June 29, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
One of the most alarming aspects of Cara Tabachnick’s attempt to cast aspersions on the reunification program Family Bridges is her blithe acceptance of parental alienation and its shocking effects on children. After all, reunification programs generally have one aim – to reunite alienated children with their targeted parent. The hope is that doing so will help salve the psychic wounds inflicted by the alienating parent. PA is child abuse. Family Bridges and other reunification efforts try to ameliorate its harmful effects.
To most people, I suspect, that would seem a worthwhile goal, but Tabachnick isn’t “most people.” Nowhere in her article does she address the all-important question, “If Family Bridges isn’t the answer, what is?” It’s one thing to criticize a program, and my guess is that Family Bridges isn’t the final answer on how to deal with severely alienated kids, but to entirely fail to offer any better alternative calls into question Tabachnick’s motivation. That failure strongly suggests that Tabachnick would be perfectly content to allow alienating parents to continue their abuse and tell kids “It’s your tough luck; we won’t lift a finger to help you.” Certainly she never suggests an alternative.
And of course she attempts, in her feeble way, to get readers to question the very reality of parental alienation. That, as I’ve said in the past, is the worst of losing battles. No serious person doubts the existence of parental alienation and the research on it will only continue to grow. Plus, risibly enough, Tabachnick takes, as her example of a family wronged by Family Bridges, one in which the children look to have been alienated. As I mentioned before, that’s the strangest of ways to try to convince readers that alienation doesn’t exist.
What is Family Bridges? If you want to know the answer, don’t bother reading Tabachnick’s piece that nowhere gets close to an accurate description. But I interviewed Dr. Deirdre Rand at length and have read various scholarly articles on it, so I’ll take a stab at describing what Family Bridges tries to do, how, and what it’s success rate is. Readers can then judge for themselves the level of intellectual honesty at work in Tabachnick’s article.
Family Bridges is mostly for severely alienated children and their targeted parents. It is an educational workshop that lasts four days. At the end of that time the parent and the children are required to demonstrate that they can conduct a mock family meeting.
Family Bridges may be ordered by a court when a finding of severe alienation is made, other efforts to reverse the alienation have failed and a temporary order changing custody to the targeted parent has been made. Generally, a 90-day period of no contact between the alienating parent and the children has also been made.
The children are then transported to the site at which the workshop is to be held. Dr. Rand told me this is done by transportation escorts who are chosen by their employer for their interpersonal skills. She also said that, as a rule, the children are able to relax in the presence of their escorts because they’re no longer under the watchful eye of the alienating parent. Typically they arrive at the workshop cheerful and at ease.
Here’s Dr. Richard Warshak’s description of Family Bridges, a program he was instrumental in designing but with which he has had no relationship, either business or professional, for many years, a fact known, albeit never mentioned, by Tabachnick.
The workshop is run by of mental health professionals who’ve been trained in the Family Bridges system, the targeted parent and the alienated children. No other adults or children are involved. Rand told me that the goal is to allow the love that children naturally have for their parents to reassert itself in the absence of the alienator. The targeted parent will then be seen for who he/she truly is – an imperfect being, but a loving parent. Standard tools like active listening are used to show that the parent can listen to the children – and vice versa – and understand what they’re saying without judging them or their message. Children who’ve been on a campaign of denigration of their parent are not judged for their previous behavior and given a face-saving way to end their campaign and become, once again, the loving child of a loving parent.
Rand told me that, over the years, Family Bridges has seen over 200 families with success in the vast majority of them. She recounted Guardians ad Litem who reported back to her saying “Oh my god, this is incredible.” Indeed, a Canadian judge who’d referred a family to the program said much the same. In the 2016 case of X vs. Y, Ontario Superior Court Justice Trimble called Family Bridges’ result “nothing short of remarkable.” He went on to describe the program in some detail.
"The Family Bridges Program is a specially designed proprietary program for all members of family in which there is alienation. The Program is specifically designed to be non-litigious. It comes after the litigation is completed. Family Bridges' goal is the same goal as the Court's and the Family's: giving all family members the tools to re-form healthy, loving, respectful bonds between children and both of their parents, and teaching parents that they can parent children in a parallel way without denigrating the other parent. Family Bridges refers to this as the "congruent goals". It provides its services to the children, the favoured parent, and the rejected parent in alienation cases.
Family Bridges' process is neither judgmental nor evaluative. It is experiential and education. It provides materials (written, oral and visual) to the client so that the client comes to understand his/her motivations, actions and the impact of those actions. The client comes to understand that memory is fallible and open to distortion. The program does not dwell on the past, but focuses on the future. The client comes to understand and recognize behaviours that are unhealthy, and has strategies to address them.
The professionals providing Family Bridges programs are specially and extensively trained in the Family Bridges process, and ensure that the messages and information given to every member of the family, and the assessment of every member of the family in the program is uniform and consistent. That professional, having been involved with all members of the family, is in the best position to determine whether all parties have actively and whole-heartedly participated in the program and met the milestones required.
Family Bridges has set the following milestones for Y:
- Demonstrated working knowledge of the parent-child alienation in general and with insight into their own specific alienating behaviours;
- Demonstrated compliance with Court orders;
- Acquired, willingly accepted and complied with the Parallel Parenting Model, which is designed to permit both parents to parent (while recognizing the custodial authority of one, if so ordered), in a completely disengaged way."
It’s fascinating to read the words of an intelligent but disinterested person regarding Family Bridges. Compare those words with Tabachnick’s, a writer who may be intelligent but is the furthest thing from disinterested. It turns out that there are important observations to be made about Family Bridges. Tabachnick’s simply aren’t among them.
I’ll delve into this more tomorrow.
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