Yesterday we worked with a group of forty parents in London, one of whom had travelled from Croatia to be with us. Amongst our group were two professionals who work with alienated parents, one who had travelled all the way from New Zealand to be with us! In a drafty little hall, oddly positioned next to a group of young people who were singing, dancing and chanting, we worked through the realities of understanding and coping with the problem of parental alienation. From our group in Holland on Tuesday, to our group in London yesterday, I carry with me the knowledge of the loss and the pain and the suffering that parents, grandparents and wider family members carry. All of which spurs us on in our bid to bring to consciousness the hidden abuse that alienated children are experiencing both here in the UK and around the world.
Yesterday also saw the launch of a brand new initiative which I have spoken about on here and which I am finally delighted to be able to introduce to you.
The National Association of Alienated Parents is headed by Andrew Teague who has been involved in supporting alienated parents and their families for a very long time. Joined by others who are key in this field and with a mission to work tirelessly to represent the voice of alienated parents and their families everywhere this organisation is run by skilled psychotherapists and has the benefit of huge support from key people in the mental health and legal fields. Formally launching in February with a seminar at the House of Commons, this organisation puts the issue of parental alienation exactly where it should be, in the realm of mental health and family wellbeing.
I welcome this new organisation and acknowledge both the need for it and the benefits it will bring to alienated children and families everywhere. For too long the issue of parental alienation has been characterised as being parental rights issue and as if a child’s rejection or resistance is simply about the denial of contact. Whilst we know that the problems which underpin families affected by parental alienation come to light in the post separation landscape, so many of the children affected have been experiencing the dynamics which cause alienation, long before the family fragmented. This problem is emphatically NOT about contact (which is a horrible word for a relationship between a child and loving parent anyway). It is not about conflict (which is a complete red herring in terms of how CAFCASS are attempting to portray it) and it is not about parental rights. Allowing the issue to be located in the parental rights field has, for far too long, distracted and fogged our understanding of the problem and it has allowed children’s lives to be played with like political footballs, between the mother’s rights and father’s rights lobby groups.
I have no argument with parental rights groups but if we allow the issue of parental alienation to be dominated by these groups and their opposing political interests, there will be far too much distraction of our eye away from the reality of what is happening to children in these families. Additionally, when parental rights groups welcome initiatives by CAFCASS seemingly with open arms, the needs of children and parents affected by parental alienation are unrepresented.
The National Association of Alienated Parents is set up with a mission to represent the voices of parents, the needs of their children and to press for recognition of parental alienation as a mental health issue. Launched at the time when CAFCASS announced, amongst lurid headlines, that under a new ‘groundbreaking’ initiative, children will be removed from their parents if they do not respond to intensive therapy, NAAP appears to me to be a timely response.
Far from being someone who does not support the separation of children from unwell parents in cases of pure alienation, I am someone who does that work. In doing so however, I only undertake this after careful differentiation, diagnosis where it is necessary and instruction by a Judge in the family court. Whilst this reality has been heavily misrepresented elsewhere in the blogosphere this week, those who know my work in this country, know that this is part of the work that I do.
Just as no child would choose to lose a parent in order to keep one, no practitioner who truly understands the complexities of this parental alienation, would wish to force a child to lose a parent in order to regain the other. Instead, what such responsible practitioners seek to do in a pure and severe case, is recover the relationship with the rejected parent through a transfer of residence, whilst ensuring that the child is reconnected to the formerly alienating parent in a supervised setting. Having delivered these kinds of programmes for the past ten years, I can attest to the risk of the child who is so removed without such support, remaining either rejecting of the parent they are moved to or, conversely, remaining psychologically split but now counter rejecting of the formerly alienating parent. Given that the underlying problem of alienation in a child is caused by the psychologically split state of mind, the first aim is to reunite the child with the rejected parent, the second is to heal the split state of mind and the third is to build the resilience in the child so that they are more able to withstand the dynamics around them. Helped by the healthy parent with whom they are now reunited, children can and do go on to find balance in such situations. All of which takes times and effort, none of which requires screaming sensationalist headlines such as those put out by CAFCASS two weeks ago.
Yesterday’s headlines are today’s chip paper as the saying goes and it would certainly appear that CAFCASS have backed right away from the threats of removal of children. Writing a blog this week, CEO of CAFCASS Anthony Douglas, tell us that he is ‘worried that the public debate about parental alienation has become over simplified, (which is confusing given that his headline threats to remove children from parents appeared about as simple as it gets). He goes on to tell us that PA is devastating and it impacts seriously on children’s learning. So far so good.
What he says next however, is the truth about the CAFCASS approach to parental alienation. An approach which, far away from being about differentiation, removal of children or supervision of a relationship with an unwell parent, characterises parental alienation as a he said/she said problem.
‘But alienation rarely exists in isolation. It is more usually one set of behaviours among many and is best seen on a spectrum. In a high conflict post-separation family, every transaction within families starts from a premise of conflict. A simple neutral remark causes offence. A small and relatively insignificant action is misinterpreted as hostile. The post-separation environment can be deeply toxic, even if contact is occasional. That level of toxicity means that an exchange or transaction lasting seconds can cause days, weeks or months of heartache’.
This analysis, which is straight out of the family therapy approach, lays responsibility for the problem of a child’s withdrawal from one parent and alignment with the other at the feet of both parents. He goes on to say –
‘Yes there are perpetrators who family members need protection against adults who threaten, abuse, coerce or tyrannise innocent family members. But more commonly, everyone in the post-separation family feels victimised to a greater or lesser extent. Poly-victimisation rules. Similarly, harm can be omni-directional, rather than simply being harm caused by one family member to another. Alienation is often multi-directional rather than one-way. It is our role to make sense of what has been happening in terms of its child impact and to differentiate between alienating behaviours on the one hand and when rejection of a parent by a child is more understandable due to the child being genuinely scared or deeply apprehensive about contact’.
In this analysis, the only thing which matters is the boundary between justified rejection, (when a child is genuinely afraid of a parent) or unjustified (which in the CAFCASS scenario means that both parents have contributed to the problem, which is why intense therapy in their view, is the answer). This is about as far away from the headlines which announced this ‘groundbreaking’ initiative as it is possible to get and one wonders whether those abroad who were welcoming Great Britain’s big stride forward, are still comfortable in their gloating.
Fortunately, there are strong and focused drives to ensure that UK families affected by PA are not driven into the cul-de-sac of generic therapy and in 2018, the gathering in London, of international experts from all over the world will provide the antidote to all of this by highlighting the internationally recognised standards of practice in this field. Booking for the London conference and for PASG2018 in Stockholm, will be open in the coming days. Those who are interested in working with parents and children affected by parental alienation, will find an opportunity for deep immersion in best practice, the most up to date research evidence and key presentations from leaders in this emerging field of work. As well as the opening of membership for the new governing body for practitioners, the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners will showcase training and supervision initiatives at the conference and a new research council. So much to be positive about. Parents and Practitioners alike.
I ended our last workshop with parents of 2017 with a renewed determination to do my best for children and families affected by parental alienation in 2018. Whilst my working life often mirrors the lived experience of alienated parents in that I am attacked, misrepresented and lied about by people who have never even met me, I continue to be so deeply concerned for the children with whom I work that I can overcome just about anything to keep on helping them.
Because all children deserve the right to a happy, healthy and most of all unconscious experience of childhood.
And because healthy parenting does not ration a child’s love for another or jealously guard it like water in a bucket (thank you Thomas Moore).
Let the love flow.