The BBC delivers: Parental Alienation on mainstream media

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Greg Mullholland, MP; Joanna Abrahams, family lawyer; Anthony Douglas, CEO Cafcass; Victoria Derbyshire, host.

Just when you weren’t expecting it, Victoria Derbyshire and Mike Cowan, the hard working reporter, have come up trumps. (No, not that Trump … the pack of cards kind!)

On Victoria’s eponymous daily TV news magazine on BBC2 this week (21st Nov 2016), they ran a great feature on Parental Alienation with interviews with families, experts and a discussion with an MP, a family lawyer, and the CEO of Cafcass. … Cafcass is the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (in England and Wales), providing the standard service for assessing and helping families who are going through the family courts.

There I was working away on a blogpost about how people struggle to get Parental Alienation properly featured in the mainstream media.  I was linking to various good attempts, including how some have used the internet and social media to create ‘do-it-yourself’ shows that look like mainstream shows.

And now, given such a good job on the subject by the Beeb, I need hardly say any more at all!

For those in the UK, when the grandparent of mainstream media, the good old BBC, does the job, you just want to sit back and proudly glow at being British!  If you’re not in the UK, you may not be able to access all the links below, but you’ll be able to view some of them.

As important as the Prime Minister

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Mike Cowan – who did all the ground work

It’s brilliant that this is on a daily respected and popular programme. Parental Alienation is interleaved with news and interviews as if it has always been as important as the Prime Minister addressing the CBI, Andy Murray being ‘world No 1’, the next manager of the England football (aka soccer) team, and big stories on torture and tax credits.

Then you have the pleasure of watching the CEO of Cafcass – Cafcass not being the most famous service for understanding and tackling this problem – talking as if he knows all about Parental Alienation: “It’s like living in a cult … Better to intervene early than criminalise … There’s a case for getting together and recommend stronger guidance.”  Yep. The power of having to answer questions in public. Ace. (And that could be both the Andy Murray kind of ace and the pack of cards kind!)

For those that aren’t so pleased with the show, there’s the Comment boxes below! Please use them.  So now, er, what else do you need. … Oh yes! The links!

Well done to all those who contributed to this great profile raising achievement!

Nick Child, Edinburgh

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About Nick Child

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

6 comments

  1. This is brilliantly done. As stated, parental alienation is a “set of strategies” used by one parent to undermine the relationship between the children and the other parent. I would only add that these strategies are part of a fixed pattern of narcissistic/borderline traits and follows a predictive pattern of devaluing and discarding the ex-partner.

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  2. Thanks ‘targeted Mom’. As is familiar now across all the social media debates on Parental Alienation, people naturally assume that their own personal experience – their own particular case or the limited caseload in their particular neck of the woods – is the only pattern there is, and that what is appropriate for them is what everyone needs too.

    Some professionals see a wider range. They see the clear cut picture – one parent on their own disturbingly responsible for the the pattern as shown in the TV show – but also a less clear cut messier mixture or ‘hybrid’ pattern. For example here (with her permission) is Chip Chimera’s thoughts on watching this TV programme.

    I was pleased to see the Beeb do something too. But I seem to be working with the whole spectrum: those who are genuinely and unfairly alienated (who may have an ‘aha’ experience from the programme) and those who have contributed to their estrangement by being misattuned and unable to reverse roles with their children (parents will continue to blame each other). It is the latter group who often get on the ‘alienation bandwagon’ without looking at themselves. In both situations the kids still suffer excruciatingly. It is horrid.

    So I thought the programme defined the problem from the position of pure PA. I am in no doubt that PA exists. However I thought the programme fell short of the other side of the complexity – those parents who claim PA but lack reflective capacity into how their own behaviour exacerbates things. I see both situations. I had hoped for a little more balance. The programme gave two sides of (at least) a three-sided story. There is much to say about how the ‘alienated’ person can become estranged through their own non-reflective behaviour. I know that is controversial.

    My fear is that the programme might open the floodgates of blame and recrimination when what those of us who are immersed in this work need [the public and clients to have] a clear framework and guidance in the role of assessing to re-establish contact [ie not just assessing just the situations of blaming one or other parent – NC’s brackets].

    Professionals who attended the IFT ‘Children in Adversity’ day last week will have had a much more complex view presented by Eia Asen and Emma Maris (from Anna Freud), and by Sue Whitcombe and Simon Shattock. Simon presented a perspective from divorced non-resident fathers and how their parenting changes with divorce and separate households.

    I think there is still a great deal to be learned. This work requires a multi-pronged approach: mediation, therapy, and psycho-education.

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  3. Huntley

    Please sign this petition to introduce a law that recognizes Parental Alienation as a criminal offence.

    https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/164983

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    • Thanks for the petition link. Here’s my tuppence worth:

      It sounds appealingly simple to make a law that makes Parental Alienation a crime. There are countries that have done this as we know. But as ever it can cause more problems than it solves. And it would take hours to debate all the ins and outs. In the UK / Europe we have quite a few other handles on how to give children the care they need – what’s missing is the know-how and practice to make it happen. Meanwhile, here’s a few of the problems.

      1. As in the USA, making PA a crime creates another football for the two sides to kick viciously around the courts. Remember the principle is that we want to protect children from being in the middle of that pitch.
      2. The broad range of PA includes situations where it is not always so clear cut that it is entirely one parent’s doing. Courts can still be useful for such common hybrid cases, ensuring that proper assessment and mandated child-focused / parenting coordination / family work is made to happen. But that is not the same as punishing or imprisoning one of the parents.
      3. Emotional abuse, which is what PA would count as – even if the most severe Personality Disorder names were attached to a parent – is not going to be likely to be a punishable offence or disorder, I think. The point of these labels is to better understand and help the offenders. The most the label and blame would lead to, I think, would be as part of an assessment that recommends transfer of main residence. But we can see how that could be done without PA being a crime.
      4. Laws take years and years and years to put into place. Laws about complicated relationship things tend not to work – see for example how the Controlling and coercive law that began this year is proving of only limited use.

      In Romania with its new law, the benefits that I see are that a comprehensive approach will ensure qualified assessment in all cases where PA is suggested as needing looked at. That is not the same as making it a crime. We don’t need to make PA a crime to get courts and qualified assessments and skilled help in place. There are more direct – even if it seems frustratingly like it will take forever – ways to make these things happen. I say it’s best to focus all our energy on making what we could already be doing happen.

      Nick Child, Edinburgh

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