Learning to Safeguard Alienated Children: Watching Behaviours not Listening to Words

The principles and Protocols of working with alienated children and families are not difficult to learn, they are not difficult to teach either to people already trained, qualified and experienced in psychology or psychotherapy.  Even social workers, in fact especially social workers, can learn and apply the principles of reunification work because they hold the statutory power which allows them to safeguard children.

The problem we face in getting people to understand this, is that as yet, we have not fully made the case which demonstrates that a child’s induced psychological splitting, which is also known as parental alienation, is a real form of child abuse.  This is where the work of EAPAP is heading, to make that case and evidence it.  Then and only then will we see the tide turning in terms of safeguarding alienated children.

The current state of play in the UK in terms of recognising the harm that alienated children are suffering is pretty grim.  It reminds me of the seventies, a decade I grew up in, where sexually abused children were ignored and silenced or worse, they were blamed for being provocative.  We did not understand then, that children who are sexually abused, who are at times precocious or sexualised in their behaviours because of the abuse they suffered, were displaying, in the only way they possessed, the harm that had befallen them.

Back then, just like now, the adults who could and should be responsible for listening with an interpretive ear, failed to recognise what was happening.  Only when the perpetrators were either dead or made powerless by age, did those children have the confidence to speak up.  In my view, there is little difference between what happened to them and what has happened to generations of children who have been forced to use psychological splitting to survive in divorce and separation.  Alienated children are waving red flags and the people who can help them are ignoring them, or worse, they are intervening to help the alienating (abusing) parent maintain control.

How we fully change turn this tide is going to be down to the way that we explain what is happening to these children because so far it seems we haven’t done this well enough.  I would say in fact that we have failed, especially with social workers and Guardians who in my experience either struggle to understand or if they do, are prevented from doing what is right by the systems they work within, systems which are largely concentrated on giving children a voice in proceedings.

When the voice of the child that these people listen to is the maladapted voice, it is easy to see how so many alienated children are desperately failed by statutory services.  Just like in the seventies with sexually abused children, interpreting the behaviours of children instead of taking them at their maladapted word, is what is required.

It is our job now to make sure that the key to understanding these children is put in the hands of as many as possible, so that these generations do not have to wait until the people who harmed them are old and dying to get the help that they need.  In order to do that we are going to have to change the message making about parental alienation somewhat to help people to properly understand the problem.

So far we have been using the following messages, all of which have allowed the continued abuse of children in divorce and separation –

  • Parental alienation is about high conflict
  • Parental alienation is about brainwashing children leading to the belief that
  • Parental alienation can only be resolved by using de-brainwashing techniques
  • Resolving alienation requires that alienation is proved in court

All of these messages have led to the lack of understanding of the issues facing families and through that the lack of help available to them because –

  • Leading people to believe that PA is about high conflict means that both parents can be blamed
  • Leading people to believe that parental alienation is about brainwashing children means that people believe that only de-brainwashing programmes will resolve the problem
  • If parental alienation has to be proved in court before anything can change then the harm being done to children continues whilst a long drawn out court battle is played out
  • Believing that emotional and psychological abuse is less damaging than physical or sexual abuse allows for lack of engagement with the reality of harm being done

None of this is actually true when the problem we call parental alienation is properly understood and I would argue that it has not been properly understood – yet.

With clinicians around the world who are working with alienated children and their families, we are able to understand brainwashing as a defence mechanism which is induced and that this defence mechanism can be understood and worked with therapeutically if we extract the principles and protocols of this work and combine them with psychoanalytical analysis and adapted therapies to build structured interventions.

When we work with this defence mechanism by removing the necessity for it to be in play,  children resolve the split state of mind and return to the unconscious work and play of childhood. This means clearing the forces around the child which are configured to pressure the induction of the defence.

We know that when we intervene in this way we are successful because we see it working, we see it working both inside and outside of the court process and with children of all ages.

As we move with EAPAP into curation of standards of practice, we are also busy developing and delivering the training and supervision protocols which can be taught to other therapists and psychologists.  When we have our judicial training programme ready the final piece of the jigsaw is in place.  Combining the Judge as Super Parent with the mental health intervention which is tailored to the individual family dynamic leads to resolution.  With an accompanying education programme, the days of arguing about the label parental alienation can be put in the past and a new approach to message making, research, treatment and evaluation can begin.

Key messages for a new decade of education about the problem of alienation of a child after divorce and separation.

  • Induced psychological splitting in a child of divorce and separation is a defence mechanism caused by asymmetrical power imbalance in the family, in which one person holds power over the child and is using that to control outcomes.
  • The child’s pathological alignment with a parent is a core sign of that power imbalance and requires investigation.
  • Rejection of a parent is a by-product of the pathological alignment and not the cause of the problem seen.
  • Induced Psychological Splitting causes life long harm, interfering with normal brain development and interrupting healthy development.
  • Principles and protocols of successful work with induced psychological splitting can be combined with adapted therapies to create a stepwise approach to treatment of this problem.
  • Trained therapists can learn how to deliver this work.
  • Social workers and Guardians can assist in holding the framework for corrective therapeutic intervention stable enabling rapid intervention.

Sexually abused children tried to tell us and we didn’t listen until their abusers were no longer holding the power over them because they were dead or dying.

Imagine a world where children who are trying to tell the world about the abuse they are suffering through their behavioural signals are helped in childhood so that they do not have to live with the consequences of not being listened to throughout the whole of their lives.

We learned that sexually abused children tell us that their bodies are being abused through their behavioural signals.  We need to learn that alienated children are trying to tell us their minds are being abused in exactly the same way.

Watching behaviour not listening to words is how we will do that.



5 thoughts on “Learning to Safeguard Alienated Children: Watching Behaviours not Listening to Words

  1. I am not sure if social workers can do this, it seems to buck the trend of what social work is all about.
    I think they tend to lean toward the dominant force in the family dynamic and secure the child’s needs around the desires and beliefs of that controlling influence.
    A new family arrangement evolves around the “voice of the child”.
    “Safeguarding” policy becomes the weapon that helps split the mind of the child, rather than save the child from splitting.
    Social workers support people with mental health problems, but what this means is that they work within the context of what they see, a superficial interpretation of the family. They may observe parental alienation but fail to respond to it because in a “social” sense it’s about adaptation to new arrangements rather than saving children from unhealthy mental development. They will attempt to make life as easy as possible for the parent in control. The child goes to school, they are adequately fed, etc. will all be part of the tick box exercise that re-enforces the notion that their job is to secure the relationship between controlling parent and child.
    Although in house “parental alienation” training has been available for Cafcass workers there has been little enthusiasm to take the course, it doesn’t seem to register as a problem.
    To make a difference the topic of parental alienation would have to be understood at an academic level in Universities, and you are more likely to have this properly discussed in the psychology rather than the sociology department.
    I like the idea of the Judge being the super-parent, but unfortunately the Judge cannot act properly on miss-information and that is what he frequently gets from the Cafcass report. In a recent case, over a period of five years the Judge had ordered six separate reports from different social workers none of which recognised the abuse that the children were suffering from the controlling parent. At one point the possibility of seeking expert advice (psychiatric report) was suggested but was discounted because it would be expensive and would be unnecessarily stressful for the children.
    Isn’t that a bit like saying to a, “we think you need to be inoculated to protect you, but we have decided not to inject because the needle may hurt”.
    Social workers see the family as something in flux that children readily adapt to. They are simply catalysts for a new regime that supports and empowers the controlling parent.


  2. I do not mean to be unfair to Social Workers because they have a valid role in dealing with day to day circumstances and untangling present day problems. They go by what they see, a literal interpretation.
    The therapist is a different animal altogether. They will look backwards into the past to establish the mechanisms at play and power relations within the context of family and how it effects the children. They will respect the attachments and bonds that exist between parent and child, and discover who holds the parenting power and whether that power is respectful of all adult child relationships. Who is lying and why? What are the children saying and what can they not say because of whom?
    In the UK your “case” when it comes to Court will be taken up by a Social Worker. For reasons given their role is only appropriate in so far as it deals with the here and now. I do believe that the therapist should be the one to make assessments and be active from the start of each and every “case”.
    We all suffer mental health problems/situations of one kind or another, we all have to deal with traumatic events at different stages in our lives. Divorce/separation could be one of them. There is no shame in this, it is a human response to a difficult situation.


  3. This is all very well if you have two parents who are basically decent people and one is “weaponising” the children out of hurt and anger, a situation that can, and should,be mediated. But what if one parent has a pathological personality – a narcissist or sociopath? These people are very convincing at playing the victim- portraying the other parent as the crazy one who has maliciously turned the children against them, when the truth is that the children need protection or are old enough to have figured out what is best for them.
    You are advocating not listening to these children, deciding they don’t know their own minds, and talking them back into the arms of emotional abusers.
    I appreciate that children generally deserve to have both parents in their lives, but it is not universal. A not- perfect parent is far better than none, but if you have the misfortune to be the offspring of a truly toxic personality, it is better to have them removed from your life as early as possible, and to keep it that way.
    You keep talking about sexual abuse victims, who were judged on their sexualised behaviour, while their verbal accounts of their abuse were ignored. You (rightly) condemn this, then suggest repeating exactly that approach with emotional abuse victims!
    It makes no sense whatsoever, plays to the interests of manipulators and charmers, and puts children at risk.


    1. I am not advocating not listening to these children at all. The alienating parent – be it mother or father, is the cause of the child’s rejection. The healthy parent – be it mother or father is not. There are assessment protocols for this work which identify when children are influenced and when they are not. Your understanding of what I am saying is muddled, to the point where I am not going to post your other comments because it is clear that you are not able to understand what alienation is but are coming from the viewpoint that all children reject a parent on justified grounds. Your argument is that all children who reject a parent do so because that parent is an abusive toxic manipulative charmer – and I am afraid that this is just not the case. You do not understand the concept of alienation and so you dismiss the reality of emotionally abused children who make false allegations against a parent because they are pressured into that by an unwell parent who has control over them. What you are trying to do is make this fit your own belief system which is that all parents who are rejected are rejected because they are toxic people – I am afraid that this is simply untrue.


  4. thank you for this , I now realise what is happening to my daughter , her mother has had MH issues for decades and i’m really concerned that it is affecting my daughter ! I want us both to be in her life but recently I’ve noticed a lot of behaviour that matches what you are saying. it’s just deciding how to deal with it to my daughters best advantage because I don’t want to inadvertently cause a rift between my daughter and her mother regardless of how I feel about her mother.


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