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September 13, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The campaign against recognizing parental alienation continues in this article (BBC, 9/12/18). The writer, “education editor” Branwen Jeffreys should consider educating herself before writing such a piece. The nut of the matter according to Jeffreys is that the very existence of PA is “controversial” and so any claim that it’s occurring should be looked at askance.

It’s a remarkable stance given the fact that the very reason she’s writing is that,

This autumn, social workers who look after a child's interests in the family courts are being given new guidelines to help with these cases.
For the first time this will consider the possibility a child has been deliberately turned against one parent, by the other.

Now, if Jeffreys knew the first thing about PA, she’d regard the fact that social workers are just now being instructed to look for it with astonishment and outrage. After all, large volumes of evidence have for years demonstrated not only the existence of PA, but its pernicious effects not only on children, but on the adults they one day become. As psychologist Linda Gottlieb has written, mental health professionals have been noticing, recording and writing about what we now call parental alienation since at least the 1950s. Why British social workers are just now taking note should send people into the streets with pitchforks and torches. But for Jeffreys, the issue isn’t this very late recognition, but its recognition at all.

It's a controversial concept which the courts have been trying to grapple with for years in cases where the parents are locked into entrenched legal action over contact.
There is no consensus and not a great deal of research, so how might it be considered by courts here?

Hmm. Actually, the concept isn’t controversial, there is a consensus and a lot of research. That’s three errors about the most basic aspects of parental alienation in two sentences. Most impressive, Ms. Jeffreys.

The concept of PA is so uncontroversial that it’s included in the DSM V, albeit under different headings. My understanding is that the International Statistical Classification of Diseases does too, but I can’t say for certain. Plus, any attorney with much experience in family court has seen cases of PA.

So how common might parental alienation be?

Amazingly, Jeffreys asks the question but makes no effort to answer it. Had Jeffreys asked researcher Sadie Leder Elder, who actually published a study of the prevalence of PA among divorcing couples, she’d have learned that about 13% of divorced parents have been alienated from their children. That means that, here in the U.S., some 22 million parents have suffered that fate. Elder calls PA “pervasive.”

But she didn’t ask Elder. Instead she asked Liz Trinder, whose shoddy work I’ve discussed before. Readers may recall that Trinder reviewed the behavior of family court judges when faced with applications to enforce parenting time orders, 86% of which were filed by fathers. Trinder found those courts to be behaving quite appropriately despite having not once (in her cohort) actually enforced an order with makeup time or changed custody. In short, Dads received no effective help from the courts and that was just how Trinder liked it. And sure enough, here’s Trinder:

"The problem with the alienation concept is that if your premise is the child has been brainwashed, it means you can't trust what the child is saying to the court. So if you make an accusation of alienation it almost automatically casts suspicion on anything the child might say."

That would be a problem if the premise of PA “is that the child has been brainwashed,” but of course it’s not. That’s very much the question to be answered and there’s a protocol for doing so. No competent mental health professional does what Trinder claims. If that’s what she believes PA to be, maybe she should read a book on the subject. I can recommend several.

The consequences of a diagnosis of alienation can have a huge impact on a child, she argues, with some supporters of the concept arguing it should lead to a transfer of care and residency.
"Supporters of alienation will generally insist that should be done literally overnight. So the child is removed from the alienating parent and placed with the so called innocent parent, and the child won't have any contact with the first parent. For me that feels like child abuse"

Notice that, for Trinder, only the diagnosis of PA can have an impact on the child, not PA itself. I’d be more impressed with her concern about child abuse if she acknowledged that alienation is exactly that, but of course she doesn’t. Study after study, all published in volumes to which Trinder has access, reveal the reality and the brutality of alienation. So when Trinder and Jeffreys attempt to cast aspersions on the very concept of PA, they come perilously close to promoting child abuse themselves.

Here for example is an article by Dr. Amy Baker citing some of the well-known aspects of parental alienation (The Attached Family, 11/8/08). They include items the likes of Trinder and Jeffreys should consider, but won’t. Their agenda is to convince anyone who’ll listen that the very notion of PA is “controversial” and shouldn’t be credited. Responsible professionals in mental health and law fields know better.

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