Hurtling as we are to the Christmas break I have just enough time and energy to write a couple more pieces for you before I collapse in an incoherent heap for my annual shut down and recovery slot. As I myself come from not only one but two separated families, one of which is also separated on the vertical axis (my parents are not together), piecing together a jolly Christmas can feel at times like trying to finish one of those 3D Jigsaws, great in theory, impossible in practice without something crashing down somewhere. Forgive me then if this one is short but it is to the point. I will be interested to read comments and thoughts as this is a difficult subject for many.
Justified rejection is the term which is given to actions by a parent which have caused a child to refuse to see that parent because of things that have been done. Examples of justified rejection in my experience are all based around poor or negative parenting and can be listed (not exhaustively) as follows.
- Being incapable of parenting due to drinking or drug use
- Physically violent parenting, hitting and harming a child
- Emotionally violent parenting, using shaming, name calling, undermining behaviour
- Psychologically violent parenting, attempting to undermine the other parent, align the child against a parent, reduce the love a child has for a parent
- Cold or distanced parenting, making a child feel unloved and unwanted
- Excessively punitive parenting, making the child responsible for things that go wrong and punishing them unduly
In my experience cases of a child who is rejecting a parent which have one or more of the above in the mix are usually considered to be within the hybrid category. That is to say that the cause of the alienation reaction can be seen as the responsibility of both parents. We are however, currently working on refining the hybrid category along a spectrum because there are many cases in our experience at the Clinic, where the cause of the rejection is not alienation (understood to be the child’s UNJUSTIFIED rejection of parent) but something which is justified and justifiable. Which in our world is a good thing (because it is not alienation and can therefore be more easily remedied) but in the world of many of the parents we work with is a bad thing indeed.
Which makes me think harder about why it is a bad thing for a child to be able to justify their rejection of a parent. Is it because the child should not have a voice at all? Is it because the justification is only so in comparison to the other parent’s behaviour – ie one parent is very empathic and caring and the other one is cold and so becomes rejected – in this situation who should be the parent to change their behaviour? Or is it because for some parents, it is far easier to point the finger at the other parent and say ‘alienation’ than it is to remedy the things one is doing to cause the rejection in the first place.
Perhaps it is an amalgamation of some or all of those things. Whatever it is, whilst there are many families who come to us saying that their child is alienated, some of the cases we see at the Clinic involve a child’s JUSTIFIED rejection of a parent. It is the work we do to differentiate between the justified and unjustified that helps us to work out the treatment route and get it right for the child.
I am aware that this discussion is risky on many counts. Risky because the automatic route taken by most Social Workers is that a child who is refusing a relationship with a parent is doing so justifably. Risky because many CAFCASS Practitioners assume all cases of alienation are hybrids. Risky because there are therapists out there who believe that any rejection must be caused in the relationship between parents, all of which is nonsense and yet all of which has a kernel of truth to it. Such is the complexity of the world that we work in. Which is why differentiation routes and assessment protocols are essential in working with cases of alienation and why you should not trust your case to anyone who does not understand the difference between Justified Rejection, Hybrid and Pure cases of alienation. If in doubt, ask your practitioner this – what is the difference between a child who is justifiably rejecting a parent based on events that actually occurred and which have not been exploited by the aligned parent and a child who is alienated. The answer is not very much at all on the outside and to the untrained eye, but the practitioner who is skilled in assessing for alienation will be able to spot the alienated child within seconds of meeting the child and will say so. The unskilled practitioner will simply treat what the child is saying as the truth and base all of their actions and recommendations upon that, which is great for those children who ARE justifiably rejecting but appalling for those who are not.
But what about those children whose rejection IS justified but who are considered by a parent to be alienated? Those children are, in my experience, just as vulnerable as those who are alienated but treated otherwise. A child who IS refusing a relationship because of something a parent has done to them needs to be heard. For all my concern about the elevation of the voice of the child as the driving factor in decision making, I know for certain that a child who is being harmed by a parent and who is trying to speak about it and not being listened to, is not being properly served by practitioners. Neither is that child being safeguarded and we should remember that safeguarding children in these circumstances is as core part of our role.
I am not going to entangle myself with the lobby against Parental Alienation and neither am I going to give that group evidence to uphold their blanket belief that PA does not exist because it does and I work with it every day. What I am going to do however is acknowledge that there are circumstances in which a child refuses a relationship because of something that has happened. That something usually involves the child being harmed in some way or neglected or treated in ways that erode trust. When it has happened it is relatively easy to spot because of the presentation of the child AND the parents involved. When we see it we name it and we categorise it as hybrid with elements of justified rejection involved. That does not allow a parent who has exploited events to point the finger but it does require that a parent who has acted in ways that are harmful towards a child to clean up their act and change their behaviours in the treatment programme.
So what do you think? Justified Rejection versus Parental Alienation, it always causes controversy, I would be interested in your thoughts and reactions on this subject. If you comment, it would be useful to know if you are a mum or dad and a bit of your background, are you coming from a father’s or mother’s rights perspective or the perspective of the child. A difficult subject but one which is worth a good discussion. As we head up to the Christmas break, if you have the time and energy, I would be interested in your views.