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Family Court, S Calvert and D Cameron


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  • I sincerely hope that NZ Family Law 'catches up' with international best practice regarding Parental Alienation. TheNZ Family Court failed my daughter (a severely alienated child), but put some protection in place for her younger sibling, who remains largely in my care. It is validating to see that efforts are being made by such professionals as yourselves to improve the lot of Alienated children (and targeted parents). Thank you for caring and challenging the 'do nothing; its too hard' response of most NZ Family Law practitioners. One day, I hope the practice of alienating children from 'good enough parents' is treated the way we now regard domestic abuse (which also used to be in the 'too hard' basket'.
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Family Court, S Calvert and D Cameron

  1. 1. 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]
  2. 2. <ul><li>Good issue for psychological assessment and intervention because it is the combination of child and adult factors that needs careful assessment. </li></ul><ul><li>Construct continues to be vigorously debated, latest Journal of Family Therapy devotes itself to the concept. It is a construct with a history. </li></ul><ul><li>Impact on children. Children are at risk for emotional distress and adjustment difficulties. (Even when compared with other high conflict divorce families). </li></ul><ul><li>Adolescents more likely to become alienated, generally the primary care parent who is able to do the alienating. </li></ul><ul><li>80% as adults reported wanting someone to stop </li></ul><ul><li>the process. </li></ul><ul><li>In many cases the relationship between parent and </li></ul><ul><li>child is disturbed for a very lengthy period of time. </li></ul><ul><li>High rates of depression as adults. </li></ul><ul><li>In many cases the relationship between parent and </li></ul><ul><li>child is disturbed for a very lengthy period of time. </li></ul>
  3. 3. Assessment <ul><li>Various Authors delineate a number of ways clinicians might assess alienation. </li></ul><ul><li>Kelly and Johnson (2001 and Baker (2005a) both indicate that the focus needs to be on the behavior of the alienating parent. </li></ul><ul><li>Warshak (2006) created a clear assessment focus: </li></ul><ul><li>(I) Persistent campaign of rejection or denigration. </li></ul><ul><li>(ii) Unjustified or unreasonable rejection by the child </li></ul><ul><li>(iii) Rejection which is partially a result of the alienating parents influence. </li></ul><ul><li>(iv) Change from good relationship </li></ul><ul><li>(v) Aversion is applied to others (such as other family members). </li></ul>
  4. 4. <ul><li>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 . </li></ul><ul><li>Fiddle and Bala 2010 and Baker 2006. </li></ul>
  5. 5. Intervention <ul><li>Johnson and Goldman(2010) indicate that access to one long term therapist is most helpful. </li></ul><ul><li>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). </li></ul><ul><li>Darnell and Strenberg’s research suggests that Court interventions are important (if not always successful). </li></ul><ul><li>INTERVENTIONS WITH ALIENATED CHILDREN. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Reunification or Reintegration”. </li></ul><ul><li>Court ordered therapy for parents and children </li></ul><ul><li>more likely to be effective if alienation is in early stages, with less severe problems </li></ul><ul><li>may occur in tandem with an increase in time with the rejected parent (often 50:50) </li></ul><ul><li>evidence that treatment failure is common </li></ul><ul><li>can easily be sabotaged </li></ul><ul><li>involves coercion. </li></ul>
  6. 6. <ul><li>2. “ Environmental Modification </li></ul><ul><li>restricted or suspended contact with favoured parent </li></ul><ul><li>usually occurs after option 1 has failed </li></ul><ul><li>only if Court feels the rejected parent is able to better meet the children’s needs </li></ul><ul><li>mere contact only may not be sufficient and can lead to children acting out </li></ul><ul><li>involves coercion. </li></ul><ul><li>3. Placement of Child in a Neutral Setting: </li></ul><ul><li>children live in a third party’s home/boarding school </li></ul><ul><li>gradual increase in contact with rejected parent </li></ul><ul><li>child may lose regular contact with either parent </li></ul><ul><li>boarding schools are expensive </li></ul><ul><li>may be less detrimental to adolescents than younger children </li></ul><ul><li>foster care not without risks </li></ul><ul><li>involves coercion </li></ul>
  7. 7. <ul><li>Rejected Parent Withdraws: </li></ul><ul><li>takes pressure off children </li></ul><ul><li>leaves children with a parent who is emotionally damaging </li></ul><ul><li>hope of reconciliation as child matures not supported by clinical experience and research </li></ul><ul><li>child may feel abandoned </li></ul><ul><li>reinforces child’s irrational views of rejected parent </li></ul><ul><li>children over-empowered </li></ul><ul><li>mourning </li></ul>
  8. 8. Family Bridges Workshop Warshak <ul><li>(prototype Dr Rand 1991) </li></ul><ul><li>parents and children in programme for abducted children </li></ul><ul><li>not appropriate for realistic estrangement </li></ul><ul><li>130 children from 70 families, outcomes on 23 children (12 families) all with previous therapeutic failure </li></ul><ul><li>children removed from favoured parent </li></ul><ul><li>rejected parents (7 mothers / 5 fathers) </li></ul><ul><li>22 of 23 children had restarted a positive relationship with the rejected parent after the workshop </li></ul><ul><li>usually use a vacation location: 4 days </li></ul><ul><li>4 children regressed after contact with favoured parent was renewed. (Warshak thinks this is more likely if contact is premature) </li></ul><ul><li>favoured parents were ordered to work with a counsellor in 8 cases with variable results </li></ul><ul><li>expensive </li></ul>
  9. 9. Ten Principles <ul><li>Containing strong affect </li></ul><ul><li>Focus on present and future, not past </li></ul><ul><li>Education not psychotherapy </li></ul><ul><li>Autonomy of children promoted, (e.g. pace when to take breaks, visits off-site with parents okay) </li></ul><ul><li>Instruction (critical thinking skills) </li></ul><ul><li>Saving face (do not require acknowledgement of wrong-doings or apologies) </li></ul><ul><li>Benevolent milieu (and fun) </li></ul><ul><li>Human fallibility </li></ul><ul><li>Multiple perspectives, (not trying to drive one view or apportion blame) </li></ul><ul><li>Conflict management </li></ul>
  10. 10. Kelly comment on Family Bridges <ul><li>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 </li></ul><ul><li>Small sample, diverse group of alienation </li></ul><ul><li>Considerable promise </li></ul><ul><li>Surprising number of favoured parents didn’t comply with Court orders to get individual therapy </li></ul><ul><li>Absence of integrated programme for favoured parents </li></ul><ul><li>Participants needed to be affluent (money often already exhausted by litigation) </li></ul><ul><li>Need to be able to persuade a Judge to provide orders in support </li></ul><ul><li>Did not use pre and post measure, small sample (research can take years to establish efficacy) </li></ul><ul><li>Need to identify subsets or patterns to help target intervention </li></ul><ul><li>“ Hybrid” cases that include alienation, enmeshment and estrangement more common </li></ul><ul><li>Modification would be helpful for a briefer intervention in milder cases </li></ul>
  11. 11. Warshak’s Reply <ul><li>Warshak in his reply acknowledges all her comments and remarks, “Kelly has done it again.” </li></ul><ul><li>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” </li></ul>
  12. 12. Overcoming Barriers Family Camp <ul><li>(Sullivan, Ward and Deutsch). </li></ul><ul><li>5 days family camp (Vermont) </li></ul><ul><li>10 families in the 2 years (2008: 11 – 17; 2009: 7 – 11, 12 – 14) </li></ul><ul><li>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). </li></ul><ul><li>Involved both favoured and rejected </li></ul><ul><li>3 “seasoned” clinical psychologists </li></ul><ul><li>Separate work in mornings (children/favoured rejected parent) </li></ul>
  13. 13. Principles, Family Barriers <ul><li>(1) Psycho education </li></ul><ul><li>(2) “The lab” structured exercises, role plays </li></ul><ul><li>(3) Use of group process </li></ul><ul><li>(4) Work with co-parent dyads on their high level of conflict, parenting plan, support and plan for connections with rejected parent. </li></ul><ul><li>(5) Use of play, including parallel play </li></ul><ul><li>(6) Did not force children to engage with a rejected parent </li></ul><ul><li>(7) Ad hoc interventions for spontaneous “critical incidents” </li></ul><ul><li>(8) Staff buddy for each camper </li></ul><ul><li>(9) Campers evaluated programme </li></ul>
  14. 14. Results, Family Barriers <ul><li>2008 (5 families) mixed results: 2 having contact, 1 still estranged and parent had given up, 1 engaged in litigation, 1 “mixed” reasons </li></ul><ul><li>Notes it “holds promise” </li></ul><ul><li>Court orders to support after care are essential and should be in place prior </li></ul><ul><li>Expensive, exclusive (only 1 camp a year) </li></ul>
  15. 15. Reconnecting Children with Absent Parents <ul><li>Freeman et al produced a model in 2004 for Reconnecting Children With Absent Parent </li></ul><ul><li>Reconnections: </li></ul><ul><li>(1) Introduction (children who have never met a parent) </li></ul><ul><li>(2) Re-involvement (where contact has lapsed) </li></ul><ul><li>(3) Re-introduction (children have met parent but so long ago they don’t remember them) </li></ul><ul><li>They cover issues such as: </li></ul><ul><li>Increasing child’s knowledge of absent parent as a preliminary step </li></ul><ul><li>Face-to-face meetings (therapist in attendance) </li></ul><ul><li>Further meetings </li></ul><ul><li>Developing further contacts </li></ul><ul><li>Ethical dilemmas </li></ul>
  16. 16. Some New Zealand Issues <ul><li>Referrals that are not section 19 but come as if they were and are privately paid </li></ul><ul><li>Pressure to give evidence </li></ul><ul><li>Working with children without parents also doing therapeutic work </li></ul><ul><li>Working with children who are still living with or in contact with alienators </li></ul><ul><li>Negotiations to do at outset </li></ul><ul><li>Dealing with children who are extremely rejecting of and resistant to a parent and want you to be their ally </li></ul><ul><li>Ending up with too many jobs </li></ul>
  17. 17. Other things to Consider <ul><li>Concept of estrangement (realistic dislike or fear of a parent based on real experience). </li></ul><ul><li>Note children subsequently say they wished for intervention but frequently intervention is unsuccessful. </li></ul><ul><li>We do know that intervention can be unsuccessful because of the failure of adequate parenting by the alienated parent’ once contact resumes. </li></ul><ul><li>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. </li></ul><ul><li>Maternal Gate keeping. </li></ul><ul><li>Related Issues: Allegations of Domestic Violence/Sexual Abuse. </li></ul>
  18. 18. References. <ul><li>Nicholas Bala, Suzanne Hunt and Carolyn Mc Carney (2010) “Parental Alienation: Canadian Court Cases 1989-2008” Family Court Review, Vol. 48, No 1, p 164-179 </li></ul><ul><li>Carol S. Bruch (2001) “Parental Alienation Syndrome and Parental Alienation: Getting it Wrong in Child Custody Cases ,” from Carol S. Bruch Parental Alienation Syndrome: Junk Science and Child Custody Determinations. </li></ul><ul><li>Baker, A.J.L. (2005). The Long Term Effects of Parental Alienation on Adult Children.: A qualitative research study. American Journal of Family Therapy. 33. 289-302. </li></ul><ul><li>Baker, A.J.L. (2006). Patterns of Parental Alienation Syndrome: a qualitative study of adults alienated as children. American Journal of Family Therapy. 34. 63-78. </li></ul><ul><li>Baker, A.J.L. (2007). Knowledge and Attitudes about the Parental Alienation Syndrome: A Survey of Custody Evaluators. American Journal of Family Therapy. 35(1). 1-19. </li></ul><ul><li>Baker, A,J,L. (2010). Adult Recall of Parental Alienation in a Community Sample. Prevalence and Associations with psychological maltreatment. Journal of Divorce and Re-marriage. 51. 16-35 </li></ul><ul><li>Baker, A.J.L and Darnall, D.C. (2007). A Construct Study of the Eight Symptoms of Severe Parental Alienation Syndrome: A survey of parental experiences. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage. 47(1-2) 55-75. </li></ul><ul><li>John Caldwell (2005) “The Dilemma of Parental Alienation,” paper delivered at 4 th Annual Lexus/Nexus Child Law Conference. </li></ul><ul><li>Campbell, T. (2005). Why Doesn’t Parental Alienation Occur More Frequently? The significance of role discrimination. American Journal of Family Therapy. 33. 365-77. </li></ul><ul><li>Carey, K.M. (2003). Exploring long-term outcomes of the parental alienation syndrome. Dissertation. Alliant University. San Francisco. </li></ul><ul><li>Drozd, L. (2009) Rejection in Cases of Abuse or Alienation in Divorcing Families. In Galatzer-Levy, R. ,Kraus, L. and Galatzer-Levy, J. (Eds). 2009. The Scientific Basis of Child Custody Decisions. John Wiley. New York. </li></ul><ul><li>Ellis, E.M. (2005). Help for the Alienated Parent. American Journal of Family Therapy. 33. 415-26. </li></ul>
  19. 19. <ul><li>Ellis, E.M. (2007). A Stepwise Approach to Evaluating Children for Parental Alienation Syndrome. Journal of Child Custody 4. 55-78 </li></ul><ul><li>Robert E. Emery (2005) “Parental Alienation Syndrome: Proponents Bare the Burden of Proof,” Family Court Review, Vol. 43, No. 1, pgs 8-13 </li></ul><ul><li>Fiddle, B. and Bala, N. (2010). Children resisting post-separation contact with a parent: Concepts, controversies and conundrums. Family Court Review. 48 10-47. </li></ul><ul><li>Freckelton, I. (2002). Evaluating parental alienation and child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome. Butterworths Family Law Journal Sept.57-66. </li></ul><ul><li>Galatzer-Levy, R. ,Kraus, L. and Galatzer-Levy, J. (Eds). 2009. The Scientific Basis of Child Custody Decisions. John Wiley. New York. </li></ul><ul><li>Gordon, R.M., Stoffey, R and Bottinelli, J. (2008). MMPI-2 Findings of Primitive Defences in Alienating Parents. American Journal of Family Therapy. 36 211-28. </li></ul><ul><li>Jaffe, P.G., Johnston,J.R., Crooks, C.V. and Bala,N. (2008).Custody Disputes Involving Allegations of Domestic Violence: Towards a Differentiated Approach to Parenting Plans. Family Courts Review. Vol 46:3. July. 500-522. </li></ul><ul><li>Peter Jaffe, Dan Ashbourne and Alfred A, Mamo (2010) “Early Identification and Preventing of Parent-Child Alienation: A Framework For Balancing Risks and Benefits of Intervention” Family Court Review Vol. 48, No, p136-152 </li></ul><ul><li>Janet R. Johnston, Marjory Gans Walters & Steven Friedlander , “ Therapeutic Work with Alienated Children and Their Families,” Family Court Review, Vol. 39, No. 3, July 2001, pgs 316-333. </li></ul><ul><li>Johnston, J.R. (2003). Parental Alignments and Rejection: An empirical study of Alienation in Children of Divorce. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law . 31:2. 158-170. </li></ul><ul><li>Kelly, J.B.(2000).Children's Adjustment In Conflicted Marriage & Divorce: A Decade Review Of Research. Journal Of The American Academy Of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 39:8.963-973. </li></ul><ul><li>Joan B. Kelly & Janet R. Johnston (2001) “The Alienated Child: A Reformulation of Parental Alienation Syndrome,” Family Court Review, Vol. 39, No. 3, pgs 249-266. </li></ul><ul><li>Kelly, B. J. (2010). Commentary on ‘Family bridges: Using insights from social science to reconnect parents and alienated children (Worshak, 2010).’ Family Court Review, 48 (1), 81-90 </li></ul>
  20. 20. <ul><li>Lampel, A.K. (1996). Children’s alignment with Parents in Highly Conflicted Custody Cases. Family and Conciliation Courts Review. 34. 229-239. </li></ul><ul><li>Lee, S.Margaret. and Olesen N.W.. 2001. Assessing for Alienation in Child Custody and Access Evaluations. Family Court Review. 39:3. 282-298. </li></ul><ul><li>Machuca, L.P. (2005). Parental Alienation Syndrome: Perceptions of parental behaviors and attitudes in divorced and non divorced families. Dissertation, University of Alaska. </li></ul><ul><li>Pederson, M.L. (2005). Parental Alienation Syndrome: Perceptions of parental behavior and attitudes in divorced vs non divorced families. Dissertation. University of Alaska. AAT 1430453. </li></ul><ul><li>Rasso, C. (2004). ‘If the bread goes stale, it’s my Dad’s fault’: The parental alienaton syndrome. Dissertation. Concordia University. </li></ul><ul><li>Rand, D. (2005). The Spectrum of Parental Alienation Syndrome. American Journal of Forensic Psychology. 23. 15-43. </li></ul><ul><li>Reay.K.M. (2007). PSYCHOLOGICAL DISTRESS AMONG ADULT CHILDREN OF DIVORCE WHO PERCEIVE EXPERIENCING PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME IN EARLIER YEARS. Dissertation Abstracts International . Section B. 3428. </li></ul><ul><li>Sauber, S.R.(2010) Introduction to the Special Issue (On Parental Alienation). Journal of Family Therapy. 38 . </li></ul><ul><li>Sullivan, M. J., Word, P. A., Deutsch, R. M. (2010). Overcoming barriers family camp: A program for high-conflict divorced families where a child is resisting contact with a parent. Family Court Review, 48(1), 116-135 </li></ul><ul><li>Matthew J. Sullivan & Joan B. Kelly (2001) “Legal and Psychological Management of Cases With an Alienated Child,” Family Court Review, Vol. 39, No. 3, pgs 299-315 </li></ul><ul><li>Ira Daniel Turkat (2005) “ False Allegations of Parental Alienation ,” American Journal of Family Law, Spring,, 19, 1, Academic Research Library . </li></ul><ul><li>Walker,L., Brantley,K.L. and Rogsbee,J.A. (2004) A Critical Analysis of Parental Alienation Syndrome and its Admissibility in the Family Court. Journal of Child Custody . Vol 1:2. 47-74. </li></ul><ul><li>Warshak, R. A. (2010). Family bridges: Using insights from social science to reconnect parents and alienated children. Family Court Review, 48 (1), 48-80 </li></ul><ul><li>Warshak, R. A., Otis, M. R. (2010). ‘Helping alienated children with family bridges: practice, research and the pursuit of “Humbition”’ Family Court Review, 48 </li></ul>