With a packed auditorium of around eighty people at the Western Galilee College in Acre in Israel and well over a hundred delegates online from around the world, the first day of the International Academy of Practice with Alienated Children heard from practitioners working with the problem of a child’s hyper alignment and rejection behaviour after family separation.

The conference was opened by Judge Erez Shani of the Family Court of Tel Aviv. Speaking about the relationship between the Court and specialists in this field, this Judge conceptualised all that is necessary to manage these complex child protection cases. Speaking about the need for understanding and trust, Judge Shani spoke of the need to protect mental health specialists in what he understands to be a difficult and often unsafe environment for practitioners. Judge Shani ended his powerful opening by speaking of the need to be the light in the world in the work to help emotionally and psychologically abused children.

The keynote from Dr Barbara Jo Fidler, Clinical Developmental Psychologist, reviewed the history of the field from a clinical perspective and gave many practical tools for those who work with families affected by this problem. Dr Fidler’s long experience in the field provided a strong overview of the problem and the ways in which her work has contributed to understanding and change for children.

The conference then began to examine the IAPAC model of psychoanalytic understanding of a child’s rejecting behaviour, looking at primitive defences and their role in inducing psychological splitting in the child. Psychological splitting, in which the child divides their feelings for a parent into wholly good and wholly bad, is the red flag for psychological and emotional harm in such cases, this is because the defence in the child, is first an alienation of self from self, a crisis point at which the child is forced into alignment with a parent through fear of aggression or abandonment. This division of self, is then projected onto parents, leaving one parent pushed to the margins and helpless to intervene and the other with strengthened power and control over the child. As Dr Fidler said, the point at which a child can hold two realities in mind developmentally, is the point at which the child is pressured to dispose of one of those realities as a coping mechanism. Examining from the child’s perspective, what is happening when that occurs and finding ways of protecting children from this dynamic, is the goal of IAPAC.

In the morning the conference heard from Child Protection Pioneer Professor Gordana Bjulan Flander on principles of practice in protecting children from emotional abuse and Nick Wooodal introduced the principles of IAPAC. I ended the morning by discussing non accidental psychological and emotional injury and its treatment pathways.

In the afternoon,Nick Woodall from the Family Separation Clinic in London, discussed the role of projective identification in this dynamic, in which the child projects the split of parts of self which are felt to be bad, at the rejected parent. The reason those parts of self are experienced as bad is because of the enmeshment between aligned parent and child and the need in the child to regulate a parent who is influencing the child through anxiety, unresolved trauma, personal belief system or deliberate means.

Avnar Ha’Cohen, a Clinical Psychologist from Israel, followed on with a powerful presentation on working with the paranoid/schizoid position of the influencing parent, a discussion which examined the role of personality disorder in a parent. Protection of the child, by use of strong sanctions which act as boundaries which are missing from parents with PD, was carefully described, treatment of the child’s splitting, without having to be removed from a parent, was clearly set out.

A thoughtful and thought provoking presentation by Dr Claire Francica from Malta, explored the space in which the court expert works. Entitled ‘Narratives of Hostility, A Sartrian Perspective’ the concept of the expectation of the court expert and the manner in which there is often a collective projection upon this person which is hostile was explored. This is the person who must intervene in families where children are being harmed, the space in which this is undertaken is not neutral but full of projections. For all who do this work, the reality of our experience was beautifully articulated, leaving many of us feeling really heard and understood.

Dr Judith Pilla from Philadelphia ended the presentations on day one with a powerful presentation on the role of shame and the manner in which this is used against children to manipulate their understanding of themselves and the world around them.

The conference President this year is Dr Inbal Baron-Kivenson and her presentations unpacked the role of attachment and her call to practitioners to fully embrace the plight of the child suffering induced psychological splitting rounded off the day.

Once again I have been infused with the warmth and affection of our Israeli colleages and their fierce energy and clarity of vision. Dr Benny Bailey from the Western Galilee College has organised a conference which is well run, well attended and powerful in its marking of another step on the way to raising awareness of the needs of children in divorce and separation for understanding and protection.

Today’s programme sees further unpacking of the underlying harms caused to children who show a strong alignment and rejection behaviour after family separation. I will update further on here tomorrow.