WordPress congratulated me today on a decade of blogging. I knew it was around this time I sat down to write my first blog on the subject of parental alienation, it was a Mother’s Day memorial for all the mothers without their children, it was for my mother who for a very long time had been without me. I had no idea when I hit the publish button that it would lead to a project which would touch so many lives around the world.
As the years have rolled by since that first blog, I have worked with dozens of alienated children and their families. I have shared the ups and downs of my frustrations with the work that I do in the context I do it in and I have shared the achievements we have made on our steady climb to the top of the mountain. Today as I write this I see the fog clearing at the top of the next peak and I see the continuation of that journey. I see what is necessary to ensure that alienated children and their families in the UK get increasingly improved outcomes on a much wider scale than ever before.
Where we have come from
When I wrote that first blog I was working with Thomas Moore and his son. His story is curated beautifully in his book ‘Please Let me See My Son‘. That work led me to deepen my interest in working with parental alienation and took me into court based work on a full time basis.
When I first began work in the UK Family Courts the words parental alienation were an anathema and to be whispered rather than spoken about out loud. The term ‘implacable hostility’ was the acceptable term for the scenario in which a child rejects a parent after family separation. Judgments of parental alienation were rare.
In 2010 however that all changed. In a case I worked in (which changed my working life forever), HHJ Bellamy made a ground-breaking judgment in which he said –
- The concept of alienation as a feature of some high conflict parental disputes may today be regarded as mainstream.
- Alienation will only be a feature in a small number of cases and may be outwith the experience of the care professionals. In cases involving an alienated child it is essential that the court has be benefit of professional evidence from an expert who has personal experience of working with alienated children.
HHJ Bellamy 2010 sitting as a High Court Judge Re S (A Child (2010) – Transfer of Residence – EWCA Civ 325)
From that point on in the UK, the issue of parental alienation began to rise to public consciousness and the issue was no longer to be whispered about. Since then, year after year, the work we have done to increase awareness in the Judiciary, including training Judges and Magistrates, has brought the issue to the fore in terms of the need to understand the harm that alienation does to a child and the need to intervene.
We have not done this work alone. Legal people have done this work, psychologists have come to the coal face and work to build new routes to intervention for children has been consistent. What all of our work has featured however is one clear thing. What we do can be traced back through time to the original writings and the original research of the pioneers in this field who identified the evidence base for working successfully with alienated children and their families.
And what does success look like?
It looks like this.
Reunification of alienated children with the parent from who they have been alienated and the protection of those children from the harm done to them by the alienating parent.
It is a child protection model of work which identifies the dynamics which cause the alienation and works to change it so that children can no longer be harmed by it.
That is what it is, that is all it is. And when it is applied, in the manner in which the research demonstrates it should be applied – it works. Our work in the UK demonstrates that it works. The way in which the UK Family Courts are applying residence transfer as the intervention for severely alienated children shows that Judges understand that it works. Our success rates show that intervention which is based on the historical research evidence in this field works.
Where we are now
So where are we now in terms of PA-UK? Well, the view from well up the mountain shows me that there are benefits aplenty from the work we have done as well as enormous risks.
The benefits are that the Judiciary take the problem seriously and are willing to take a firm grip on these cases. The legal system has some powerful people leading on case management and there is an emerging group of practitioners who are willing to learn how to do the work in the tradition laid down by research in order to bring about replicable success for alienated children and families.
The biggest risks as far as I can see are the proliferation of professionals who say they are experts in the field of parental alienation when they are nothing of the sort. The therapist for example who tells the alienated parent to reflect on their contribution to the alienation, the psychologist who diagnoses personality disorder but doesn’t recommend a residence transfer, the commentator who tries to shoe horn parental alienation into a personally preferred construct. Fortunately these people are easily spotted and their lack of success in treating parental alienation means that their reputation for failure provides warning sign that they are not safe hands for this kind of work.
The other risks are not quite so profound in terms of how parents and children will be affected. Whilst CAFCASS have made a half hearted effort at claiming the alienation space (using an old strategy of producing cherry picked research and then claiming it is the definitive voice on the matter), I don’t see the CAFCASS officers who carry the burden of responsibility in these cases becoming drawn into the muddying of the waters in the same way. What I see in fact, is that CAFCASS officers are now more regularly able to discern where specialist help is needed. Whilst all of this improvement is patchy, it will, over the coming decade, spread. I am of the view that in even five years, the complete rejection of a parent by a child after family separation will be recognised by all CAFCASS officers as a red flag and a child protection issue.
Where are we going?
Here we are then, a decade after I wrote my first blog, at a cross roads in this small country of ours. Which track then, are we going to take to the top of the mountain where the issue of parental alienation will not only be recognised, understood and treated, it will be prevented.
Our chosen track is the joining together with other European experts (and by experts I mean those who do the work successfully, not those who say they do the work but then fail to achieve anything) to build the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners. Drawing upon the expertise of people with a long pedigree in this field of work, we are building a link from the past into the future which is based upon research evidence. Which means we are seeking to develop a workforce in Europe which is trained to deliver reunification of alienated children and families in each and every case we work in. A workforce which is located within the legal and mental health interlock which the research evidence shows us is necessary in cases of parental alienation. A workforce which respects the research and which recognises that every scientific field is developed by building on what exists, by testing, evaluating and adjusting what works.
After a decade of climbing this mountain I look back at my writing and see how far we have come. I look back at my work with alienated children and families and know how far we have come. I look back at the families I have helped and I hear how far they and their children have come.
Time now to look forward to reaching the point in the UK and Europe where parents and their children are protected from the harm that parental alienation causes. That takes us into social worker education and training and a model of work which enables prevention to take precedence over cure.
I expect us to reach that destination one day very soon.
European Training and Development Group
Our UK training and development group begins on May 4/5 with ten practitioners who will be trained to EAPAP standards joining us from the UK, Malta, Poland, Jersey and the Netherlands.
The Family Separation Clinic continues its research work and will be joining with leading researchers in the coming months to evaluate a large sample of work completed in the past decade, more news here soon.
Research into the development of a new therapy in structured interventions in the Family Courts is continuing.
Our US training takes place in Philadelphia on 9/10 September 2019.
Our work to set and maintain standards in this field is well underway and we will be producing our first position paper on the use of therapy shortly.