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February 2, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

By 2011, the science on overnights for Dad with his very young child seemed pretty well, if not decided, then generally agreed on. The consensus was that children’s psychological development is assisted by maintaining supportive, nurturing relationships with both parents. The undeniable fact that a child in sole maternal custody is routinely cared for by others – grandparents, other relatives, babysitters, boyfriends, etc. – made the argument against overnights with Dad, to the extent there was one, even harder to make.

That makes subsequent events hard to explain. Dr. Richard Warshak describes what happened.

Controversy over the previous decade’s accepted science with respect to overnights for young children reignited in 2011 when the Association for Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) gave a unique platform to Jennifer McIntosh via an invitation to guest edit a special issue of its journal, Family Court Review (FCR) in which McIntosh listed herself as an author on nine articles, eight of which were edited transcripts of interviews that McIntosh conducted with people she selected as commentators. The same year AFCC bestowed upon McIntosh its Distinguished Research Award, and then in 2012 invited McIntosh to deliver a plenary address at its annual conference. McIntosh advocated that one parent should be designated the primary caregiver, discouraged joint physical custody for children under the age of four, and called for the resurrection of blanket restrictions unless overnights were necessary and helpful to the primary caregiver. Subsequent articles criticized AFCC, FCR, and McIntosh for presenting a narrow perspective. Joan Kelly noted “the absence of any articles or consideration of infant-father attachments, and the limited and methodologically flawed research used to establish broad conclusions that substantial time with fathers and overnights after separation were detrimental.”

Readers of this blog will recall Professor Linda Nielson’s thoroughgoing takedown of McIntosh’s flawed methodology. Put simply, no reputable researcher would do what McIntosh did. My favorite of her ham-handed efforts to separate children from their fathers was her use of certain typical childhood behavior to prove the existence of anxiety on the part of the child. The only problem with that approach was that the behavior has never been validated as demonstrating a detrimental anxiety. On the contrary, it’s been validated as a precursor of language development, something most observers would regard as a positive thing. Not McIntosh. With no scientific basis whatsoever, she simply decided that the behavior indicated anxiety and therefore that overnights with Dad are detrimental to children.

That’s the type of scientific “rigor” for which McIntosh now has a reputation. What’s at least as strange as McIntosh’s behavior though is that of the AFCC. It plainly went out of its way to create controversy where there was none. We must remember that, during 2011 and 2012, McIntosh was only an adjunct professor, i.e. she only had a job from semester to semester. In short, she wasn’t exactly a leading figure in the scientific world. And yet the AFCC did what Warshak describes. It allowed a third-tier figure to attempt to upset the widely-held consensus on children’s overnights with their fathers.

Not content with using McIntosh as its point person, it allowed her to, once again, engage in blatantly one-sided methods of asserting her anti-father agenda. Not only did the journal she was allowed to edit have no counterpoint to her very questionable narrative, the AFCC gave her an award for her research that in reality was distinguished only its shoddiness. To top it all off, her address to the group in 2012 was similarly one-sided.

What on earth was the AFCC doing, trying to destroy its own reputation? Healthy organizations simply don’t behave the way the AFCC did when promoting McIntosh’s unscientific and anti-father agenda. Unsurprisingly, the response to both McIntosh and the AFCC wasn’t long in coming. When it did, it was a tsunami that swept away their flawed claims and re-established a degree of responsibility to the scientific field regarding very young children and their fathers.

More on this next time.

#child'sbestinterests, #JenniferMcIntosh, #AFCC, #RichardWarshak

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