The title of the EAPAP Conference 2018 is ‘Moving Upstream’ and focuses upon the internationally recognised standards of practice which are being curated in preparation for regulation of this field of work in Europe. In the coming two weeks, as we approach the conference itself, I will set out those standards, which are drawn from the international research work done by members of the Parental Alienation Study Group, the worldwide group of experts who are researching this issue.
The international standards of practice are evidence based. Which means that they rest upon peer reviewed studies of families affected by parental alienation and interventions which treat the problem. One of the allegations which are made about parental alienation is that it is either ‘junk’ or ‘pseudo’ science – labels which are designed to influence unaware people to believe that PA is a non issue. In recent days in the UK, the phrase ‘pro-parental alienation campaigners’ has popped up in commentary, with the same intent. To influence people to believe that PA is simply something that disgruntled parents use to prop up their grievances. Nothing could be further from the truth and any self respecting person who is worth listening to, will by now understand the reality that parental alienation is nothing to do with parental rights or angry parents and everything to do with mental health and the long term impact on children of the psychologically split state of mind.
Anyone can view the wealth of peer reviewed work in this field at the click of button here.
In the past five decades, children of divorce and separation in Europe, have been regarded as being of little importance and their needs have been seen as indivisible from those of the primary carer – almost always their mother. This has been the result of fifty years of feminist practice in the field of family separation, in which children in family separation have been seen as being the property of their mother. This in itself is a mirror of how children used to be regarded as the property of their father and it has done nothing to prevent children from becoming weaponised in a war between parents over their rights to remain involved in their children’s lives.
During the past five decades the issue of children of divorce and separation has been largely represented by parental rights groups which means that the issue of how children are harmed in family separation has been seen as simply being about aggrieved parents. What we know about parental alienation, (which is the child’s defence mechanism of psychological splitting in an environment which has become intolerable for them), is that it causes great harm to children. We not only know that from research evidence, we know it from practice with families. And in the UK, increasingly, we know it from the cohort of young people who were rendered permanently alienated by judgements in the family courts over the past two decades.
When I first began work in this field, young people who are now reaching the age of 21 were not even born. Witnessing a generation of children of divorce and separation being born and reaching their maturity whilst being affected by the UK approach to dealing with parental alienation has been a sobering experience. In the past two decades I have seen children enter into psychological splitting, their rejected parent judged wanting and prevented from ever seeing their child again (on the recommendation of CAFCASS) and emerge from the alienated state of mind to re-find the parent they had been forced to choose to lose through the lack of support to the family from the family courts. I have also seen the extreme damage that the upholding of their ‘decision’ to reject a parent has done to them and am now working with that generation of alienated children who were not helped by the family courts but abandoned to their fate by the ignorance and blinkered approach of the services that were supposed to help them. The shocking damage done to children when state services eschew their responsibility to help a child in favour of upholding the maladaptive response of rejecting a parent, is evident in this generation of recovering alienated children. Time will tell how many of these seek compensation for the enormous damage done in giving them the decision making power through upholding their ‘wishes and feelings.’
The damage done to children when their ‘decision’ to reject a parent is upheld by the state is difficult to describe. What we see in these young people is a missing developmental stage which is caused by the psychologically split state of mind. When energy which should be going into learning and growing normally, is diverted to a regressed state of mind of psychological splitting, this defence mechanism depletes the focus from where it should be and concentrates the child’s energy on keeping the defence in place. Thus, the young people who are now seeking help, are showing signs of borderline personality issues, a lack of internalised boundaries, a fragile sense of self and intolerance of normal relational experiences. These are the children whose wishes and feelings were allowed to guide the decisions made by the family courts over the past two decades. These are the children who are living with the consequences of the adults in their lives being either unable to take responsibility for them because they were forced out of their lives or failing to take responsibility by giving the child the responsibility to decide.
And those adults include all of the family court services which were approached for help by terrified rejected parent. The Judges, the CAFCASS workers, the Social Workers, the Therapists, the Mediators and all. Anyone in the past decades, who has simply relied upon the wishes and feelings of a child to make a decision about a relationship that child has with a parent, is responsible for the damage which is now being witnessed in this emerging generation of young people.
It is time for change.
Moving Upstream is about regulated practice in the field of parental alienation, early intervention to properly triage cases and forensic assessment to ensure that the psychologically split state of mind in a child is recognised, flagged and NOT depended upon for decisions going forward. Moving Upstream is about helping families at the earliest point in divorce and separation instead of dragging the bodies out of the water to resuscitate them further down. Moving Upstream is a strategy which recognises that divorce and separation harms children and that the space in between two newly separated parents is an incredibly problematic space for children of all ages. Moving Upstream is about the reform of family services away from feminist thinking and towards therapeutic assistance which truly helps children to negotiate the painful landscape of divorce and separation.
Moving Upstream to Address the Problem of Parental Alienation in Europe is the start of a new phase of work with children of divorce and separation and it begins by regulating the work of all practitioners in this field. As we regulate the space we protect parents and children and also practitioners who do this work. As we protect practitioners, more will come to do this work which means that the stranglehold that blinkered family services have on vulnerable families will be diminished. With recognised standards of practice in place, no family will have to suffer at the hands of untrained and unaware practitioners. In the future, anyone whose child is rejecting or resisting contact, will have access to the assessments which differentiate parental alienation and to treatment routes which are shown to work.
Moving Upstream matters because prevention is far better than cure in parental alienation and the evidence which is emerging from young people, of the damage that parental alienation does underscores this tenfold. One day very soon, the children whose wishes and feelings were upheld by the family court, will be standing in court asking for damages for the harm done to them. And with the evidence they hold about what could and should have been done but wasn’t and the evidence that those who could and should have done something didn’t, this is a generation of children who will help to prevent damage being done to the children coming after them.
As one such young person said to me last week –
‘how could anyone rely on a word I said back then? I was scared, I was terrified in fact and I just wanted it all to stop – so much so that I would have said anything about my dad to make it stop. I thought they were going to help me but all they did was write down what I said and then they told my dad. I was so ashamed because I realised how much I had hurt him. I was so ashamed and scared that I never saw him again, which of course made my mum really happy. I have had to live with that for nearly fifteen years now. How could they do that to a child?’
When the evidence has been in existence for all of the time these children were growing up but it was ignored in favour of burdening children with the responsibility.
How could they do that to a child?
EAPAP Conference 2018
The EAPAP Conference 2018 opens a new phase of work with children of divorce and separation in Europe by regulating the space in which this work is done and by introducing training, accreditation and awareness raising across Europe.
The EAPAP Conference launches internationally recognised standards of practice with children of divorce and separation and particularly parental alienation.
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