I have just finished delivering a one-day professional development program on parental alienation for professional staff at a social services organisation providing frontline services to parents and children. These services include family law mediation, counselling, family violence consultation andProcontact centre services to which parents and children may be ordered by the family court to facilitate contact.
My one-day program encompassed definitions, assessment and interventions. This made for an intense day as each of these subjects alone would take several hours, if not a day. A course like this can serve as a springboard for organisations like this one to develop a parental alienation informed practice. Alienation informed practice would lead organisations to consider alienation as part of a differential assessment, to be more forthright in framing their observations in terms of parental alienation and to implementing interventions guided by evidence-based methodology.
Many targeted/alienated parents may find themselves engaging with organisations who provide contact centre serves and supervised contact. These organisations must remain neutral observers, but their observations are evidence and may be admitted as such.
There are a number of strategies that can be employed to work with children’s resistance and their alienation. If the favoured parent is compliant enough to attend with the children, staff have the skills to get the favoured parent to leave and to work with the child to facilitate contact. Their observations could be crucial to making the case for alienation and most importantly making the case that a relationship with the targeted parent is in their best interests.
Family violence professionals also attended my course. Historically, there have been tensions between the fields of family violence and parental alienation even though each may present as the other and that cross-allegations of family violence and parental alienation may be made.
However, the staff were very clear about the distinctions between children’s estrangement and alienation and in particular the loss of ambivalence as a key differentiator. It is ultimately detrimental to misattribute resistance to contact as this undermines confidence in assessment, yet alone that interventions are markedly different and contraindicated between estrangement and alienation.
Organisations like this are aware that when responding to children who resist contact with a parent they may be staring down florid presentations of parental alienation. It is to their great credit that they sought to understand more about parental alienation, how to recognise it, how to intervene and importantly, when not to intervene.
Perhaps we can take this a sign that the phenomenon of parental alienation has professional credibility and is entering mainstream thinking. Professional organisations are now thinking beyond family violence and family dynamics when it comes to children who reject a parent.