Not sure about alienation? – Nick Child, Rtd Child Psychiatrist and Family Therapist, Edinburgh
A word more about false allegations: If you’ve not been on the receiving end of false allegations you may not know how extremely damaging they are. People say that a hundred false allegations are acceptable if one true perpetrator is caught. But that approach itself perpetrates ninety-nine more lives destroyed without justice.
Reported false allegations to police or social work can be a ‘nuclear’ option to get the court to prevent contact for months of investigation while the Alienation is entrenched. Informal false allegations through hints and gossip are devastating too: “I heard he’s a bit strict with the kids” … “She’s a career woman, not very motherly … on anti-depressants too.” Rumour spreads like fake news does on social media … all the way to the unqualified kangaroo courts. Even saying nothing leaves imagination to fill the gaps. … By the way, did you spot your own gullibility there? Hardly any children would live with their own family if their parents were disqualified by having a career, or depression, or by setting limits! … Making false allegations would lose much of its power to damage, if allegations of all kinds were quickly and properly assessed, and if appropriate work and supported contact were quickly started and sustained.
So a standard definition of Parental Alienation is: A family pattern most strikingly (but not only) found in the context of implacably disputed separations, where a child is shaped into totally rejecting the other parent and their tribe, in a lasting way and for no good reason, even though the child previously had, and could still have, a safe and valued relationship with them. … So the kind of Alienation we’re talking about takes three parties to do it: One person turns a second person against a third person in a lasting way for no good reason.
As I said: let’s not be too simplistic. It is rarely as obvious as the classic melodramatic picture. Commonly it is more mixed up, two-sided and multi-factorial. But that same complexity is true of children who refuse school: it shouldn’t stop us doing the same job with those who refuse a parent. Being bamboozled means people often get frustrated and over-react in simplistic ways with Alienation. The following sorts of thing are too simplistic:
- It’s just a syndrome, a diagnosis, you have it or you don’t;
- It doesn’t exist, it’s not scientific;
- It’s weird and nothing like normal separation or relationships;
- It’s just bad fathers – or bad mothers – with evil personality disorders. They should be evaporated;
- Intervention is simple – just transfer residence to the other parent.
But some conclusions are clear:
- Yes, it’s serious and not good for the children and their development
- No, it’s not just an equally-matched tit-for-tat; it’s not just a contact dispute.
- Yes, the reasons for resisting contact may not be clear. And:
- Yes, one or two parents may use Parental Alienation as a cover up.
- So yes, we need to understand, assess, and intervene at least as thoroughly as we do with school refusal, each case in its own right.
- No, don’t “give it time” – remember Abduction is urgent; these patterns quickly get entrenched
- Yes, whatever happens, keep any kind of contact and communication going with the other parent.
- Teachers, GPs, Social Workers, and CAMHS staff: For all separated families, always contact both parents. If one parent says you shouldn’t, check it out.
- And yes, lawyers and courts are sometimes needed.
- And yes, sometimes transferring residence completely transforms a child’s life.
OK, you ask: What do you do next? That’s quite easy to answer but not to do:
- You already know what to do: Resisting seeing a parent is much more serious than a child resisting going to school. But both of these require the same approach. You pull together the picture with the child and everyone else and put together a plan. However many factors there are to sort out, the aim is the same: get the relationship with rejected school or rejected parent back on track. We know how to do that with school-refusal, but no one yet does the same with parent-refusal.
- If you get that idea, you’re well on the right tracks. But so many tricky things bamboozle everyone that you need to learn moreto get through the fog.
- Alienation may need ordinary or extraordinary help. But for any clients who don’t engage, start thinking of reporting – as questions of child welfare – the following concerns. (Some of us need to begin this reporting or no one will ever learn why):
- Any child’s rejection of a parent – whether it is un-ambivalent or reasonable.
- Any parent who seriously threatens that their ex- is never going to see the children again.
- Another thing you can do is to talk about this everywhere, so that it stops being such a hidden pothole.