We are fast approaching the end of 2017 and I thought it might be useful to round up the PA news in the UK, ahead of what is going to be a very big year. As I do I am moving in closer to the issues which stand in the way of getting PA recognised as the child abuse issue it really is. Let’s start with the politics.
PA is emphatically not about a child’s contact relationship with a parent after separation. Let that sink in and I will say it again a different way. PA is not about parental rights, it is not about conflict between parents and it is not about both parents behaving badly.
Lesson One. With great respect, I would argue, that if the issue of parental alienation is left to the parental rights groups such as FNF, then the issue will never be recognised for what it really is but will instead be used as a political football between the mothers and fathers rights groups, leaving the needs of the children affected completely overlooked.
Wake up call: Contact used to be called access, both are words devised by feminist academics to describe a child’s post separation relationship with a parent who has been pushed to the margins of their child’s life by social policy which was written by feminists. The portrayal of the issue as being a contact issue is manufactured by the feminist paradigm.
Therefore, If all we do is speak about ‘contact’ when we discuss PA, we are working within the feminist paradigm which deliberately created a division of post separation parenting into caring parent (victim/best/good/deserving) and non resident (perpetrating/bad/dangerous) parent.
And if all we do is allow the issue of a child’s unjustified rejection of a parent to be appropriated by the parental rights groups, then all we will get is the battle of the parental rights groups, with CAFCASS playing referee in the middle, telling us that PA is all about conflict and look see – here is the evidence.
Takeaway: To get the issue of PA properly recognised and dealt with in the UK we have to stop playing the feminist game, move out of the conflict paradigm and show case the issue for what it really is, a post separation mental health issue which has a serious and life changing impact upon children. PA belongs in the field of children and family mental health and we urgently need to put it back where it belongs.
Response: This year The National Association of Alienated Parents, developed by psychotherapists and legal experts, was set up to properly represent the needs of alienated parents, the experience of the alienated child and to demand that the UK response to the issue is not driven down the cul-de-sac of high conflict analysis and therapy which is currently being proposed by CAFCASS. NAAP is scrutinising, analysing and critiquing the proposals being made by CAFCASS, from a position of real skill in the field and will report regularly on their findings to the families affected. This is healthy parent power and it comes from a place of real understanding of the issue. NAAP launches formally in March with a seminar at Portcullis House. By invitation only, the needs of parents will be fully and properly represented at this seminar which will include policy makers and interested MPs.
Lesson Two: Parental alienation cannot be treated with generic therapy and those who say that it can are either not treating parental alienation or they are not treating it as it should be treated. Treatment of a child’s unjustified rejection of a parent after separation is not about fixing the rejected parent to please the aligned parent, it is not about allowing the child to decide when they are ready to see a parent and it is not about mediating a conflicted space between parents.
Wake up call: The real issue at the heart of parental alienation is that the child involved has utilised a coping mechanism call psychological splitting. This has been caused by a maladaptive response to the behaviours of one parent and where it is a response to both parents, it is usually that the rejected parent has reacted to the behaviours of the alienating parent. Differentiating this is a critical part of developing and delivering treatment routes, which inevitably involves overriding a child’s expressed wishes and feelings. Anyone not comfortable with overriding a child’s wishes and feelings should not be doing this work, which requires knowledge and skill in building the covert therapeutic alliance with a child, which is necessary to overcome the defence of splitting.
Takeaway: The need for a governing body for practitioners in this field is determined by the manner in which this work leaves those who are doing this work properly, unprotected and in danger of complaint and sanction. Whilst some say that they are doing this work, practicing within the ethical guidelines of existing bodies means being risk averse. Recognition of how to differentiate a case of alienation from that of justified rejection is simply not enough. Practitioners need a governing body which offers training, supervision, accreditation and protection, so that the internationally recognised reunification protocols of separation from the unhealthy parent and forced reunification with the rejected parent can be properly carried out.
Response: This year the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners was convened in Prague with involved members who are powerful in their own countries as well as within the European Union. EAPAP is currently being built and will offer a membership body with governance of internationally recognised standards of practice in this field. This new body will provide standardised and accredited training, supervision and delivery of best practice with children and families in this field. EAPAP is launched in August 2018 at a landmark conference headlined by some of the key people in this field from around the world including Amy J.L. Baker. Designed to drive up standards and understanding in the UK and Europe, the key aim is to protect children and parents from the risk of being pushed into the cul-de-sac of generic therapy from untrained and unskilled practitioners.
Lesson Three: We seriously need some changes to the way in which family law responds to the problem of parental alienation in the UK. Whilst we have some highly skilled legal people in the UK, we have few specialist lawyers and barristers who understand the way in which the legal and mental health interlock is necessary to treat the problem. We also have a real problem with the lack of continuity in court and the lack of joined up awareness of the issue across the UK, leading to strong awareness in some courts and low awareness in others. This leads to a postcode lottery for parents who are seeking assistance through the family courts.
Wake-up call. We are still allowing PA to be characterised as a contact and conflict issue in the family courts. Whilst ever we allow this to happen, a child’s descent into the defence of psychological splitting and the source of the problem which is the unwell parent who is in control of the child, will not be recognised. PA in severe cases is about coercive control of the child’s emotional and psychological functioning as well as the curtailing of their normal healthy feelings for a parent. We have to act fast to help those children who are suffering a serious and covert type of abuse.
Takeaway: We urgently need a triage system in the UK Family Court system, a way of ensuring that those cases which are capable of being mediated are dealt with swiftly and preventing those which are more complex from becoming entrenched because of delay. Only by moving upstream to deal with the issue as early as possible, will we get the help which is needed to the children and families which need it most.
Response: Those who know are aware that such a response exists. The Early Interventions Project, which is at its most simple, a form of triage of those cases which can be resolved quickly and those which need expert input. EI can quickly resolve the problem of lack of standardised understanding of pa and the response in the UK family courts. We need this project, over anything CAFCASS proposes, because it is rooted in the international evidence and works with the mental health aspects of the post separation landscape rather than a political ideology. Early Interventions stands the test of time, it is time it was tested formally, without covert attempts to change it or get rid of it. I continue to back the drive to get the Early Interventions Project implemented, it provides a rapid move upstream in my view and in 2018 I will be supporting continued efforts to get it piloted.
Much going on, much more to do. The biggest barrier to the reform of the PA-UK landscape continues, in my view, to be reliance upon feminist research by CAFCASS and the misrepresentation of PA as being either about conflict or contact. Both of these words should, in my view, be cast aside by anyone involved in this work and we should, instead be focused upon mental health and internationally recognised standards of practice with families. Children and their parents should not be shunted into experimental programmes which bear no relation to recognised research and practice in this field and anyone proclaiming themselves to be an expert in this field should be able to offer evidence of successful reunification of children. Which is, at the end of the day, the only real issue here.
Children’s lives are are at stake here, there is no room for mistakes, no time to waste in terms of getting it right for the next generation.
2018. Moving closer.