This week I have been confronted with the dearth of alienation awareness and expertise in the UK field of family services. This is not a surprise to me but what has been surprising if not alarming is the emergence of a new type of professional, the lesser spotted professional if you like (it is coming up to the weekend, humour me).
This lesser spotted professional is someone who for the sake of a few hours training could be the alienation aware professional who knows what to do and how to do it. That this person remains ignorant, not only of what they don’t know but what they do know, is both astounding and terrifying to me in equal measure. This week, on wading through yet another case file, I became aware that the case, which has been bouncing back and forth twixt professionals in public and private law, was actually beautifully described in a section 7 report some SIX YEARS ago. The problem is that the social worker, who wrote so eloquently about the child’s campaign of dislike and hatred, the fused indignation of the child and parent, the furious and unreleneting denigration of the rejected parent, had not the first idea of what she was looking at. And so, concluded, in a pitiful and damning ending to her sixty page description of a severe case of alienation that, the child is the subject of a contact dispute in which both parents are to blame and the child should be left with the preferred parent with no contact now or in the future to the parent rejected by the child. Grim reading. Parentectomy due to lack of awareness of the professional charged with analysis. Little wonder parents in the UK go mad, get bad or simply end their lives because of the intolerable ineptitude of the people charged with safeguarding our children.
The question for me is why do our family services know so little about Parental Alienation and, when they do know something about it, (which clearly the author of this report does, she described it so perfectly) why do they not want to find out more about it. Why, for example, did this social worker, on hearing a child say ‘I wish he would just die’ and ‘I would kill him if I could’ not consider that to be concerning? Why, when a child says that her father should be ‘shot and thrown into the river’ does a social worker not decide that this requires further examination? Why do social workers and other family workers not realise, when they see a child who is utterly determined to uphold the aligned parent’s perspective – to the point of delusion – go on to conclude that this is just a contact dispute. What sort of mind block prevents professionals in family services from understanding the reality for alienated children? Politics? Discriminatory practice? Or simple ‘he said/she said’ fatigue? Whatever it is it is causing our children to become stuck in the most appalling circumstances within the court process, subjected over and over again to professionals who are well meaning but unskilled in the field and to a flimsy court management process which aids and abets institutionalised abuse of children. All of which, frankly, appalls me.
Parental Alienation is NOT a simple contact dispute, it is, in severe cases, child abuse, nothing more nothing less. In less severe cases, hybrids perhaps or those which are created by naive alienators, it is all too easy for it to trip into child abuse and should always be approached as a case where children are at risk. And lest you think this is just an all out attack on family support services, let me tell you that I have worked in cases where social workers and CAFCASS officers have approached the problem as a child protection issue. Where those people have really ‘got it’ from the outset and we have worked together to tackle the problem immediately and systemically, bringing change for child rapidly and effectively. Those people are like golddust (you know who you are) and I salute each and every one of them for there are, in this country, some brave and fearless people who make a massive difference. If only there were more.
The reason there are not more of these people is perhaps answered in the arguments which are raging between parents and state services up and down this land of ours. From the islands to the highlands from the borders to the metropolis, parents are campaigning to have Parental Alienation recognised by the people who serve our families. Pleas which are falling on deaf ears mostly and which receive dismissals and derisory commentary from those who profess to be in the know and who are most certainly in power. How and why is alienation ignored is the question being asked. When is the question I am asking. When will family services recognise the problem of children who are stuck with an angry, vengeful and determinedly alienating parent is not just a contact dispute but a case of child abuse which must be stopped.
That question when, is one which rattles around my brain as I read through the teeth grindingly painful accounts of social work interactions with families where alienation is alive and kicking. When social workers describe a child who has been ‘spousified’ and who is being used as a confidant and a replacement partner but see nothing to be concerned about in that. When social workers listen to children parroting angry words and untruths about a parent they think deserves to be kicked out forever and hear nothing wrong in that. And when social workers speak only of contact disputes instead of child abuse in the face of those things , the answer to the question when will they recognise this, appears to be never.
The problem in my view lies in the institutionalised acceptance of disposable parenthood and the notion that family separatin is normal and simply something that causes a bit of an upheaval for a while but everyone gets over it eventually. Far from getting over it however, there is a significant cohort of people for whom getting over it is not possible and for whom an alternative reality is revenge, cold blooded or otherwise or a definite and distinct unhingement from normal behaviors. The truth is that everyone goes a little bit mad when they separate. It is after all a most unpleasant and terrifying experience. What everyone doesn’t do however, is hook their children up to their revenge making machine and drop them hook line and sinker into the shittiest parts of adult rage. Most reasonably healthy adults know that this stuff is not for their children. Most people, however mad they go, manage not to take their children with them.
But a significant number of people do and this is where being able to understand this group and differentiate them from the rest of the general family separation cohort is vital for family services. In this group are people with personality disorders, people with rage problems and people with enmeshment and other issues that cause an inability to tell the difference between their own feelings and those of their children. It would seem like basic social work practice to me to be able to recognise those people but judging by the reactions of social workers when confronted with them and by their behaviours, it is easier to not see the reality than see it, name it and deal with it.
And perhaps that last sentence says it all because dealing with it appears to be beyond the capability not only of those who support the family but those who assess the family and those who make judgements in family courts. Clearly recognising problems is one thing but doing something about it is quite another, perhaps it is this which leads social workers and other family professionals to act like the three wise monkeys when they are confronted with Parental Alienation, if they see it and hear it but manage not to speak of it, will anyone notice or even really care (apart from the rejected parent who can so easily be picked off with the accusation that they are simply an aggrieved parent who did not get what they wanted in court).
Which leaves us with a generation of children and their families who have been torn apart by Parental Alienation, who have turned to the courts for assistance and found none and for whom the future for their children, looks very bleak indeed.
And all for the sake of a few hours training, a willingness to act and a family court system with enough guts to protect children who are being abused.
The only condition required for evil to flourish is that good people do nothing.
And in my view, too many good people, lesser spotted or otherwise are doing nothing at all.
(All readers should note that I am bound by the code of ethics for Experts in the Family Courts as well as by the code of ethics for counselling and psychotherapy. As such each and every case study or reference that I make to my work is heavily disguised to ensure that I do not reveal any of the details of cases I am working on past and present or that any family member with whom I work or professional with whom I am working, could recognise themselves or each other on this blog. As such, my writing refers to real life work but the cases are a patchwork of different elements of cases that I may have or may be working on. I take my responsibilities seriously in the Family Courts, however much I may criticise them and I also take my work as therapist equally seriously. At all times I balance the act of writing and speaking out with my absolute committment to the rights of families for a fair, just and confidential service. I write because I consider it my duty to raise awareness of alienation and the way in which it is not recognised by family services. Where I see best practice I acknowledge it as I have in this article. I am working for better outcomes for alienated children and their families at all times).