The third conference of the European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners begins tomorrow, hosted by the Child Protection Centre of Zagreb. Over the coming three days, practitioners specialising in family dynamics, relational trauma, coercive control, domestic abuse, trans-generational trauma, attachment trauma, children and trauma and more, will be online to deliver expert presentations which are at the heart of the problem which is popularly known as parental alienation.

Research and practice go hand in hand at this conference, where those working in the family courts across sixteen different countries, will share experience and thinking about how best to help abused children in divorce and separation.

With well over four hundred clinicians registered to attend, this is a significant conference in the evolving field of child abuse in divorce and separation. Introduced by the Mayor of Zagreb, EAPAP2020 demonstrates a firm committment to child protection and child welfare.

In recent months, as part of concerted efforts to drag the issue of alienation of a child back into a gender war, ideological portrayals of alienation as being only part of a domestic abuse dynamic have grown. Based upon the idea that all mothers who alienate are ‘protective’ and all fathers who alienate are domestic abusers, the outcome of this mischaracterisation gives the truth of the campaign’s ulterior motive, which is to shift the focus away from the truth of what happens to children when they become alienated from a parent.

Amidst somwhat lurid portrayals of what happens in the family court and ignoring completely, the reality for children when they become triangulated into adult responses to divorce and separation, the focus on parental rights is obvious.

Those of us who do this work, know that this is not an issue about parental rights, it is not an issue about contact, it is a child protection issue and we must keep the focus in considering parental alienation and its manifestation in the lives of separating families where it belongs, on children.

As we have gone through preparation for the conference, as we have met colleagues online and heard again and again the focus being placed firmly on the wellbeing of children and their right to an unconscious experience of childhood, I have been reminded of the clarity of vision, the committment to enduring change and the courage of those with whom I work.

This is an exhausting, draining and often frightening field to work in. Filled with unwell people who behave behind the scenes in sometimes the most appalling ways, the dangers for anyone practicing in this space are clear. Working with colleagues we can trust, who share our vision and committment is a truly protective experience for all practitioners. And when practitioners are protected, they are sustained and when they are sustained their work can continue. The conference this week is packed full of the most courageous practitioners I have had the privilige of meeting and working with and I am proud that despite all that is thrown at us, individually and collectively, we are here, on the eve of our third conference together, still focused on the wellbeing of children of divorce and separation all over the world.

Ahead of what is an exciting programme which is rich in clinical material and bracketed by research evidence, I would like to say thank you for all of the work being done by everyone involved and for their determination to keep the focus where it belongs, on alienated children and their families.

Generations of abused children in divorce and separation will live better lives because of you.

The EAPAP Conference begins tomorrow and runs until Friday.