The Challenge Facing Child Advocacy

It Can Be Impossible To Determine What Is Objective Information

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Child Advocates Are Faced With A Daunting Challenge

Child advocacy groups exist to protect children.  Under the best of circumstances their job is overwhelming but when Parental Alienation is involved it can be almost impossible. Social workers are not trained to recognize symptoms, mental health professionals are similarly untrained and mired in controversy, and family courts are hamstrung by the lack of leadership and direction from the psychiatric professionals.  The problem is not that mental health and legal professionals deny the existence of Parental Alienation, the problem is that they have great difficulty recognizing it and acting appropriately when they do.  They do recognize it as child abuse but, in the absence of physical evidence,  the professionals are severely handicapped.  So, victims are abandoned, feeling  powerless with no hope of rescue as their torturers continue to steal their children with the de-facto support of the very people mandated to protect them.

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Although Parental Alienation  has existed forever the use of the term in the mental health lexicon is relatively new and controversial, having evolved only since "dual custody" emerged as a court ordered custody strategy in the '70s.  But, neither the courts nor social service agencies seem to be prepared to effectively deal with the complex and elusive problems inherent with Parental Alienation.  They are failing the children and families who have been victimized by abusive ex-spouses with pathological personality disorders.  The problems confronting mental health professionals, the courts, and child advocates arise from the extreme difficulty in actually defining the the abuse and then uncovering the truth in each case.  Acrid accusations are always exchanged during a toxic split and a fight over child custody so the truth can be very elusive.  The courts and child advocates have to deal with many complex issues including the following:

The courts, mental health professionals, and targeted parents are trapped in a political and medical controversy over the concept of "Parental Alienation Syndrome."  There is little argument that "Parental Alienation" exists but most mental health professionals, including the authors of the DSM-5,  have not accepted it as a "syndrome." It is not considered a medical problem but as a relationship disorder between a child and the parent.  Referring to the disorder as a syndrome muddles the issue, has political overtones, and might be inhibiting the development of clear protocols for defining and treating the family dysfunction. The controversy has made it more difficult for child advocates to develop a clear and helpful direction for both themselves and the courts.

Professional Help Is Often Too Little, Too Late

By the time attorneys and advocates become involved with toxic relationships involving children significant psychological and emotional damage may have already been done to the child and the child may be unable to communicate the truth. Memories can be changed and even created and the typical alienating parent lives with a personality disorder that would facilitate the distortion of reality to suit their needs and desires.

A typical conflict assigned to an advocate might involve the father's contention that the mother is guilty of intentionally  manipulating and alienating the child from him, in an attempt to win sole custody and to deny visitation with the father. The mother might counter that the child genuinely hates the father with good reason because he is abusive and she is just trying to protect the child.  The child who has been manipulated by the mother and alienated from the father is adamant that their new found hate for the targeted parent is a result of a variety of evil and hurtful offenses committed by the father.

In these situations the truth can be very elusive but the child and the favored parent tend to be successful in denying the targeted parent a relationship with the child.  The child has been victimized, manipulated, and subjected to mind control.  But, child advocacy specialists receive inadequate training to recognize and understand situations that involve parental alienation.  The courts too often believe that the relationship between child and favored parent is warm, nurturing, and healthy while the targeted parent is really guilty of an assortment of offenses.  In fact, the opposite is often true and the courts grant exclusive custody to the real abuser.

Parental Alienation is a process that occurs over a period of time in a contentious relationship and toxic divorce.  By the time the family appears in court the damage is usually done and people specializing in child advocacy can often be of little help.  It can be almost impossible for either the judge or the child advocate  to determine the truth.  If Alienation has occurred then the child honestly believes the invective and the lies s/he is leveling against the targeted parent. 

If there has been no Alienation and the child and favored parent are truthful then there is the very real danger that the court's ruling will repeatedly or even permanently place the child with an abusive parent.  If the favored parent has orchestrated Alienation then the child is in danger of being placed with a dysfunctional parent and denying the child a warm and loving relationship with the targeted parent. 

In any case the chances are remote that the child and "favored" parent will receive adequate intervention, including psychotherapy.

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Personal Experience

I have personally had two experiences, one of which was personally devastating and the other illustrated how much work needs to be done by child advocacy organizations to catch up with reality.

As my youngest daughter approached age 14 it became increasing clear that her narcissistic father had long been manipulating her and turning her against her entire family. Her behavior was changing drastically but I remained ignorant until I received papers  informing me that my ex-husband was petitioning the court for a change of domicile.  For 10 years my daughter had been visiting with him only on weekends and the occasional vacation.  In our state, Rhode Island, the courts consider that in the absence of obvious sexual or physical abuse the child can choose where to live at age 14. She chose her father.  In retrospect I recognize the situation as textbook Parental Alienation.

When I finally lost my daughter my attorney told me it was the most diabolical scheme she had ever seen.  But, she called me a few weeks later to tell me she was embroiled in another similar case!!

It was clear that my ex-husband  had silently waged a successful campaign of Parental Alienation.  I shortly thereafter learned that once the damage is done it is almost impossible to fight successfully. Child advocacy groups were either indifferent or not knowledgeable and seemed to immediately conclude that I must have been the problem.  I did eventually find psychologists very familiar with Parental Alienation  who were willing to be "expert witnesses"- for a hefty price.   And, there are plenty of lawyers claiming expertise with the problem-although they usually lose.  And, I also learned that court appointed "GALS" rarely consider Parental Alienation seriously in their recommendations to the courts ( see child advocacy and GALs.) After weeks of searching I finally found an expert who was a professor at Brown University.  He agreed to meet with both me and my ex. 

A few days later I received a call from my attorney  who informed me that she had had a discussion with the Brown professor.  He informed her that despite his awareness of and sensitivity to parental alienation he was powerless.  Unless he found clear evidence of physical or sexual abuse he was mandated by the court to recommend that my daughter's wishes be supported.  My attorney was willing to continue to fight but she warned that the result would be the same and that I would spend a fortune to no avail.

Professional Ignorance

My current husband is fighting Multiple Sclerosis and periodically visits with his Neurologist.  As a precautionary measure  his physician often has him meet with a social worker.  At our last meeting with the social worker we got to talking about my situation with my daughter and it quickly became clear that she not only knew nothing about Parental Alienation but she also dismissed it as figments of our imagination. 

The SW told us that it was a typical problem with 14 year old girls and my daughter would most likely outgrow it in the near future.  She would return home again.  We left, astounded that professionals in  child advocacy could be so unfamiliar with such a serious problem as this malevolent form of child abuse.

Sources Of Help/What To Do

The American legal system is inherently adversarial. Unfortunately, this system is counter productive in an Alienation situation. If you suspect Parental Alienation you do need an aggressive attorney but the attorney must be able to work collaboratively with both the opponent attorney and a mental health professional who is familiar with the problem.  And, you should educate yourself about the issues and controversies surrounding it.

Click on the link for more specific information and suggestions regarding  Family Courts. 

A Guardian Ad Litem may be appointed by the court to recommend actions in the child's best interests. The goal is admirable but you must find an Ad Litem both knowledgeable and sensitive to Parental Alienation issues;  do not assume that a GAL is well versed in the problem.  Click on the link to read more about the Child Advocacy and The Guardian Ad Litem.

Early intervention by a therapist familiar with Parental Alienation can be critical and your attorney should insist on a court ordered evaluation.  Click on the link for more information about therapeutic intervention.

Table of Contents

Alienator Personality Types And Parental Alienation
Alienator Personality Types Perpetrate Parental Alienation
Personality Disorders And Parental Alienation
Personality Disorders Play A Significant Role In Parent Alienation
Convergent Emotional Disorders
The convergence Of Emotional Disorders Can Be The Key To Parental Alienation
Family Dynamics' Significance In Alienation
Family Dynamics And Individual Personalities Are Significant Factors In Parental Alienation
Child Advocacy Is Failing Families Battling Against Parental Alienation
Child Advocacy is Is Failing Families Battling Against Parental Alienation
Therapeutic Intervention In Parental Alienation
Early Therapeutic Intervention May Prevent Parent Alienation
Parental Alienation Destroyed My Family
A Carefully Executed Plan Of Parental Alienation Destroyed My Family
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