News of reunifications comes in thick and fast this week with some of the UK’s high profile campaigners being reunited with their loved ones. As the UK family court system begins to look somewhat frayed around the edges in the face of the lived experience of the children involved (not to mention their rejected love ones), parental alienation as a popularly recognised phenomenon in divorce, is showcased on mainstream UK TV. It seems whichever way we look right now, the prevention of children’s relationship with families after divorce and separation, is rising to the surface of public consciousness. Coming next, (you heard it here first folks) will be the wide-scale scrutiny of the failures of the family courts to understand why children enter an alienation reaction in the first place. I firmly believe that this hidden child abuse scandal, the responsibility for which, in my view, lies in the hands of those who have dismissed parental alienation as a reality for far too long, is starting now to unravel. In the hands of the children who have been so badly let down by the family courts, change will, without doubt now come. I hope and pray I can live and work long enough to finally see the reality of what I have long known to be systemic abuse of children, exposed.
The Split, currently showing on BBC One, is a largely frothy drama which has a needle sharp thread of reality running all the way through it. Last night, as the three sisters at the heart of the drama, discovered that their mother had intercepted thirty years worth of letters and presents from their father after their divorce, we were able to watch what I have been witness to many times over in the past decades or more of my working life. The dawning, sickening, realisation that the life that has been lived has been constructed by a parent hell bent on revenge and control. The grief of knowing that the love that was been portrayed as deficient and/or absent, had been there all of the time. The pain was well portrayed by lead sister Nicola Walker (pictured). What comes next, if it is as true to life as last night’s final scene reveal was, will be the roller coaster of confusion, anger, hatred and bewilderment that children feel when they are reunited in such circumstances with a parent they have been coerced to reject.
If parental alienation is showing on mainstream TV, it is not going to be long before the issue is widely discussed and debated. The tide is most definitely turning and now is the time for those of us who know this work to speak and to demand and yes, to point the finger. For it is not only the sour faced parent hell bent on revenge who is to blame for these generational tragedies, it is the government, the services it funds and the manner in which it has been bullied into believing a one sided narrative about family separation for over four decades which is equally responsible.
In the UK, for well over four decades now, a political ideology called women’s rights, has dominated the post separation landscape and prevented the reality of why children reject a parent after separation from being understood and known about. Children do not choose to lose a loved parent after separation, they are forced to do so, either coercively by controlling behaviours from one parent or from the abject failure of the services which are supposed to support families, to recognise the problem and properly intervene. So much of what has been done wrong in this landscape has been upon the basis that the reality for children of divorce and separation has been ignored in favour of supporting their mothers (and to a far lesser extent, their fathers). The government, weak in will and dependent upon the echo chamber of the charities it financially supports, has simply caved in to the bullies who demand that women’s needs come before those of children and fathers. In this environment, no child wins the right to a freedom of mind and the outcome has been generations of children becoming trauma bonded to one parent and rejecting the other.
Being bullied is no excuse however. Now is the time for our failure to protect children of divorce and separation to be put right. I firmly believe that the children who are now emerging from the harm that has befallen them at the hands of the family justice system and its surrounding services, will demand it on behalf of those coming after.
Because when these children start to ask why, ( their protestations of not wanting to see daddy or mummy were not questioned further but accepted and taken as face value), the curtain will be pulled back and we will see the ugly reality. An ugly reality which is that we, as a society, have routinely and consciously, prioritised the needs of the mothers of children in divorce and separation. And that the ‘unintended consequences’ of this system and slavish adherence to this code of practice of prioritising the rights of women, has also been the routine exclusion of some mothers from the lives of their children (on the basis that they were being rejected by their children and must therefore be very very bad indeed and therefore unworthy of support).
It is no accident that there is now a generation of children emerging from the psychologically split state of mind and seeking the parent they were forced to choose to lose. The coercive control of children by a parent, can only last as long as the child is controllable. When the children come to the place where they are able to recognise the sentence uttered by Nicola Walker in the closing scene of last night’s episode of The Split ‘he left you, he didn’t leave us‘, the control of the child’s mind and experience begins to slip away and the critical thinking skills, long suppressed by the control behaviours, begin to emerge again. Alongside that, the warmth and power of the attachment bonds, (the reality of which many professionals still dismiss as being not present in children who reject parents) bring the children back strongly into relationship with the rejected parent.
And here in lies the truth of the failure of the family courts and the services which surround it. CAFCASS, Social Work, Family Relationship Services, all of whom have, for far too long, either dismissed the reality that children can be forced into choosing to lose a parent OR, have burdened children with that ‘choice’ in their slavish adherence to the ‘voice of the child’ doctrine. (As an aside, whoever originally dreamed up the idea that children are the people we should rely upon to tell us what they think should happen during and after their parents divorce or separation, is in my view culpable for the damage done to generations of children). As I have repeatedly said, asking a child to decide upon relational arrangements between their parents after separation is like breaking their legs and then asking them which shoes they would like to wear. It is cruel, it is an abdication of societal as well as parental responsibility and it is a supreme failure to protect children when they are at their most vulnerable in life.
This must change. This will change. This is changing. Mainstream TV is telling the story of parental alienation and even CAFCASS appear to have recognised the problem (perhaps someone saw the way the wind is blowing) and whilst social workers are still so mired in the voice of the child many are only able to contemplate reunification programmes if the alienated child signs their consent to see a rejected parent in triplicate (and preferably their own blood), that tide will change too. It has to, because when the children who said with great vehemence that they would not see a parent, begin to tell the story of why they were forced to say that, a widespread recognition of how abusive it is to a child in a vulnerable and impossible position to place such weight of choice upon their shoulders, will grow.
And those who participated in this widespread abuse of children will be recognised for their failure to protect. And those who looked the other way and argued that it was a ‘he said/she said’ situation, will be recognised for their lack of interest and lazy practice and those of us who were ridiculed, attacked, shamed and blamed for speaking up about the reality of what a child faces in the post separation landscape, will finally be heard.
It is the children who suffered this scandalous abuse and theft of their right to an unconscious childhood who will bring the failures of our family justice system into the full glare of public consciousness.
The children whose rights and needs have been, for too long, seen as indivisible from the rights of their mothers.
A women’s rights approach which has captured almost as many mothers in its tortuous net as it is has fathers. A one sided, lop sided, narrow minded dependence on a political ideology which has no place in the life of the family and no place whatsoever in the state response to the breakdown of the family.
When parents bind their children into revenge against their other parent they need psychological intervention not political ideology to support them.
Children’s lives matter, except in the landscape of divorce and separation when they are still routinely and systemically abused.
But with the return of children who have been so badly let down by our family courts, a new possibility for significant change emerges.
Those of us who know, stand ready to assist.