Family Court, S Calvert and D CameronPresentation Transcript
Parental Alienation: Assessment and Intervention In the time available we aim to quickly review the literature on Assessment (and intervention) and then generate a discussion about the issues raised by this difficult area of Family Court Work. Sarah Calvert and Dianne Cameron. [email_address]
Good issue for psychological assessment and intervention because it is the combination of child and adult factors that needs careful assessment.
Construct continues to be vigorously debated, latest Journal of Family Therapy devotes itself to the concept. It is a construct with a history.
Impact on children. Children are at risk for emotional distress and adjustment difficulties. (Even when compared with other high conflict divorce families).
Adolescents more likely to become alienated, generally the primary care parent who is able to do the alienating.
80% as adults reported wanting someone to stop
In many cases the relationship between parent and
child is disturbed for a very lengthy period of time.
High rates of depression as adults.
In many cases the relationship between parent and
child is disturbed for a very lengthy period of time.
Various Authors delineate a number of ways clinicians might assess alienation.
Kelly and Johnson (2001 and Baker (2005a) both indicate that the focus needs to be on the behavior of the alienating parent.
Warshak (2006) created a clear assessment focus:
(I) Persistent campaign of rejection or denigration.
(ii) Unjustified or unreasonable rejection by the child
(iii) Rejection which is partially a result of the alienating parents influence.
(iv) Change from good relationship
(v) Aversion is applied to others (such as other family members).
Impact is pervasive across many developmental areas- poor reality testing, illogical cognitive operations, simplistic and rigid information processing, inaccurate or distorted interpersonal perceptions, disturbed and compromised inter-personal functioning, self hatred, low self esteem (internalized negative parts of rejected parent, self doubt, self blame, mistrust, feeling unworthy) or inflated self esteem/ omnipotence, pseudo maturity, gender identity issues, poor differentiation of self (enmeshment), aggression and conduct disorder, disregard for social norms and authority, poor impulse control , emotional constriction, passivity or dependence, lack of remorse or guilt .
Fiddle and Bala 2010 and Baker 2006.
Johnson and Goldman(2010) indicate that access to one long term therapist is most helpful.
Many children initiate their own reconciliation but for this to happen there has to be access to some information for the alienated parent (role for Court).
Darnell and Strenberg’s research suggests that Court interventions are important (if not always successful).
INTERVENTIONS WITH ALIENATED CHILDREN.
“ Reunification or Reintegration”.
Court ordered therapy for parents and children
more likely to be effective if alienation is in early stages, with less severe problems
may occur in tandem with an increase in time with the rejected parent (often 50:50)
evidence that treatment failure is common
can easily be sabotaged
2. “ Environmental Modification
restricted or suspended contact with favoured parent
usually occurs after option 1 has failed
only if Court feels the rejected parent is able to better meet the children’s needs
mere contact only may not be sufficient and can lead to children acting out
3. Placement of Child in a Neutral Setting:
children live in a third party’s home/boarding school
gradual increase in contact with rejected parent
child may lose regular contact with either parent
boarding schools are expensive
may be less detrimental to adolescents than younger children
foster care not without risks
Rejected Parent Withdraws:
takes pressure off children
leaves children with a parent who is emotionally damaging
hope of reconciliation as child matures not supported by clinical experience and research
child may feel abandoned
reinforces child’s irrational views of rejected parent
Family Bridges Workshop Warshak
(prototype Dr Rand 1991)
parents and children in programme for abducted children
not appropriate for realistic estrangement
130 children from 70 families, outcomes on 23 children (12 families) all with previous therapeutic failure
children removed from favoured parent
rejected parents (7 mothers / 5 fathers)
22 of 23 children had restarted a positive relationship with the rejected parent after the workshop
usually use a vacation location: 4 days
4 children regressed after contact with favoured parent was renewed. (Warshak thinks this is more likely if contact is premature)
favoured parents were ordered to work with a counsellor in 8 cases with variable results
Containing strong affect
Focus on present and future, not past
Education not psychotherapy
Autonomy of children promoted, (e.g. pace when to take breaks, visits off-site with parents okay)
Instruction (critical thinking skills)
Saving face (do not require acknowledgement of wrong-doings or apologies)
Benevolent milieu (and fun)
Multiple perspectives, (not trying to drive one view or apportion blame)
Kelly comment on Family Bridges
Focus on education/use multi-media, not focussed on individual behaviours/ feelings but of a general level includes parent skills training, no blaming and airing of grievances, resort-like setting
Small sample, diverse group of alienation
Surprising number of favoured parents didn’t comply with Court orders to get individual therapy
Absence of integrated programme for favoured parents
Participants needed to be affluent (money often already exhausted by litigation)
Need to be able to persuade a Judge to provide orders in support
Did not use pre and post measure, small sample (research can take years to establish efficacy)
Need to identify subsets or patterns to help target intervention
“ Hybrid” cases that include alienation, enmeshment and estrangement more common
Modification would be helpful for a briefer intervention in milder cases
Warshak in his reply acknowledges all her comments and remarks, “Kelly has done it again.”
Also remarks, “We cannot over emphasise the value of the moratorium for children and parents on discussing grievances, past conflicts and the current status of the parent-child relationship”
Overcoming Barriers Family Camp
(Sullivan, Ward and Deutsch).
5 days family camp (Vermont)
10 families in the 2 years (2008: 11 – 17; 2009: 7 – 11, 12 – 14)
Conflicted, embedded in legal system, significant polarities between parents, children rejecting and may be refusing contact, boundary diffusion between children and favoured parents, all failed with previous interventions. All ordered to attend as a last intervention prior to more extreme interventions (such as removing children).
Involved both favoured and rejected
3 “seasoned” clinical psychologists
Separate work in mornings (children/favoured rejected parent)
Principles, Family Barriers
(1) Psycho education
(2) “The lab” structured exercises, role plays
(3) Use of group process
(4) Work with co-parent dyads on their high level of conflict, parenting plan, support and plan for connections with rejected parent.
(5) Use of play, including parallel play
(6) Did not force children to engage with a rejected parent
(7) Ad hoc interventions for spontaneous “critical incidents”
(8) Staff buddy for each camper
(9) Campers evaluated programme
Results, Family Barriers
2008 (5 families) mixed results: 2 having contact, 1 still estranged and parent had given up, 1 engaged in litigation, 1 “mixed” reasons
Notes it “holds promise”
Court orders to support after care are essential and should be in place prior
Expensive, exclusive (only 1 camp a year)
Reconnecting Children with Absent Parents
Freeman et al produced a model in 2004 for Reconnecting Children With Absent Parent
(1) Introduction (children who have never met a parent)
(2) Re-involvement (where contact has lapsed)
(3) Re-introduction (children have met parent but so long ago they don’t remember them)
They cover issues such as:
Increasing child’s knowledge of absent parent as a preliminary step
Face-to-face meetings (therapist in attendance)
Developing further contacts
Some New Zealand Issues
Referrals that are not section 19 but come as if they were and are privately paid
Pressure to give evidence
Working with children without parents also doing therapeutic work
Working with children who are still living with or in contact with alienators
Negotiations to do at outset
Dealing with children who are extremely rejecting of and resistant to a parent and want you to be their ally
Ending up with too many jobs
Other things to Consider
Concept of estrangement (realistic dislike or fear of a parent based on real experience).
Note children subsequently say they wished for intervention but frequently intervention is unsuccessful.
We do know that intervention can be unsuccessful because of the failure of adequate parenting by the alienated parent’ once contact resumes.
Rapid changes in both family structures and processes and social structures, these create changes in the Family Court. This leads onto changes to likely Court outcomes.
Maternal Gate keeping.
Related Issues: Allegations of Domestic Violence/Sexual Abuse.
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