The campaign to normalise child abuse continued in the UK this week, with the publication of a statement which read ‘not all children reject a parent because of manipulation‘. Reading on, the statement listed reasons why children reject parents, including, amongst other things, living in poverty because the rejected parent doesn’t pay maintenance (or words to that effect). What immediately struck me about this statement, was the way in which the triangulation of a child into adult matters, was being wrapped up in a way that made it appear justifiable (who would argue that not paying maintenance where it is due, is a good thing for example). In plain sight, with confidence and certainty, the child’s right to live free from adult concerns is eradicated and that is being normalised as something which causes children to reject a parent. It is wrong, it is harmful and it is child abuse and this is why.
The campaign strategy which has been deployed around the term parental alienation, is in my view, deliberately created to confuse the public about the harm that is done to children when they are triangulated into adult matters after divorce and separation. This strategy, which is ideological in nature, is constructed in such a way that the term parental alienation is now repeatedly associated with abusive fathers using it as a defence against domestic abuse allegations. The strategy consists of very well known tactics in ideological campaigning, denial (alienation of children doesn’t exist) and projection, (where alienation is claimed by a father, the mother must be a victim of domestic abuse). Allied to those tactics are a secondary layer of well known ideological campaign strategies, blame and shame projection. These are aimed at professionals who work with alienated children and families, seeking to portray them as victim blaming (but only where women are accused of alienation, not when they experience being alienated) and seeking to shame professionals (by using psychological terror tactics of lies and public denigration). These are the very same primitive defences which are used by those who alienate children and in the campaign strategies, lie the exact behaviours which are seen when children are psychologically harmed by a parent after divorce or separation.
The statement that some children reject a parent because they live in poverty and that parent doesn’t pay maintenance is a perfect example of how child abuse is being normalised. It takes a well known issue, (payment of child maintenance) and tries to play upon the reader’s sense of injustice to convince them that this is a legitimate reason for a child rejecting a parent. Unpacking that statement however, exposes the absolute intention of the writer, which is to normalise the triangulation of children into adult matters and it is not the first time this has been seen from this source. In another post, the statement ‘who hasn’t bad mouthed the other parent‘ was laid out as if that was something many parents do after divorce and separation, the intent again, is to normalise a behaviour which is harmful to children, behaviour which the majority of divorcing and separating parents do not engage in, precisely because they know how harmful it is to children to denigrate the other parent in that way.
The question we need to ask when we see the claim that some children reject a parent because they live in poverty due to non payment of child maintenance is this – how would a child know that their impoverishment is due to the lack of payment by the other parent? The answer is, they wouldn’t, unless of course a parent is sharing that information with them, which is triangulation of the child into adult matters, which is harmful to the child.
Non payment of child maintenance in so many cases, is a pattern of financial coercive control, which is abhorrent and which indeed harms the child. In such circumstances, where a pattern of coercive financial control is seen, a parent is not regarded as being alienated but is regarded as abusive and the underlying patterns of behaviours which accompany financial control are examined. That however, is about adults assessing parental behaviours, not children. Sharing your anger about non payment of child maintenance with a child, so that the child rejects the parent, is not justified and as such, is a pattern of enmeshment with the child which is harmful and controlling. It is in fact, manipulation of the child’s experience of the other parent and a breach of the child’s right to live free from adult concerns and regardless of the other parent’s behaviour, it is child abuse. That is because, triangulation of the child into adult matters in this way, induces psychological splitting, which is an infantile defence which impacts upon the child’s capacity for relational health. That is why these campaigns are harmful to children, because they are trying to normalise triangulation of children into adult matters, in plain sight, by playing on feelings of justice and injustice and by blurring the boundaries around what is harmful to children and what is not. As such, this strategy needs to be exposed in order to protect children.
The Antidote to the Campaign to Normalise Harm
Away from parental rights campaigns however, the quiet forward movement towards protection of children from these underlying dynamics of triangulation into adult matters, continues. In the UK, where the appeal court was unequivocal in its recognition of the patterns of behaviours which are seen when children become alienated, the requirement to act to protect is clear-
As to alienation, we do not intend to add to the debate about labels. We agree with SirAndrew McFarlane (see  Fam Law 988) that where behaviour is abusive, protective action must be considered whether or not the behaviour arises from a syndrome or diagnosed condition. It is nevertheless necessary to identify in broad terms what we are speaking about. For working purposes, the CAFCASS definition ofalienation is sufficient:“When a child’s resistance/hostility towards one parent is notjustified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent.”To that may be added that the manipulation of the child by the other parent need not be malicious or even deliberate. It is the process that matters, not the motive.
……….alienation may be found on the part of the other parent. These may include portraying the other parent in an unduly negative light to the child, suggestingthat the other parent does not love the child, providing unnecessary reassurance to the child about time with the other parent, contacting the child excessively when with the other parent, and making unfounded allegations or insinuations, particularly of sexual abuse.Re S (Parental Alienation: Cult). Neutral Citation Number:  EWCA Civ 568
Alongside this, the understanding in statutory services is increasing with social workers, psychologists and family court professionals, developing their understanding of the underlying harms which are seen in children’s hyper alignment with a parent and rejection of the other. Away from the battles around parental alienation theory, which in my view is both unnecessary and unhelpful in treatment of the core problem seen when children reject (psychological splitting), forward movement in several countries around the world is evident. Training by FSC for example, in understanding and working with psychological splitting in children of divorce and separation, is taking place this week in Poland and a pathfinder project in the UK with social workers working with public law cases of serious psychological and emotional harm to children in divorce and separation continues. Partnership work in Malta, the Republic of Ireland and Sweden is underway and the work with the International Academy of Practice with Alienated Children, will bring together clinicians from the USA, Canada, UK, Israel, Malta, Croatia, Serbia, Republic of Ireland, Poland, Sweden, France, Belgium, Australia and New Zealand together in June to deliver a multi disciplinary conference which focuses upon treatment of the problem of psychological splitting in children of divorce and separation, ahead of the launch of a journal of clinical practice in the autumn of this year.
The needs of children of divorce and separation, to live free from adult concerns such as domestic abuse in all its forms, including financial control, are unarguable and so is the need for them to live free of being made aware of and party to, the injuries this inflicts. Two wrongs do not make it right for children and allowing adult anger and frustration about those injuries, to leak through to children, is harmful in itself. However wrong it is that maintenance is not paid, it is not justifiable to share that with children or to try and normalise that as a reason why children reject a parent.
Children deserve to be protected from adult matters, regardless of how unfair and unjust that might feel. That is the marker of healthy care, that is what ensures that a child’s psychological and emotional safety is protected. To say otherwise is to regard children as being fair game in a battle for righteousness between two parents incapable of putting children first.
IAPAC Conference 2022
IAPAC will open its conference in Israel on 14/15 June 2022 with a close look at children’s rights in the realm of parental divorce and separation. In doing so, we will open up this space to scrutiny in terms of what is happening psychologically and systemically, in families where children display alignments and rejecting behaviours and what harm is being done to children when the alienation dynamic is denied or misunderstood by practitioners. Examining children’s rights in the round, their right to a voice, their right to live free from adult concerns and their right to be parented healthily after divorce and separation, we will consider and balance the child’s holistic long term needs with their individual rights, in order to understand why interventions are necessary to assist them. Following on from that will be a packed two day conference looking at evidence based interventions with children and families and seminars will therefore be of interest to social workers, psychotherapists and other mental health professionals working with children in divorce and separation.
Examples of the Seminars and Learning Outcomes
Balancing Children’s Rights and Practitioner Responsibilities – understanding the need to intervene when children reject a parent.
Identification with the Aggressor – recognising coercive control of children who reject a parent.
Understanding and assisting the alienated child – evidence based interventions for reunification and recovery.
Integrating polarised thinking in the family where children align and reject – therapy with alienated children and families.
Therapeutic Parenting for Alienated Children – supporting parents to cope, helping children to heal.