Arriving back home from Switzerland last night I was woken by Nick to see the short piece on parental alienation on the BBC News at ten last night. Having fallen asleep, I hoped I was dreaming as the arch priestess of the voice of the child agenda, Liz Trinder, graced the screen. Liz had been wheeled out by the BBC to give her views in opposition to the parental alienation guidelines for social workers which were issued by Sarah Parsons and Julie Doughty in their podcast on Community Care. Watching the same old arguments played out on screen by CAFCASS and Trinder, made me realise why parental alienation is such a tough nut to crack in terms of media coverage.
The media loves a conflict and will create opposition even where there isn’t one. This is why it is such a difficult issue in terms of raising awareness. In reality, pathological splitting, in which a child is induced to use an infantile defence mechanism which is harmful to their long term wellbeing is not a controversial subject. Child abuse in all its forms is one which we all agree should be stopped. When we conceptualise parental alienation as child abuse, it is an unarguable truth that we should all be working to stop it. When we conceptualise it as parental rights however, conflicted views and opinions abound.
Liz Trinder and academics who follow her ideological standpoint, believe that children should be allowed to choose whether to have a relationship with a parent after family separation based on the child’s view of the parent. Liz went so far as to say last night that if a child ‘isn’t keen on a parent’ then they should not be made to have a relationship with them. Which sets up parents as being valuable in children’s lives only if children consider them to be so. This is the far end of the spectrum of the ‘voice of the child’ agenda and as such it is perfect for the media because it generates argument and debate. For the children whose lives are being damaged by being burdened with choices they are too young to make and responsibilities they are too young too bear, it is about as abusive as it gets because it removes the focus from the harm being done to the child and relocates it to perceived parental conflict.
Sarah Parsons of CAFCASS does very little to shift the debate and her podcast with Julie Doughty as I wrote last week only serves to muddy the waters further. When poorly made guidance meets ideological standpoint, the only outcome we can ever get is more conflict. Watching the BBC article made me realise that surface arguments about parental alienation will only serve to further the false dichotomy and the mainstream media is not the best place to bring the issue of parental alienation as child abuse to light. In my view, the time the media will serve a useful purpose in this arena is when the issue of parental alienation is raised by the children who have suffered it. A time when the likes of Liz Trinder and CAFCASS will be asked to account for their misrepresentation of the needs of children in divorce and separation. A time in the future, which like all historical child abuse scandals, will come. Until then, such fake news from the BBC simply furthers to muddy the waters of mainstream consciousness.
On other media channels this past week a video has been making the rounds of two children being carried out of their father’s home by the police. Reading the commentary about this and watching the video, again made me realise how difficult it is to convey the truth of parental alienation in all of its stark realities. Having carried out transfers of residence in the UK Family Courts, what I was watching seemed to me to be a court ordered removal of the children. Given that it appeared to be the children’s father filming the event and given the complete lack of reassurance from him to the children, it seemed to me to be pretty clear where the responsibility lay for the harm being done to the children.
Not so for the thousands of commentators across the internet who lambasted the police, denigrated the mother of the children and applauded the father. Those who saw the video as I saw it were few and far between and were themselves the subject of attack in places. Even in places which are supposedly alienation aware I read horrified comments about the manner in which the police intervened. Which again makes me realise how difficult it is to convey to people that alienation of a child is emotional and psychological abuse and how that abuse is just as damaging as other forms of harm. Even alienated parents commented that they would not want their children to be removed in that way, which makes me realise that even those who are witness to the abuse of their child, find it difficult to conceptualise the level of harm. Had those children’s arms and legs been broken by their father would anyone argue that the police were not doing the right thing? Why is a child’s mind being broken considered less harmful, making it controversial to remove them from the source of that?
When I work with children who are recovering from the induced pathological splitting which is the root of the alienation reaction, I see their interminable struggle to find a steady platform to rest their thinking upon. When the mind has been forced into a position where the beliefs one holds cannot be relied upon, the effort to trust ones own sense of judgment is exhausting. When the recovering self seeks perspective but faces the repeated scissoring of experience into two halves, one good and the other bad, relationships become incredibly tricky to navigate. So much so that many simply give up and isolate themselves from relationships of all kinds. Is this a less damaged life than the physically or sexually abused child? I do not think so. What I think is that inducing a child to use the infantile defence of psychological splitting by putting them under intense pressure in the post separation landscape, is serious child abuse. And we treat serious child abuse by removing the child from the parent who is harming them. And when we do that and the abusive parent films the event, we protect the children further from that parent.
Those who believe that serious and severe parental alienation can be treated without such scenes as this are simply naive. And those who believe that parental alienation is about whether a child is ‘keen on’ a parent or not are simply perpetuating institutionalised child abuse. And those who think that mainstream media is a tool for changing public opinion about parental alienation are wishful thinkers resting their hopes on fake news.
What is not fake news however is that parental alienation is the next emerging child abuse scandal in the UK and it will not be long before a generation of children whose ‘decisions’ about a parental relationship after family separation have left them deeply scarred, come looking for the truth.
And the truth is, we have known about parental alienation for a very long time and we have known what the cause and the damage is and we have watched as a whole group of people have upheld those ‘decisions’ made by children repeatedly over several decades. We have condemned generations of children to pathological splitting and all of the attendant damage that causes and we have done nothing to prevent it. And even now, as the truth begins to dawn upon those who have perpetuated the problem, the waters are muddy with denial.
This is an institutionalised child abuse scandal in which the the rights of parents have taken precedence over the needs of children. Fake news cannot disguise that.
One day very soon, those children who have been harmed by those who stood by and did nothing, are going to demand to know the reasons why.