Last week, on the heels of the research from Brunel Law School, I said I would write about parental alienation as a false allegation, an issue which is repeatedly raised by women’s rights advocates who deny the reality of a child’s rejection of a parent after family separation.
This week we are in Iceland to deliver training to psychologists, family practitioners and policy makers . The problem of a child’s pathological alignment and rejection behaviour is something many countries around the world are waking up to.
I want to be clear in writing this blog.
When I talk about PA as a false allegation, I am not doing so because I want to take away the reality of parental alienation from those who suffer in this landscape. When I write about false allegations of PA it is to strengthen the case for taking alienation of children seriously, by ensuring that the outside world recognises that when we talk about a case of induced psychological splitting in a child we are doing so from a place of experience and expertise.
Anyone who is practicing in this field absolutely has to be aware that not everyone who claims to be alienated actually is and must be able to demonstrate how they have differentiated this. Not everyone who says they are alienated, actually are.
Not everyone who puts themselves forward as experts in this field are either. Just as I avoid the PA deniers, I also avoid those who blindly promote the issue and act without discretion. Psychologists with shiny credentials may be regulated and accredited but it does not make them expert in this field. I particularly avoid any involvement with initiatives run by those not trained or experienced in working directly and successfully with alienated children and families and here is why.
However we label the issue of a child’s alignment and rejection behaviour, whether we call it parental alienation or induced psychological splitting or ABPA or something else, there is always the absolute requirement to avoid unnecessary risk. Anyone who is doing this work has to be aware of the risk that a child’s rejection and allegations may be based on truth and has to avoid placing that child and the parent they are aligned to in danger.
When parents run campaigns, however well intentioned, they are unhelpful if they promote naive commentators who tell the outside world the following –
‘the law says after separation a parent has a responsibility to support their child in a good relationship with the other parent and that is the law. The court should not be involved in anything more complicated and sophisticated. Other people should be doing helpful things but the law is not the right place to assess risk and certainly not the place to do therapy.’
Campaigns which also promote the idea that prevention of parental alienation can be achieved via early intervention and education are also misleading the public. As I supervise one of the leading Israeli practitioners in this field, I am aware that the views of a retired Israeli Judge, however well intentioned, are not the definitive view on how parental alienation is managed in Israel. Prevention via education may be a hopeful idea, but it is not the case that parental alienation in Israel is non existent. If it were, I would not be supervising cases there.
A hopeful idea becomes damaging when it diverts attention away from the reality of what parental alienation is, what it does to children and how it should be managed. It is also damaging when it fails to differentiate between true alienation of a child and false allegations. And it is this which has caused me most consternation in recent days.
Whilst parental alienation is a real thing, it is also a great cover for parents who want to avoid their responsibility for causing a child’s rejection. It is also a great tool for parents who want to maintain power and control over the other parent.
Alienators maintain power and control by inducing the psychologically split state of mind in children using a variety of behaviours, some conscious, some unconscious, all ending with the child’s pathological alignment.
False claimants of alienation use the child’s rejection as a way of maintaining control over a parent and they triangulate the family court and others into that dynamic to cause maximum pressure.
The difference between alienation and false claims of it, is that when a child is alienated, they will use the defence of psychological splitting, which causes clear markers in the child’s behaviours.
When they are not, they do not use splitting as a defence and the markers are therefore not present.
When the markers of alienation are present, the next task is to determine how and why the child came to utilise the defence of splitting. This is an unravelling of the family dynamic which requires hours of forensic work. It also requires observation of the family and consistent presence to monitor behaviours.
Anyone who works in this field should be able to understand this and recognise that a child’s defence of psychological splitting is not about contact with a parent or even rejection, it is about how the child has been induced to use the defence of splitting after family separation and the harm that this causes.
Inducing a child to use the defence of psychological splitting does not happen in all cases of divorce and separation. Most families make the crossing from together to apart with some bumps in the road, but eventually they get there. Those who do not, need specialist help, they need practitioners trained in the principles and protocols of reunification work and they need interventions which actually work, not just someone who tells you they work.
This is a complex field, which is full of parents behaving extremely badly. It is a field in which high functioning personality disordered people are over represented and one in which children’s lives and wellbeing are at stake. This is no place for naive commentators, it is not the place for hobbyists and it is definitely not the place for indiscriminate welcoming in of all and sundry who claim to be alienated.
The issue of parental alienation DEMANDS to be held and contained by a higher authority than those parents, who in the words of Wilfred Von Boch Galhau, have reached the outer limits of their capacity in managing their parenting responsibilities. Whilst clinical psychologists and psychiatrists may hold sufficient authority to put such families through an assessment, getting them to behave better is quite another matter.
When a child is utilising psychological splitting as a defence, treatment routes have to be properly constructed and managed in order to bring the family dynamics to a new place and this is not something which is achieved by ticking boxes or applying unadapted therapies. Reconfiguring family dynamics to release the child from the psychologically split state of mind is difficult work, it is dangerous work because of ignorance, personal beliefs and misinformation.
Campaigns which promote misinformation and wishful thinking therefore, are extremely unhelpful to anyone who is doing this work properly. If a road safety campaigner told you that it was not necessary to wear a seatbelt because the answer to deaths in traffic accidents is to get everyone to drive more slowly, would you listen?
As a rejected parent you are vulnerable, you are scared, you are in need of help. You feel better when people tell you that they know what the answer is and that this thing called parental alienation can be solved if everyone would just behave a little bit better. It makes you feel better about your situation, less scared, more in control.
Having been rejected, you are vulnerable yourself to psychological splitting. When someone says they have ‘the answer’ to your problem you are easily led by hope, the idea of togetherness and the eradication of the problem forever.
It is an inculcation of false hope and belief, here’s why.
I am going to start by showing you the reality of parental alienation cases and the complexity of false allegations, because they do exist and they are incredibly damaging to parents and children who face them.
Whilst this subject is uncomfortable for anyone who suffers alienation and those who work to raise awareness of the problem, if we do not face this question we are failing not only those who are falsely accused and their children, we are failing those who truly are suffering.
I hope by writing about this, naive campaigners will recognise the risks of promoting misinformation from people who do not work with alienated children and families and will recognise the potential harm they cause to the work of those who do.
I hope rejected parents will recognise the reasons why those of us who do this work do not advocate easy solutions and why we keep a distance from those who do.
The Reality of Parental Alienation Cases – Example 1
In order to illustrate how difficult parental alienation cases actually are, I am going to use a short clip of a mother who says she is fighting against the secret family courts and that she is innocent.
Samantha Baldwin ran away with her children after a twelve day hearing in which the allegations of sexual abuse she had made against the father of her children were found to be unproven. Samantha Baldwin alienated her children from their father who she said then and continues to say, sexually abused them.
Here is what the Judge in the case said at the time she disappeared with her children –
The strong presumption in favour of open justice which applies generally to Court proceedings does not apply to proceedings which are held in private and relate to children. The default position is one that by statute and rules prohibits the dissemination of any information relating to the proceedings unless the Court directs otherwise: (In Re W) (children) EWCA Civ 113. In this case I exercised my discretion to allow a controlled degree of publicity to assist the children to be found. That does not give the media a licence to report generally about this case.
There has been much ill-informed speculation in some sections of the media. I give this short judgement, as to the essential facts.
This began as a private family law case between a mother and a father. They had separated. They had been in dispute over the amount of time that their two boys should spend with the father.
In December 2014, the mother alleged that the father had sexually abused his sons. The father adamantly denied that he had done so. The police investigated. Given the seriousness of the allegations, all contact between the father and his sons stopped. There was a fact-finding hearing to decide whether the allegations were true before me in February 2017. I heard evidence over twelve days. I heard from the mother and the father who both had experienced senior Counsel to represent them and fourteen witnesses. I had regard to over two-thousand pages of documents. I heard oral submissions from the advocates on the evidence I had received. I made a prohibited steps order against the mother with her consent that she would remain living at her stated address with the boys.
I reserved judgement to Monday the 27th of March.
In the middle of delivering my judgement on that morning, the mother abruptly left court. It is now apparent that she picked up her sons from an unknown location and disappeared with them. This put her in breach of the Court order.
The police are investigating how she did this and I make no further comment save that it is my assessment that was plainly pre-planned and carefully executed.
The mother intended to prevent the court from taking decisions as to the arrangements that should be made for the boys in light of my findings.
I made a number of specific findings in my judgment.
At the beginning of that judgment, I set out the respective positions of the parents in these terms: “This is a calamitous case. The two boys that I am concerned with have either been grossly sexually abused by their father, members of the father’s family, and a number of his male friends. Or, in all probability, they now have a false belief that he, his family and friends have done so. On either basis the consequences for the emotional and psychological wellbeing of these boys may well be catastrophic.”
In my judgment I found that the father had not perpetrated sexual, physical or emotional abuse against the boys as alleged by the mother, or at all and that the allegations made by the mother were false.
I also found that the mother genuinely believed that he had done so, but that her belief was irrational and that the evidence of abuse was unreliable.
I also made a finding that in order to try to prove her case against the father the mother had caused the boys to ingest substances that would give rise to a positive testing for benzodiazepine products and zolpidem.
It is not uncommon in contested family proceedings, that one side, and occasionally both sides, are of the opinion that the judge’s decision was wrong. It is open to such a party to ask the judge himself or the Court of Appeal to give permission to appeal against the decision. What is not acceptable is for a party to attempt to obstruct the court’s decision by removing children, as I am satisfied that this mother did.
There was understandable concern given my findings as to what the mother might do. I made a recovery order empowering the police to find and keep safe the children. I authorised the release of the names of the mother and the boys to assist the police to find them. The mainstream press and media gave some very helpful coverage. As a result a tip-off from a member of the public enabled the police to find the boys. They are now in the interim care of the local authority. I now have to decide what care arrangements should be made in the best welfare interests of these boys. They could not immediately return to their father. I am very concerned as to the impact of continued press and media intrusion into their lives. They need to be protected from much of what has been inaccurately reported about their parents and about what has happened to them.
I deliver this judgment in open Court to summarise my principle findings.
Any reporting should be limited to the facts set out in this judgment.
Samantha Baldwin, like many alienating parents, was convinced that her children were at risk of harm from their father. So convinced that she drugged them to strengthen the evidence against him. On her website, she now claims that all of these findings are false and in fact the children’s father drugged them. Her latest blog is about how to catch child abusers. Go read it. Work out what you would do if faced with this case. Tell me whether you would advocate education and therapy or whether you would call in a specialist, skilled and trained to do this work and a Judge who is trained to take decisions based on evidence.
Was this case a false claim of parental alienation by the father of her children? Reading the Judgement it was clearly not.
Is Samantha Baldwin now claiming that she is a victim of a false claim of alienation? It would certainly appear so.
Should the risks and allegations in the case have been heard in court? Without a doubt.
Could this case have been resolved using therapy outside of the court? Absolutely not.
Could this case have been resolved using education and early intervention? No it could not.
This is not an unusual case of parental alienation. Cases like this involve deeply damaged individuals who become entrenched in some very fixed views.
This is what parental alienation looks like and suggesting in a campaign or a blog or anywhere else that the court is not the place to manage such cases or that they can be resolved by early intervention or education is as dangerous as it is foolish.
These cases are not simple, they are not easily resolved and they DEMAND to be managed by a Judge with a powerful understanding of power and control dynamics. The risks inherent are clear and the ONLY PERSON who should be determining risk in such cases is the Judge.
Parental Alienation as a False Allegation – Example 2
One of the biggest problems facing parents in a world where awareness of parental alienation is growing, is when it is used as a false allegation. In order to demonstrate how abusive men use parental alienation as a false allegation, I am going to use a report from a case heard in Glasgow this week involving a man called Stephen James Best.
Stephen Best has been found guilty of rape and was sentenced this morning to six years in prison for his crimes.
Stephen Best is a man who ran two campaigns about parental alienation recently and who released a record called ‘Dear Sophie’ which was widely promoted around facebook and other such groups frequented by parents.
His group ‘Child Absent’ was followed by many alienated parents. He befriended many people in the field of parental alienation.
Stephen Best said that he was an alienated parent. He also said he had a degree in psychology and attempted to undermine the work of an organisation with a sound record in representing alienated children and families by publicly attacking one of the Co-Founders.
The National Association of Alienated Parents is a group run for parents by parents who have restored their relationship with their children. This group, works carefully and diligently towards representing families at every level in the UK, including to the governments of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This group flagged the risk of Stephen Best long before he was arrested but was ignored. That they were able to recognise the risk in his behaviours, relied upon their background training and their solid understanding of alienation which they have applied to their own lives in recovering their own children.
Stephen Best is an abusive man who inveigled himself into the landscape of parental alienation in the UK easily. He was welcomed into groups and campaigns and ran his own campaigns which drew vulnerable parents into his sphere of influence.
Stephen Best is not an alienated parent and never was. Today, as he is sentenced to prison for six years, the reality of how abusive people use parental alienation as false allegation is demonstrated.
The idea that everyone who says they are alienated actually is and everyone who claims expertise actually has it and all campaigns should be universally supported, is made a nonsense of by the reality of Stephen Best who is now serving a prison sentence for two counts of rape, one of which was for rape of a minor.
Abusive men and women who use parental alienation as a false claim do not look like monsters. They are charming, persuasive and they manipulate reality incredibly well. Skilled in the use of alienation behaviours, they will be seen to flatter others in order to be seen to be convincing. If they feel they are close to being exposed, they will change tack and become charming and compliant in order to continue to persuade others of their relevance. Abusive men and women who make false claims of parental alienation do not wear hats which say ‘beware, abusive infiltrator‘ they appear to be genuine, kind and decent people. If you have been rejected by your child, it is likely you have already been subjected once to this kind of person in your life. You didn’t notice it then until it was too late. It is highly likely you won’t notice the abusive person in your midst.
This is not a field for amateurs. It is not a playground and it is not a field where anyone and everyone should be listened to just because they say the words parental alienation.
If we want this field to be recognised as being something other than ‘junk science’ we, as practitioners, have to have the courage to face the reality of what happened when unaware people allowed someone like Stephen Best into their midst.
This is a toxic field, it is a dangerous field and it is full of risk, to children and to parents most of all. These are complex cases which are full of extremely challenging dynamics. These are not everyday cases about ‘contact’, they involve seriously unwell parents and pathological behaviours which cause harm.
There is a reason why those of us who do this work are seeking to set standards, educate and develop training programmes. And it is not because we want fame or fortune. It is because we know how dangerous this work is and what the risks of harm are to the families we work with and to our own practitioner selves.
Parental alienation is real and it is also used as a false allegation. It causes parents to be rejected by their children and it is used as an allegation to control children and parents. Telling the difference requires a high level of skill and care, not campaigns which promote the idea that parental alienation is something readily resolvable if we just all get in line or speak with one voice.
Be careful who you listen to. Keep your critical thinking skills sharp. Question everything and everyone. Including me.
Children’s lives depend on it.
the link to the Judgment in the case of Stephen Best is here https://www.scotland.police.uk/whats-happening/news/2020/january/man-sentenced-for-domestic-abuse-offences