Solutions to help restore child/parent relationships

Despite what those with vested interests would have us believe, there are actually solutions in the world that can, very quickly and with a great deal of success, help to restore the relationship between a manipulated child and a safe rejected parent at any age. In order to be effective in helping struggling families post separation, governments/Family Courts need to develop ways of working that focus on prevention of an emotional cutoff and where that is not possible, replicate/adapt existing solutions to encourage reunification. The longer children remain emotionally cutoff from a safe parent, the more psychological damage will be done and ultimately the greater the amount of support required to support them in later years.

Clinical Assessment Criteria

Dr Craig Childress, a Clinical Psychologist in the US has developed a protocol which includes diagnostic criteria to help assess for attachment-related pathology surrounding family breakdown. The criteria can be used to help identify the existence of pathogenic parenting and suggests a treatment plan. Pathogenic parenting culminates in child psychological abuse which in the context of family breadown, leads to the a child rejecting a normal range parent.

Reunification Programmes

Traditional Family Therapy does not work with these children. It is a waste of time, money and reinforces the cutoff thus making the damage worse. In addition, when a transfer of residence is agreed by the court, the child will need some level of therapeutic help to reconnect with their rejected parent and adjust to their new environment.

There are currently 3 programmes in the US that that are successfully reuniting children with their unjustly rejected parents within a matter of days. The UK currently has one widely recognised provider of reunification services but more are developing the expertise required. Depending on the strength of the pathology support from a Clinical Pscyhologist with experience in family systems, attachment and personality disorders may be required.

Participation in these programmes must, in most cases, be ordered by the court as an alienating parent would never agree to support the restoration of a relationship between child and rejected parent voluntarily. Usually the court ordered attendance on a programme occurs after an assessment by a Clinical Psychologist indicates child psychological abuse is occurring. Concerned parents may request assessment and reunification but the courts often fail to act in the best interests of the child by failing to agree to this intervention, leaving children stuck in an emotionally abusive environment with no respite. If they do agree, the expense is, unfairly, usually borne by the parent being rejected. In the UK it costs between £7-15k for intervention ontop of the cost for pscyhological assessment which is between £3-19 000. In the US it is between $20-50k.

These programmes usually require a mandated separation period from the alienating parent to ensure the child does not remain in a loyalty conflict and is not exposed to further coercive and controlling behaviours. This will give the intervention the best chance of success. Where courts allow contact with the manipulative parent while the child goes through the programme, success is less likely.

Turning Points for Families – New York

Linda Gottlieb is a Licenced Clinical Social Worker, a Licenced Marriage and Family Therapist and was formerly a child who had an emotional cutoff from one of her parents. She describes the programme as a therapeutic vacation. The initial intervention which is based on Family Systems therapy takes 4 days. A 90-day separation period is required from the coercive and controlling parent with zero contact. At the end of the 90 days contact is reinstated and monitored. The 90 days can be extended if damaging behaviours persist. The 90 days can also be reduced if the parent shows support for the reunification, this has not yet ever happened. The programme is not a residential one, participants must find their own accommodation.

The programme requires the alienating parent to write a letter of support for the child to build a relationship with the rejected parent and state why it is important for them to be in their life. They are also asked to list the rejected parent’s good qualities. The letter must be approved by the programme, it is very rare that an alienating parent can fulfil this task in the spirit that was intended and often they are asked to re-write the letter.

  • Day 1 – Memorabilia interventionThe child is reintroduced to their rejected parent and, where possible, extended family members. The first morning is spent talking. The rejected parent is asked to bring anything that evokes memories of good times or connection with the child prior to the alienation e.g. photos, videos, cards, drawings, favourite toys, notes from the child etc. The parent and the child talk about these memories as a way of breaking the ice and reconnecting. No negative discussion is allowed on the first day, the child is given the opportunity to offload on other days.In the afternoon they do an activity the child is interested in e.g. rock climbing, trampolining, sowing etc. This gives the rejected parent the opportunity to show interest in what the child likes to do, restart their parenting role and create new experiences they have enjoyed together.
  • Day 2 – Welcome back PlutoThe child and rejected parent are show a DVD called “Welcome Back Pluto” which was produced by Dr Richard Warshak and Dr Mark Ortis. The DVD educates them in what “parental alienation” is, the impacts to the child and it gives both parents and children useful tips.
  • Day 3 – Education on the ease of implanting false memoriesThe child is shown interactive videos that demonstrate how easy it is to implant false memories. They present research on the subject and show videos made by previously alienated children and parents.
  • Day 4 – Summation and next stepsThe therapist recaps what has happened over the 4 days and talks through what will be in place when the child leaves the programme to live with their reconnected parent. They will talk through the steps for reintroducing contact with the alienating parent at the end of the 90 days and how this will be monitored. They are given tips on how to deal with any further alienating behaviour. The child and reconnected parent go through therapy with a local therapist once a week to continue to reinforce their relationship and work through any difficulties.

The sessions are videotaped and activities photographed in order to provide evidence to the court and the alienating parent. It has a 95-100% success rate.

High Road to Reunification Workshop – International

Dorcy Pruter was formerly a child who had an emotional cutoff from one of her parents and was formerly a rejected parent. She is a Co-parenting and Reunification Coach and CEO of the Conscious Co-parenting Institute. She developed the High Road to Reunification which she describes as an educational and skill building coaching program. The workshop has 4 phases:

  • Family stabilisationA 4-5 day educational and interactive coaching workshop conducted by a trained High Road to Reunification coach.
  • Family maintenanceThe family works with a local therapist to solidify the skills learned in the workshop. This phase is where the pathogenic parent is also taught the skills needed to reintegrate with children.
  • ReintegrationThe local professional will reintroduce the pathogenic parent in a supervised capacity in order to protect the child.
  • The new family paradigmThis is the phase where the maintenance care professional facilitates the child’s ability to be in both parents’ home without the re-manifestation of the child’s symptoms.

The programme requires a protective separation from the alienating parent.

A network of coaches can facilitate the workshop in base locations but it can be held in the family’s own county for an additional fee.

Dorcy is working in collaboration with Dr Craig Childress.

Family Bridges – International but not in the UK yet

Dr Richard Warshak is a champion of the Family Bridges programme. It is a 4 day workshop which takes place in a holiday setting or at the family home. Warshak describes it as an “innovative educational and experiential program that helps unreasonably alienated children and adolescents adjust to living with a parent they claim to hate or fear”.

The workshops are run by licensed practitioners and are available in a number of countries. They are hoping to expand to the UK soon. The aim of the workshops is to:

  • Help children adjust to court orders transferring residence to the rejected parent.
  • Reconnect children with their rejected parent.
  • Alleviate the child’s alienation and teaches them how to think critically and how to maintain balanced, realistic, and compassionate views of both parents.
  • Help the child to develop skills to resist outside pressures that can lead them to act against their judgment.
  • Teach parents how to sensitively manage their child’s behaviour.
  • Teach the family the tools to communicate effectively and manage conflict.

The workshop begins with showing videos to educate the child followed by positive communication with the rejected parent. In the evening there is time for the child and rejected parent to do enjoyable activities e.g. shopping, going to the movies, hiking etc.

After the workshop, parent and child take a minimum 5-day holiday to cement their connection before they return home. When they get home they are supported by one or more local professionals who provide aftercare and support to the family as needed and feedback to the court.

A court order is not always required as long as the parent has the right to make decisions for the child. Separation with the alienating parent is not mandated but is less likely to lead to success. In a study of a sample of 23 children who participated in the workshop, 22 restored a positive relationship with the rejected parent by the end of the workshop. At follow-up, 18 of the 22 children maintained their connection; those who relapsed had premature contact with the alienating parent.

They do not accept cases in which the court orders a non-participating parent to pay the workshop leaders directly for the workshop provided to the other parent and children.

Family Separation Clinic – London

Karen Woodhall is a Psychotherapist working with her partner Nick Woodhall to coach alienated parents and provide court ordered reunification services. Before asking the court to engage their services, the alienated parent must request written permission from FSC to instruct them.

FSC can provide an Assessment and Therapeutic Trial (ATT) which FSC explains “provides the environment for a depth analysis of the family dynamics, how the child has entered into the rejecting position and how each parent responds to therapeutic input. Through this, we are able to offer the court a comprehensive opinion on the causes of the child’s rejection and detailed proposals for treatment.” Where they believe a psychological assessment is required, this would be referred by the FSC to a third party psychologist.

Throughout the process, both parents are invited to work alone with a therapist using psychoeducational input and, where appropriate, together with the other parent, to confront and change the dynamics that have caused the child to use the rejection of a parent as an unconscious coping mechanism.

The ATT includes 5 phases:

  • Phase 1 Reading of the paperwork to understand the background.
  • Phase 2 A meeting with each child, separately, of up to 1 hour per meeting to hear and understand the child’s view of the family, observe their responses and evaluate responsiveness to therapeutic input.A meeting with each parent of up to two hours to hear their perspective of current position, their view of what needs to happen to create change and their understanding of each other’s perspective.
  • Phase 3 A facilitated clinical observation of the children with the rejected parent in controlled conditions (and, where appropriate, with the aligned parent). To observe the responses in the children in relationship to each of their parents and to test their responsiveness to therapeutic input.
  • Phase 4 Any additional work considered appropriate to complete the assessment given the outputs of the first 3 phases.
  • Phase 5 The FSC report back to the court making their recommendations which may include stronger therapeutic intervention and or transfer of residence.

The initial therapeutic trail costs £6k plus VAT and does not include travel or accommodation. Their rates exceed those for Legal Aid.

It takes approximately 12 weeks from instruction to providing a report for court. Stronger therapeutic intervention will incur additional costs in the regions of several thousand pounds.