a mental health issue not a parental rights issue. I have been saying this for a long time and whilst it has been resisted in some quarters, most accept that the issue is not one which is about contact or conflict, it is about a child’s maladaptive response to dynamics around them.  Those who wish to, can consider the writings of many experts around the world on the seriousness of parental alienation and its long term impact upon children.  They can also immerse themselves in the scientific literature which is a large body of work by eminent professionals, stretching back decades.

Parental alienation is not an issue in which a one size fits all, off the peg response can be purchased and delivered to a family.  Reading the proclamations of CAFCASS however, one would be forgiven for thinking that it is an issue which is simply all about high conflict which will respond to one particular intervention with threats attached to it to reduce time or remove a child from a parent’s care.  Families who might face this approach stand in my view, to risk so much more than they will gain, for it is a truth in this field that an unaware practitioner without knowledge of how high functioning psychologically unwell people behave, will make things much worse for a child not better.  Are we entering into the twigh-light zone of state sponsored experimentation on families affected by PA? Quite possibly.  Am I concerned?  Absolutely.  Here’s why.

The word hybrid means a thing comprised of two elements.  Hybrid cars for example.  In parental alienation, the category of hybrid, which is actually not accepted by all of the international experts in the field, means that a case is not a pure case.  And that is all it means.

A pure case of parental alienation is one which fits the Childress diagnostic model.  This model, which has been used in a very similar format to that laid out by Childress, for the past five decades, triages cases of a child’s refusal to see a parent into justified and unjustified rejection.  It does not use the hybrid category.   In the FSC model, a case is triaged into pure, hybrid or justified rejection and treatment routes are developed in response.  In the FSC model, a pure case is one in which the aligned parent has a personality disorder, the rejected parent has not contributed to the problem and the child has entered into a shared delusional disorder (encapsulated delusion or folie a deux).  FSC uses a psychiatrist or psychologist to diagnose the PD part of the problem and then recommends a transfer of residence in such a case.  All of which takes time, all of which requires the highest level of skill in differentiation and in diagnostic capacity.  It is simply impossible for this work to be done outside of the mental health specialist arena and the idea that CAFCASS have any role to play in such work is a nonsense.

A hybrid case, which let’s remember, CAFCASS are claiming most cases are, is one in which the elements within the case are not so easily differentiated because the aligned or alienating parent does not have a personality disorder. These cases are tricky, because the differentiation is not as clear as in pure cases and the family often requires a rolling assessment and intervention programme to fully understand and address the different dynamics at play.  What we find at the Family Separation Clinic, is that the rolling assessment and intervention (a continuous assessment whilst intervening in the family with a combination of approaches) allows for the evidence of who can and will change and who cannot or won’t change to emerge.  Behavioural contracting within such cases, allows for a full range of testing of the family dynamic which, after a period of twelve weeks, is likely to show the cause of the alienation in the child and the strengths and capacity of the family to resolve the issue.  Where such cases remain resistant, further testing for contributory behaviours or hidden psychological issues, may be necessary.  Again however, the hybrid case is a mental health issue and it is not one which can be addressed by anyone without a full training in either psychology or psychotherapy.

A hybrid case, which is being bandied around by CAFCASS as the most usual case seen in parental alienation is NOT about both parent’s contributing to the child’s withdrawal from one and alignment with the other.  Hybrid is ONLY the differentiation from pure and justified rejection.  In a hybrid case the child is still completely withdrawn from a parent and aligned to the other but for example, if one applied the Childress diagnostic model to it, it would be negative for parental alienation.  In the work done at the Family Separation Clinic however, a child who is rejecting and aligned is still alienated and the underlying reasons for that are many and varied but they are NOT always caused by two parents in high conflict,  Neither are parents in a hybrid case both contributing to the problem.  Hybrid simply means the absence of personality disorder but the absence of any justifiable reason why a parent is being rejected in the presence of other contributory dynamics.  As such it takes real skill to refine the response to such a case and CAFCASS seizing upon hybrid and high conflict as a way of convincing parents that they are both to blame, is a serious misrepresentation of both international research evidence AND internationally recognised standards of practice in this field.

Before the UK is hounded down the road of untrained and unskilled people being allowed to blunder about in the lives of families affected by this horrible problem we must bring absolute clarity to the problem of parental alienation.  It is a problem which can affect children for a life time and it is one which takes a huge amount of practitioner time and resources to unravel.  A properly differentiated case, which is properly matched to the right treatment route, can be resolved in seconds.  A poorly differentiated case, in which the treatment route is badly matched, will cause a child immense harm in the delivery. Harm which CAFCASS are responsible for preventing not causing.

Working with parental alienation is not about making threats against parents or wielding power, it is about considering the ways in which the behavioural dynamics can be changed and then asking the court to use the power invested in that system to create that change. CAFCASS proclamations that a parent may lose their child or have their time with their child reduced if they do not respond to their ‘intense therapy’ is a somewhat bizarre and misleading claim in itself given that it is the responsibility of judges to decide outcomes in court.  Treating parental alienation by forcing a child (who has already been forced into losing one parent to keep the other),  to lose that parent in order to regain the other, is not the way that any responsible practitioner wishes to treat parental alienation. Seeing those threats made against parents in a media headline, is discomforting to say the least.

There is a long way to go before the final whistle blows on this game and whilst I can see the evolution of these proposals ending in an evaluation of the CAFCASS pilot by one of their favourite academics (Trinder, Hunt et al) and a dose of funding going to Relate/Tavistock and if they are very lucky and play their appeasement cards right – Families Need Fathers,  the truth is that 2018 is a going to be a big year in the field of parental alienation.   A year in which the reality of the international research and practice will be brought together in conferences all over the world including the UK.  In the shadow of that kind of expertise, the claims by CAFCASS, made without any consultation with anyone, look lame and knee jerk.    Couple together these opportunities for international experts to support parental knowledge and the raising of consciousness and determination of alienated parents to demand the right interventions for their family, and 2018 starts to look like a very different story to that which is being promoted by CAFCASS in their efforts to take control of the PA space.

No more labelling of parental alienation as high conflict or using hybrid as a label to blame both parents. No more generic therapy and no intervention for pa families without evidence of its efficacy.

Those are the mottos of those who know.

That is the commitment we make to the children and families of the United Kingdom who suffer parental alienation.

The response is coming.