Climbing the mountain: 5. Awareness raising

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 10.06.31After the IntroductionBefore courtIn court, and Enduring cases, we’re ready for climb No 5 (of 9) on the huge mountain range of high conflict family separation of all kinds.

Awareness-raising only looks like a small mountain to climb. In fact it is in its way just as big and tricky as any of the others. There are several different ways up the awareness mountain, each with their pros and cons and diverse supporters. Obviously people in different countries and local situations may need to choose different routes.

5. Awareness Raising

Even if lots of the worst cases could be prevented, we have to publicise the worst cases a lot. Mostly those affected by high conflict talk to fellow sufferers and helpers of their own specific pattern – having been victims of actual abuse or victims of Alienation. This means that people tend to group mostly with the already-converted. That is important for help and self-help. But it is not the same as raising awareness for others. The rest of the world may be distant and prefer to keep their distance.

We need to find any and every way to engage a wider and more active interest in change. Talking with the converted is not enough.

People in the not-yet-aware world may also hold a range of cultural prejudices about some counter-intuitive patterns in high conflict separations. In short, the result is disbelief, doubt and denial. Only by getting the worst picture across to more people will the world understand why it is such a serious problem that needs solutions.

The bind

But we are in a bind. A small group of loudly upset sufferers and supporters are, as it were, yelling at a puzzled if not actively resistant wider audience. If the serious harm is not underlined, then the audience won’t get why this is any worse than the trouble and strife of any family break-up. But somehow shouting that message louder and louder can be off-putting and counter-pr0ductive to those whose awareness we are trying to raise. As in court, if you can’t reason calmly, the listener – like the judge – may count that against you and dismiss what you’re saying.

The bind gets worse. By emphasising how terrible it is, that mountain-high picture of grim abuse, misery and injustice probably makes the people – those who do eventually hear the message – feel just hopeless and defeated. So a successfully communicated grim picture may still turn people off from doing anything about it – even though there are things that can readily be done. We need to put some clear solutions together alongside the grim picture.

Awareness raising is not easy

Awareness raising is not a simple process. An essential element is a child-focus, on the harm they suffer straight away and maybe for the rest of their lives. The parents and other adults are also very upset, challenged, and need support and help and justice, but children are innocent and vulnerable; they attract greatest sympathy from the wider world. A child-focus is also the best focus in any effective professional or court work with the families. Parents and everyone can team up better around what is best for the children.

Here’s some things we should aim to put together. Most of these are easy to say but not easy to do:

  • Aim: Find ways to talk about and promote knowledge of high conflict separation that engages and persuades a wider audience. This will show the grimness but also link to coherent strategies of what will prevent and help the suffering families and especially their children. Given the binds described above, we need to try out one and all the different ways to do this – loud or quiet, anecdotal or statistical, media or more personal, campaigning or academic. This roughly means using every kind of general public media to reach the general public.  Obviously, the internet is now the way to go.
  • Aim: Research better anecdotal and statistical evidence of prevalence, long-term effects on children, etc. This roughly means using every kind of professional publication, conference and committee to reach professionals and policy-makers.
  • Aim: Given the multiple cultural resistances, counter-intuitives and prejudice about high conflict separation, we need new and broader ways of opening people’s minds up. There is a case to bracket together Child Abduction and Alienation since that automatically gets people thinking on the same valid tracks about Alienation.
  • Aim: Develop the best ways to lobby, link to and influence relevant organisations, policy-makers and government.
  • Aim: Develop well-thought-through sustainable and effective ways to use the media – press, internet, social media.

Influencing by information and persuasion gets close to more robust proactive interventive measures,  e.g. taking up legal action or formal complaints about misinformation or malpractice. Those measures go better under the heading “Services and Standards” later.

It is not so straightforward to raise awareness in the emotive and complex field of high conflict family separation. There are frustrating patterns of sustained mistrust and ignorance that frustrates calmly informing people about it. Awareness-raising can quickly become more heated than just exchanging information.

At the moment, our field seems somewhat thinly spread and not very organised. Everyone has their our own website that mostly we, the converted, read and share and link to. There are some but not that many more-teamed-up people and organisations to raise awareness. Those groups naturally tend to self-support and protest functions, rather than considered  promotion of effective wider awareness.

There are anyway pros and cons to setting up such awareness raising organisations as opposed to doing more quiet personal networking and individually tailored interventions (e.g. getting journals to publish corrections). As usual, it is not a matter of one or the other, but both individual and organised endeavour.

As ever, you can read the the whole thing if you’re really up to it.  And your improving comments are more than welcome below.

Nick Child, Edinburgh

About Nick Child

Retired child and family shrink and family therapist living, working and playing in Edinburgh.


  1. Part of the problem is that there are too many splinter groups. I had hoped that everyone would come under Divorce Corp or someone else but seems slow moving. I know my nonprofit’s focus is shifting to be more than just about psychological abuse/custodial interference, but to the Changing Family Relationship Dynamics whether via a divorce, separation, or something else. I have actually seen custodial interference occur in cases where one parent has died, say from cancer, and the deceased spouse’s parents swoop in and steal the children from the surviving spouse. I have seen custodial interference with child protective services falsely taking children from good families and placing them in foster car, so that they can line the departments pockets with a $10,000 bonus from the Federal Government for every child placed in foster care or adopted. And of course, I have seen the traditional custodial interference by one parent against another.

    My nonprofit wants to help educate, meditate, moderate and so on the parents but also educate the professionals. For example, a financial advisor, psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker etc. have no under real understanding of what it is like going through the family court system, unless they themselves have. And the attorneys/GAL attorneys/Attorneys for the Minor Child, financial advisors, Judges and so on, do not understand the psychological trauma, let alone understand child psychology or psychology.

    When we can bring all of these pieces that are involved in the changing family dynamics onto the same educational level of understanding, then we can start to make real headway in fixing our family courts.


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