How to Hear the Voice of the Alienated Child – Lessons for Family Practitioners.

Welcome to 2017, a year in which we plan to raise the awareness of parental alienation even higher in the UK and in which we will be joining with European colleages to form the first Alienation Practitioner Network in Europe. Later in the year we will be travelling to the United States to undertake a working tour, this is the year that the Family Separation Clinic focuses upon its global contribution to changing the way that parental alienation affects families.

This year the majority of what I write about will be the education of family services across the world, exploring and explaining the fundamental principles of alienation aware practice. As part of this work I am writing two new books, the first being a series of interviews with alienated children who are now recovered and in healthy relationship with the parent they were forced to reject and the second a training manual for social workers and other frontline workers.  This manual enables the reconfiguration of practice around children who reject a parent.  All of this work is informed by the practical work that I do each day with families, the training manual emerges from our pathfinder partnership work with social work teams where we act as consultants.  Part of the manual is dedicated to helping social workers to understand the dynamic of reunification, including how to train foster carers (often key players in the UK in transfer of residence) to prevent enmeshment in the stepping stone approach of residence transfer.

So there is much to do and much to write about, as I go along I will be posting updates about all of our projects as well as sharing some of the content with you. Today, I am talking about how to hear the voice of the alienated child. Unexpectedly for many who attend our training, learning to hear the voice of the alienated child begins not with the child’s voice but with the practitioner’s own internalised narrative.  The voice of the alienated child is most often unheard because of this internalised narrative, much of which is inculcated in standard social work practice.  Cleaning this up and clearing it out is about personal and experiential learning. It is also about recognising that much of what is taught about working with families in social work training, comes from a political ideology in which women are considered vulnerable to coercive control by men. Our training, which is based upon our gender equality work which we have delivered for almost fifteen years now, including to government departments in the UK, (DWP and DFE as well as the Child Maintenance Commission), demonstrates how, when delivery of support services comes from a political ideological standpoint (feminist), children’s  emotional and mental health needs are overlooked or missed completely. This is because in a feminist model, children’s needs are considered to be indivisible from those of their mother.  In our mental health model of work, children’s needs are recognised and supported as being separate from those of both of their parents and their right to have those needs met healthily is placed first.  What comes next is an assessment of the healthy capacity of a parent to meet those needs. Underpinning this model is the factual understanding that children grow in a relational world in which interruptions to healthy attachments are damaging to them. When one begins assessment from this perspective, alienation aware practice becomes easy and hearing the voice of the alienated child is a skill which is better developed.  Children do not completely reject a parent in any circumstances other than when they are being influenced in the conscious or unconscious relational world to do so. Getting practitioners to this point is a great step forward, after this, differentiation and developing interventions become part of everyday practice, allowing family practitioners to determine the difference between a child who is being abused and a child who is being alienated (who is also being abused only not by the parent who is often accused of it).

I want to give an example of how feminist social work practice impacts so negatively on children’s lives, often leading to the complete loss of a relationship with a once loved parent and entrenching what is a maladaptive coping mechanism into a dysfunctional defence of shame and guilt which the child has to carry into adulthood with all of the attendant problems that brings. This example is straight out of my own experience though I have disguised it somewhat to protect confidentiality.

Annie is a nine year old girl who is rejecting her father who she says is mean to her and always angry. Her mother is upholding Annie’s decision and saying that she supports contact in principle but she isn’t going to make Annie see her father when she is so able to describe how he has been angry with her. A social work report is commissioned and the social worker meets with Annie’s father to talk about Annie’s rejection of him.  Annie’s father is anxious during the meeting and keen to explain that the things that Annie has been saying are just not true. He shows photographs of Annie to the social worker who then shows them to Annie who tells her that she was only smiling because she was afraid of her father who was angry with her if she didn’t look happy.  The social worker, steeped as she is in feminist teaching, listens next to Annie’s mother who tells her that Annie’s father was always unpredictable and angry and that she left him because he frightened her, she says she doesn’t want Annie to feel the same about him as she grows up. On this basis Annie’s father is considered to be in need of some parenting training, learning how to be empathic and more considerate.  When he objects to this, saying that he is empathic and kind and that he doesn’t need to attend classes to teach him to be so, the social worker considers this to be evidence of him being inflexible and controlling and the narrative begins to build that Annie has justifiably rejected her father. Indeed in the feminist narrative, this IS justified rejection. In a system where women analyse relational behaviour in terms of a belief that men are always advantaged over women, Annie’s mother has escaped a controlling man and Annie herself is simply taking the enlightened step of doing the same. Thus upholding Annie’s ‘decision’ is a natural step and one which is considered to be both empowering and insightful.  Loss of the father in feminist ideology is nothing much to be concerned about. Such has been the underlying framework of family services for more than fifty years in the UK. The same is true elsewhere in the world.

One would think then that in this model, all mothers would be safe from alienation from ther children, after all, if the foundation of thinking is of bad men and good women who are victims, then only fathers should be alienated and this can be considered justified.  What we know however, is that in the UK, just as is the case right across the western world, mothers are at almost as much risk of alienation as fathers, making many people argue that alienation is not gendered.  In fact, the opposite is true,  parental alienation IS a gender issue, it is an issue in which the internalised narratives about gender in our society are responsible for the escalation and perpetuation of alienation of a child. An issue in which the personal belief system of the family practitioner becomes entangled and enmeshed with the intrapsychic dynamics of the family to devasating effect.  Back to our social worker example.

The same social worker who upholds Annie’s ‘decision’ to reject her father also upholds another child’s ‘decision’ to reject her mother. This time the reasoning is different but it once again rests upon the unresolved personal issues of the social worker which are heightened by the political ideological training they have received. In this case, Emily’s story is  that her mother is not a good mother, that she neglected her and that she got head lice twice when she lived with her.  On meeting Emily’s father, our social worker is bowled over by how good he is at parenting, how caring he is and how much he does not fit the standard image of the abusive man she has been taught to expect.  Steeped in her social work training, an abusive man is characterised by his lack of empathy and his control of women, here she is presented with a charming, kind and and compassionate man who is very concerned about Emily’s lack of relationship with her mother, he tries so very hard to make things happen but again and again Emily’s mother lets Emily down. She also spends such a long time bad mouthing him and accusing him of alienating Emily that Emily herself has chosen to reject her. The narrative builds that Emily’s mother has alienated herself. The social worker recommends no further contact. The scene of attachment disruption, use of the coping mechanism of psychological splitting, evidence of coercive control of the child and manipulation of the relationship with mother is distilled into the social worker’s framework of belief that when good mothers turn bad they turn very very bad.

There is no-one more dismissive of mothers than family practitioners  who are trained in feminist ideology.  The complete dismissal of the psychological markers, the evidence which is presented clearly and the research evidence which underpins the mental health model of understanding the child’s voice in separation situations, is almost breathtaking at times in cases I am involved in.  As this case study shows, in a model which is underpinned by political ideology, all men (apart from those who fit the model of compassion and kindness (which is the idealised version of masculinity) are advantaged and all women are victims (apart from those who are shown to be failing in the idealised areas of compassion and kindness) and children are increasingly to be made the arbiters of their own future.

It is a model which fails each member of the family but especially the child, it is a model which eradicates fathers and which demonises mothers as being the wrong sort  and it routinely leaves children in entrenched rejecting positions which are underpinned by psychological maladaptive coping mechanisms. It is a failure of monumental proportions because it overlooks risk and condemns and silences children who are the true victims in such circumstances.

So how does one hear the voice of the alienated child?  Here is the A-Z  guide for the family practitioner.

a) recognise that family separation is a psychological change which is challenging for the child.

b) recognise that feminism is a political ideology that has no place in psychological work with families.

c) learn how to approach work with separating families from a psychological perspective.

d) place the needs of the child to continue to live in healthy relational space between parents before everything else.

e) accept that a child who rejects a parent completely in the absence of any evidence to suggest that there is a basis for this (and evidence has to be absolutely within the range of serious harm to a child), is using the coping mechanism of psychological splitting, which itself is a regression to an infantile state of mind.

f) learn to recognise that parents who appear to be complaint on the outside are often manipulating the child so that the child carries out their wishes covertly.

g) recognise your own internalised bias and how to overcome those internalised barriers to offering an equalities based service to families.

h) be curious and open minded.

i) begin to research the psychological theory behind alienation.

j) stop asking children what they want to happen (because you recognise they cannot tell you anything other than what they are aware they are supposed to say).

k) learn the signs of alienation in a child

l) learn how to give an alienated child reassurance by conveying to them that you recognise the predicament they are in.

m) teach the alienated parent about the predicament the child is in.

n) create opportunities to put the child with the parent they are rejecting (if you are a social worker you have the absolute power to do this – use it)

o) Let the child know that you will manage the backlash they might face from the other parent and demonstrate your capacity for doing so.

p) Do not be afraid to use consquences to compel behavioural change in the influencing parent.

q) revisit your own internalised prejudices, good men are not simply those who appear to be kind and compassionate.

r) revisit your own prejudices, good women are no simply those who appear to be kind and compassionate.

s) expect and demand that a parent who says they are supportive of contact will support contact.

t) hear the hidden narrative of the generational trauma pattern which is often being played out in these families.

u) Don’t allow healthy parents to be eradicated from a child’s life.

v) build courage to break boundaries of your own practice, understand that working counter to your internalised belief system is how to approach this work.

w) Put children’s needs for healthy parenting first, last and always.

x) recognise that the dynamic which causes alienation is going to turn on you eventually, you WILL become the focus of the alienating parent’s negative transference if you are doing this work properly. Your role is to absorb that and not allow it to throw you off balance or frighten you.

y) Build your determination through successful intervention, each time you liberate a child you will spur yourself on to continue this work.

z) spread the word, changing the world of alienated children means it is incumbent on all of us who do this work to pass it on.

Wishing you hope and health in the year ahead – something tells me 2017 is going to be a good year.

16 comments

  1. Cara · January 2

    As a child/family therapist in the US (and the wife of an alienated father), the biggest obstacle I face in these situations is that the alienating parent usually has the choice to (and does) terminate treatment once I start to employ these principles. Any involvement of the targeted parent beyond what they can control results in the alienating parent finding a new and more naive therapist. I am a manager now, so I do at least try to help the therapists I supervise learn and understand the dynamics of alienation and avoid naively helping the alienating parent in the quest to push the targeted parent out of the child’s life. That’s the best we can do under the current circumstances of how Family Court in our area handles these cases (poorly).

    I look forward to your US tour and I hope you are coming somewhere near me.

  2. Carl Garnham · January 2

    Monumental Karen. Happy New Year flower. You Fill Up My Senses. x
    ps…rumour has it that John Denver wrote this song after listening to the Blades singing the Greasy Chip Butty song. x

    • karenwoodall · January 17

      Happy new year Carl xx

  3. KenInNZ · January 2

    Link forwarded to a couple of local family court practitioners – here’s hoping. Thanks Karen excellently put as always.

  4. Lucienne Edwins · January 2

    You give me hope. Thank you.

  5. Harriet Harman 1990 – “it cannot be assumed that men are bound to be an asset to family life or that the presence of fathers in families is necessarily a means to social cohesion”.

    I am absolutely not blaming you Karen, but this has been going on for such a long time & I am glad that progress is finally being made. I just wonder when parents of the future will be free of this abomination.

    • karenwoodall · January 3

      Indeed Michael, she and Patricia Hewitt who also said that it cannot be taken as fact that children are harmed by sexual relationships with adults (I wish that were not true but it sadly is) anyway, Harman et al, who wrote The Family Way, were the architechts of feminist theory which held sway from the eighties onwards and which is the root of the way that the current system works. I myself have been involved in attempting to challenge and change this since 1999 when I worked for Oxfam UK on gender analysis and realised that the way that men were pushed out of family life and then blamed for being feckless was a deliberate act of legislation written by feminists. I have been fighting to change this both inside and outside of government ever since (many of my writings on this blog from 2010 to 2013 when I exited working for the UK government document these attempts. I know you are not blaming me Michael, I know too that change is definitely evolving, our focus on shifting the focus PA from that of rights of parents to that of mental health issue is part of that work to bring change. We will keep on keeping on, nothing changes unless we make it change. K

      • Victor Menard · January 6

        Kudos for coming out on this topic which is sure to raise hackles in the die hard feminist camps. The issue of ingrained feminist bias dogs solutions to both PA and male victims of family violence. In fact male victims of family violence face the double whammy of:

        a) being disbelieved (like the 1960s rape victim [1] which ironically was the result of the 2nd wave feminist efforts. Alas, how quickly do the 3rd and subsequent wave feminists forget their own past experiences)

        b) followed by losing their child to PA because the courts and social services will enable the attachment based PA.

        I realized that the current male victim model is flawed by the gendered approach. In fact, a 30 year Men’s Rights Activist, Paul Elam, recently reiterated that male victims are better off not seeking any help from social services or the courts[2].

        I knew coming in that male victim were “erased” by the gendered approach but as an outsider to social services did not see why so many mothers were losing their children to PA. This article offers a rationale using the same gendered basis and this harmony in the underlying basis, my gut screams out to me that this is accurate.

        Dr. Jennifer Harmon estimates that severe PA alone affects 10.5 million parents in the USA[3] . Please note this does not include moderate or mild cases of PA. US Census Bureau estimates around 1.7 own children per family[4] . The 10.5M severely alienated parents have 1.7 x 10.5M, i.e. 17.9 million children. Therefore there are ~28.4 million of parents and children (just in the US only) are in this category alone. This problem exists far beyond just the western world and it’s die hard feminists. The worldwide total is several multiples of this number.

        Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is a seminal 21st Century break thorough science[5]. Like the invention of the steam engine brought forth the Industrial Revolution and availability of cheap mass produced goods, ACEs will revolutionize all aspects of our life. It is heavily funded in the US at both Federal and State levels. Arising from a very large statistical study, here is a more relatable video on Biology of Toxic Stress[6]. Instead of cold and distant statistical numbers, the presence of the flight or flee hormones on a 24×7 basis causing severe future damage is easily appreciated by all.

        The two national US organizations, NCTSN co-branding with the Judiciary’s sister training organization, NCJFCJ, has been publishing entire quarterly journals, flash cards, and manual on complex trauma since 2006 (scroll to bottom half of page)[7]. The manual[8] states: “these include stressful experiences that occur before the age of 18 years such as divorce, abuse or neglect, substance abuse in the home, etc. Research suggests that greater numbers of ACE experienced is associated with negative outcomes throughout life, up to and including early mortality“. So in the bigger picture PA is yet another complex trauma factor.

        My own ACE flyer summarizes this[9] showing the 10 ACE trauma factors (Ex. 1. Losing a parent to divorce) will lead to ~5000% increased risk of drug use, teenage crime, teen pregnancy, early onset of killer diseases (stroke, cardiac diseases, diabetes, etc.), and finally a 20 year reduction in life expectancy.

        Summarizing the last 4 paragraphs, the complex trauma callously foisted on the the child and target parent by these feminists ideologues is ultimately inflicting early death to the ~28.4 million children and parents afflicted with severe PA in the US alone. To put this ~28.4 million number in perspective the US Holocaust museum reports that “only” 6 million Jews were killed in WWII[10]. It will behoove the die hard feminists to heed this articles gentle admonitions for change instead of facing the war criminal trails like the Nazi’s. The one takeaway from the Holocaust is that we would never allow it to reoccur!!

        Another angle to this is to look at the Soviet 20-30 year cycle of collapsing a government to replace it with a communist puppet that was repeated so any times. KGB defector, Yuri Bezmenov, describes the 4 steps brilliantly in his 1984 video interview[11]. The four steps were:

        1) Demoralization: 15-20 year cycle using useful-idiots to undermine the family
        2) Destabilization: 1-5 year process wherein Defense and economy is destroyed using psychological propaganda
        3) Crisis: The 6 week coup
        4) Normalization: The new puppet takes over

        The feminists ideologues were the useful idiots useful for the first three stages and so lethal to stage 4 that the Soviets (Stalin et. al.) would promptly round them up and send them to the firing squad or the Siberian gulag. The point here is that these Marxist communist idealogy is so lethal that it brings down countries. After they had served this purpose, they were promptly eliminated. In our democracies, we respect human rights and the feminists should be grateful that such measures are unavailable. However, our emotions and sentiments are similar.

        Having first hand experience, you can see that I feel very passionately and strongly about this.

        In closing, in the UK you will find Mike Buchanan, Justice for men & boys (J4MB), https://j4mb.wordpress.com. Along with US based Paul Elam, J4MB organized the 2016 International Conference in Men’s Issues in London. Search YouTube (“ICMI 2016”) for your fav among 20 speakers including 5 women and Philip Davies, MP. My fav is blogger on feminism, Herbert Purdy[12]. Here is their 2016 year ending message[13].

        Finally, here is Cassie Jaye, a former feminist, who has directed the documentary, Red Pill[14]. It has caused many a die hard feminist to have a change of heart.

        [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-rape_movement

        [2] https://youtu.be/Ic9DZVzgeg4

        [3] Jennifer J. Harman, Sadie Leder-Elder, Zeynep Biringen. (2016). Prevalence of parental alienation drawn from a representative poll. Children and Youth Services Review 66 (2016) 62–66 https://www.dropbox.com/s/36a1hwyrqoojg1b/Prevalence%20of%20parental%20alienation%20drawn%20from%20a%20representative%20poll.pdf?dl=0

        [4] https://www.census.gov/hhes/families/files/graphics/FM-3.pdf

        [5] https://vimeo.com/139998006

        [6] http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/toxic-stress-documentary-resilience-video-857924

        [7] http://www.nctsn.org/resources/topics/juvenile-justice-system

        [8] Shawn C. Marsh, Carly B. Dierkhising, Kelly B. Decker, John Rosiak. (2015). Preparing for a Trauma Consultation in Your
        Juvenile and Family Court. Reno, NV: National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges
        http://www.ncjfcj.org/sites/default/files/NCJFCJ_Trauma_Manual_04.03.15.pdf

        [9] https://www.dropbox.com/s/htedo07u2kaptdh/ACEs%20Collage%20v4.png?dl=0

        [10] https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10008193

        [11] https://youtu.be/vLqHv0xgOlc

        [12] https://youtu.be/6Yhd9wc6GmE

        [13] https://youtu.be/p1QXUP9vyVQ

        [14] https://youtu.be/HK7n_XA40V8

  6. Inbal · January 3

    I wish you would come to Israel and train some of the family therapists here. We are so desperate to recieve profesional help in this fieled, and unfortunatly there is no one like you in the area…
    Is there a way we could arrange that?

    • karenwoodall · January 3

      Dear Inbal, we are able to train across the world, we organise visits to deliver training and also seminars for parents and wider family too. We can help, if you would like to email us at office@familyseparationclinic.co.uk we can send you our training information. We have delivered in several countries already and would be interested in working in Israel too. K

  7. daddyhardup · January 3

    One of your best posts Karen, thank you. What do social workers make of your approach? Are they defensive, hostile even, on being told that they have been doing things disastrously wrong for fifty years? Or do many recognise the wrongs you describe (and so many of us experience) but lack an adequate theoretical framework to understand fully what is happening? Or do they understand but feel constrained by the rules as they stand? How open do you think the profession is to change, and to challenging feminist orthodoxy?

    • karenwoodall · January 3

      Hi DHU, I think things are changing fast myself. When we first began work in this area there was silence and resistance in the social work field, there is much more acceptance now and also a greater willingness to tackle the deficiences in practice that current training delivers. I am working on social work training module which is for delivery to two Universities which are training social workers in the UK, as soon as this delivery starts we will have a way of evaluating the impact of that on subsequent delivery of services all of this will allow us to understand how social work impacts on families in this arena more (I think it is unhelpful social work practice which can cause real problems myself but paradoxically, it is good social work practice which creates real change (the issue being social workers have power over parents and it is the power over the alienating parent which is the necessary dynamic change we seek in such cases). I am hopeful, more hopeful than I have ever been that moving the model of work from the feminist ideology to a mental health framework is possible in the UK, we will hit resistance but it will be easier to navigate as we are in private practice and not going up against the institutionalised women’s rights services. Ultimately we want to be able to get this work into local authorities and CAFCASS, we are doing this on an individual basis, in a year or so I think we will be doing it at source myself such is the pace of change. Every child we reunite is a demonstration of our model, everytime we do it we ask the LA to be a reference point for other social workers, we now have a long list of successful outcomes which we can refer new social workers to, this has always been our plan for influencing the UK and in year 4 of the Clinic’s existence, it is coming to fruition. We have many people coming to help us now that we have shown the way, I am hopeful indeed that the road we set out to build is now building itself. I think the profession IS open to change and that giving them the alternative model is the way forward. K

      • daddyhardup · January 4

        This is good to hear. There was a sharp young children’s worker on my daughter’s case, observing contact with me, and she clearly understood that Mother was exercising coercive control to undermine contact. Her observations helped us to discredit the recommendations of the CAFCASS officer, a feminist bigot of the kind you describe, and get her removed from the case, though by then Mother had learned from Ms Cafcass how to work the system to her advantage. Still, the children’s worker gave me hope for the future.

      • daddyhardup · January 4

        I’m sorry if ‘feminist bigot’ is strong language. Not all feminists are bigoted, some are open-minded, and we all have our prejudices and blind spots. But this was someone who had clearly decided from the outset that father should be excluded from the child’s life and then presented information selectively to try to ensure this outcome. Reading your post made the old anger rise again inside me. Ah well, she did not succeed. I continue to be present in my daughter’s life, hanging on by my fingernails, even managing some face to face contact last year, good in the very limited and contested circumstances. And daughter gave me Christmas cards for her aunt and grandmother, a big step forward (not for me, for that would be to challenge mother too directly, but I got a little hug, which was even better…)

  8. Pingback: How to Hear the Voice of the Alienated Child – Lessons for Family Practitioners. – LOST DAD
  9. Pingback: How to Hear the Voice of the Alienated Child – Lessons for Family Practitioners. – gabriella filippi

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