I was sent a copy of some research on parental alienation which was undertaken recently for CAFCASS Cymru. A quick read through confirmed that this is not research written by a curious mind, but one which likely has an agenda to manage the rapid growth of interest in parental alienation as a real concept affecting real children in the UK. Given that organisations such as Families need Fathers have been campaigning on the issue of parental alienation in Wales, it is unsurprising that the flavour of the research is feminist and designed to undermine the reality of parental alienation. I have long said that if we allow PA to remain as a political game of parental rights ping pong, all we will see is assertion and counter assertion and the truth of the matter which is that parental alienation is emotional and psychological child abuse, will be lost. This piece of research, commissioned for CAFCASS Cymru, is, in my view, simply part of that ongoing process and as such takes us nowhere other than back round to the beginning, where false assertions are made and no corrective measures to properly establish the reality are taken.
It doesn’t take very long to find the intention in this research. Turning to page 17, where we see the heading – A rapid review of empirical evidence on parental alienation – the following is asserted without any referencing and without any evidence whatsoever to uphold the claim.
Parental alignment or parental alienation can also be a normal reaction to parental separation.
Which is rapidly followed by a confusing jumble of statements –
However, the extent to which this is a minor, time-limited phenomenon or a more serious issue is controversial (Hands and Warshak, 2011). Such controversy also surrounds the notion of PAS, postulated by Gardner as a sub-category of parental alienation referring to the mental condition experienced by the alienated child, due to its lack of scientific credibility (Rueda, 2004).
Presumably, the authors, in writing this, are leading unaware readers to believe their underlying meaning, which I interpret as –
Parental alienation is something that happens to children, controversy exists in regard to whether this is something that will just pass and anyway PAS is controversial in itself because it lacks scientific credibility.
So that neatly disposes of parental alienation as a real thing even before the ‘rapid review’ is unpacked. So keen are the authors to do this that their next paragraph is even more packed full of assertions and errors.
Referring to the DSM-5 and ICD-10, which are the diagnostic tools used in the USA and Europe for mental health and other problems, the authors have this to say.
‘It is important to note that neither the DSM-V nor the ICD-10 specifically identify parental alienation or PAS. Both include broad definitions of child psychological abuse (DSM-V 995.53 and ICD-10 T74.3) that may include many of the attributes often identified as being characteristics of PAS but do not identify it as a specific sub-type. The ICD-10 also includes additional classifications that touch on some of the different dimensions described by advocates of PAS, for example: Z62.1 Parental overprotection; Z62.4 Emotional neglect of child; Z62.8 Inappropriate parental pressure and other abnormal qualities of upbringing. None of these classifications specifically identify PAS and the examples given are generally much broader than those used in the wider literature of PAS. The Beta version of the forthcoming ICD-11, at the time of writing, includes a proposal to include parental alienation under the broader grouping of caregiver-child relationship problems. It is not clear if this will be included in the final version, nor is it clear how this might be defined. The inclusion of parental alienation in either the DSM or the ICD classifications has been, and continues to be, contentious (Bernet et al., 2010; Bernet and Baker, 2013; Pepiton et al., 2012).’
Continuing the theme of misinformation, the authors use the terms PA and PAS interchangeably, having at no time distinguished between the two. There is no mention of the concept of ‘Child Affected by Relationship Distress‘ which is in the DSM-5 and which is used in assessment in the UK to determine the potential presence of PA and there is scant regard paid to the fact that parental alienation will be included in the ICD-11. The reference to Professor William Bernet and Dr Amy Baker in the assertion that the inclusion of parental alienation in these diagnostic manuals is controversial, is simply misplaced.
The opening paragraphs of this section of the report set the scene for what follows, which is a series of claims which are made to establish the argument that parental alienation is not really a real thing and that too much fuss is being made about it. And anyway, claim the authors, all of this is going on in the USA and so it is not really anything for us to worry about because when we look at the UK (page 23)- the research by Liz Trinder shows us the reality – which is that implacable hostility is rare –
All of the studies identified thus far relate to research outside the UK. Trinder et al’s (2013), study of enforcement applications in England constitutes a rare example of domestic research. While the focus of this study was on court outcomes, the study drew on Cafcass (England) records. The findings from this study identified that implacable hostility is a rare phenomenon:
Contrary to public perceptions and our own expectations, very few of the cases involved implacably hostile parents who unreasonably refused all contact. Instead the majority of cases involved two parents involved in mutual conflict over their children, followed by cases where there were significant safeguarding concerns that were impacting upon contact and by cases where older children wished to stop or reduce contact.
(Trinder et al., 2013:36)
So there you have it. The underlying meaning of this research is that all of this PA nonsense is going on elsewhere and when we look at the UK, the problem of implacable hostility is rare and when children refuse to see a parent, it is really about ‘significant safeguarding’ concerns.
There is therefore, no real need to go any further into evaluating this research because the purpose of it in claiming ownership of the debate around parental alienation is very clear. This is a similar approach to that taken by CAFCASS England, in which the issue of PA is first embraced publicly, leading everyone to heave a sigh of relief that something is being done, so that what is then done, (which is something more or less opposite of what is needed), can be pointed to as being ‘the CAFCASS solution’ to the problem of parental alienation.
This is a well worn path used by CAFCASS for managing difficult issues and claiming ownership of the space in which they are debated. Those of us who were around in 2002 will recognise the switching technique technique as that which was used to scupper the Early Interventions project back then. A switch which led to a project which had been endorsed by the Judiciary at the highest level, being replaced by a project which looked the same but which was vastly different. This piece of research for CAFCASS Cymru is exactly the same technique. The strategy is to commission research which has an underlying agenda and then claim that this is the definitive research so that the space is owned and dominated and can be pointed to over and over again when campaigners attempt to say otherwise. It is a clever trick which shuts up parents and practitioners and anyone who seeks to say other than what the CAFCASS party line is, which is very clear from this report, PA doesn’t really exist and if it does it is not scientifically credible because it is dominated by the same handful of researchers.
Unfortunately the people it really shuts up are the children who reject their parents unjustifiably and the parents who remain rejected. In this respect it is just another tool in the generational merry go round of state funded lack of interest in what is really happening to children in divorce and separation in the UK. Something I have grown used to in over two decades of this work but which I will never stop caring about or working to make different.
The review concludes thus –
There is a paucity of empirical research into parental alienation, and what exists is dominated by a few key authors. Hence, there is no definitive definition of parental alienation within the research literature.
Which makes me smile and grimace all at the same time.
No mention of the 500 plus peer reviewed research articles held by Vanderbilt University on the matter, which can be readily accessed by anyone, including these researchers – here.
No mention of the wide range of researchers and practitioners who work on the issue tirelessly around the world in the Parental Alienation Study Group.
And no mention of the work done to raise the issue to public consciousness in Wales. In fact in opposition to that, the closing recommendation for practice is –
There appears to be some mis-information in the media and amongst pressure groups on this topic, which suggests that it would be helpful to promote awareness of the evidence base for parental alienation amongst Cafcass Cymru staff, children’s services and mental health services generally.
Which roughly translated means – to counter the awareness raising which is going on in Wales, please point people to this research for the real evidence about parental alienation.
If I were campaigning in Wales I would be livid about this research because it is full of holes, it spreads misinformation and it seeks to control the space with a half baked narrative based on a rapid review through a self interested lens.
A response to this report comes soon however in the form of a robust and detailed catalogue of case law. Watch this space.
In addition the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners holds its first conference in London on August 30/31st which will be chaired by Sir Paul Coleridge, a former High Court Judge and which will be attended by world experts in the field. A chance to hear the reality for legal and mental health practitioners and for the Judiciary across Europe to share with the UK their experience in managing the reality of these cases.
All of which makes this piece of research from CAFCASS Cymru appear to be what it really is. A take on PA through a particular lens, which is designed to give control over the space back to CAFCASS Cymru. A very similar approach taken by CAFCASS England last year (although it somewhat blew up for them) and one which has been seen to be used by this body previously.
It is an approach which allows and enables CAFCASS practitioners to ignore the real evidence in favour of their own.
Which will continue the schism in the attendance to the real issue of parental alienation in the UK for a bit longer because in effect this research buys CAFCASS Cymru just a bit more time.
But the clock is ticking on the issue of a child’s unjustified rejection of a parent in the post separation landscape, because new generations of children are now becoming adults. And those adults are integrating the split state of mind and seeking out the parent they once rejected. And in doing so the dawning reality that the state invested services which could have helped, but didn’t, will grow.
And so this research is simply closing the door after the horse has bolted.
The truth about parental alienation is becoming known and will be known because it is held not by a group of researchers with a particular view of the world, but by the children affected by the past decisions made about their lives which were based upon stand point research such as this.
It is too late to turn back the tide, the reality is already known and will become more strongly articulated and curated and publicly known about.
And those who worked to switch the truth and hide the evidence and mislead the families affected will be recognised.
It is only a matter of time.