Working as I do in the Family Court I come across what I call the Parallel Universe Principle (PUP) on many occasions.  The PUP is that which is suffered by Social Workers, who are trained it seems to believe that whatever children say should be believed and that their requests and demands should form the heart of all good practice around them.

The PUP in my view, causes Social Workers to disbelieve Judgments made even by High Court Judges and leads them into places where they are so led by the child’s voice that they are capable of suspending all rational thinking.  Working in a parallel universe appears to make social workers feel that they are either superior in their analysis of a case or that they have disproportionate power to their understanding (which in many situations is actually true).  The problem with the parallel universe principle however is that it fails to hold up under scrutiny, especially judicial scrutiny.

So it was interesting to read HHJ Bellamy’s criticism of a social worker in a case of parental alienation which was published this week.

Referring to the Social Worker’s report in the case HHJ Bellamy was highly critical, illuminating what is the most problematic of dynamics in such cases for those of us who are working to try and assist the child.

  1. In this case, Miss S’s failure to read the papers carefully has meant that previous findings of fact and their current significance have not been taken into account. Previous judicial assessments of the mother (in particular) have also been overlooked and therefore have played no part in conclusions reached when undertaking an up to date assessment of her. When taken together with Miss S’s obvious lack of knowledge and experience in the area of parental alienation, the judgments she has reached become highly questionable.
  2. Another significant criticism of Miss S’s report is that it appears to be her approach not that a child’s disclosures should be heard and taken seriously but that they should always be believed and action taken on the assumption that they are true. She made the point that D has been consistent in his disclosures. It is clear that she has not considered the possibility that what she regards as consistency could, in fact, simply be rehearsed. In her oral evidence Miss S was very open about the fact that she has not considered whether D is being untruthful. ‘I do believe his account’, she said. She also appeared to take the view that it is not D’s welfare that is paramount but his wishes and feelings.
  3. Miss S’s whole approach is premised upon the belief that D is the victim of repeated acts of physical abuse by his father. She was asked whether she had read Mr Spooner’s account of his second meeting with D, set out in his addendum report. She said she had not. Of even greater concern is that she said she had not at any point seen D with his father.
  4. With respect to this finding of fact hearing there is, I regret to say, nothing whatsoever in Miss S’s report that assists me in determining whether any of the factual issues I am investigating are true. Neither would I be assisted by this report if I were dealing with welfare issues. The report is based upon an inadequate reading of the background papers, a flawed understanding of the background history, a lack of relevant experience or expertise in dealing with cases of parental alienation and a flawed understanding of the approach that should be taken in evaluating and responding to disclosures made by a child.

There have been several occasions in my work over the years in which I have found myself face to face with a social worker who has neither the experience nor capacity to evaluate the evidence, even when a judgment already exists in which it has been found that a child has been alienated.  In such circumstances, without the most powerful management of this dynamic, which flows contrary to everything that we need to do to assist the reconfiguration of the family dynamics, the outcome is inevitably that the child remains alienated and all interventions fail.

What effectively happens in such circumstances is that the child’s maladapted and defensive voice is slavishly followed which means that the psychologically split state of mind becomes entrenched.  What social workers are doing in such circumstances is further abusing the child, this is how.

A child who is using the defence of psychological splitting is, in whatever circumstances this state of mind has been induced in them, speaking not with their healthy authentic voice but the maladapted defensive voice.  Here is a very simple description of how psychological splitting causes an alienated child to enter into the defence of alignment and rejection.

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(This diagram is adapted from Franz Ruppert’s concept of traumatic splitting in his book Splits in the Soul – Green Balloon Publishing 2011)

What is effectively being followed when social workers follow the voice of the child without analysis is the voice coming from the defensive part of the child.  When evaluated in this way, it is possible to see how damaging following that voice actually is to the child.

In some cases I have witnessed a child speaking from the defensive part of their split self and have watched how when this is believed without question, the splitting increases, leading to escalating allegations of an improbable nature without any evidence to substantiate them.  This is the modern day witch trial, in that what psychologically split children say is believed without question, leading at times to the special kind of madness which arises when the psychological splitting begins to run riot in the team around the children.  In situations where the maladapted voice of the child is allowed to lead the way, everyone is in danger of being infected by this madness which causes people to divide their feelings into right/wrong, good/bad, sane/insane.

It takes a cool headed Judge with background knowledge and a firm grip, to keep this kind of dynamic at bay in parental alienation, fortunately, (even though he missed the critical reality that parental alienation is in ICD-11 in this judgment), HHJ Bellamy is that Judge.

And when the Judge holds the ring and the intervention is delivered which addresses the traumatised part of the child so that the split off parts can heal, the defensive voice is no longer needed and the problem of alienation is healed.

Which takes us back to social work and the manner in which the voice of the child is followed so slavishly.  Given that social workers have such disproportionate power, why is it that as the rest of the world moves on in understanding the risks for children of divorce and separation, social workers are still so lacking in understanding.  One of the reasons is that their training lacks rigour in the field of children’s psychology, the other is that they are not psychologically trained, which means that their personal unresolved issues are likely to be driving them in their work with families.

Which really means that social workers have no place in working with families affected by a child who is using psychological splitting as a defence in the post separation landscape, because in bringing their lack of understanding and their personal unresolved ’stuff’ to the table, what they are really doing is abusing the child further by failing to recognise the dilemma the child is in.

An untrained, unaware social worker can do untold damage to a child in a case of alienation.

How simple it would be to teach social workers about how and why a child in the post separation landscape uses psychological splitting as a defence.

How much suffering could be prevented, for children and families alike.

One day soon we will be looking in the rear view mirror and wondering how and why, when the information about what is happening to children is so readily available and the interventions which rectify the problem for children are curated in internationally recognised standards of practice and already available,  this madness went on for so long.

Until then, the witch trial atmosphere of cases of a child’s use of defensive psychological splitting (parental alienation), continues.