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State Bar of Wisconsin Guardian ad Litem Training May 13, 2010.

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Presentation on theme: "State Bar of Wisconsin Guardian ad Litem Training May 13, 2010."— Presentation transcript:

1 State Bar of Wisconsin Guardian ad Litem Training May 13, 2010

2 When a child reacts with intense distress or angrily rejects a parent, do you recommend… 1. placement with the a. much more, seemingly securely bonded parent, who b. opposes any relationship with other parent? 2

3 2. …or do you place the child with a. h/h (perhaps, much) less secure attachment figure, who b. supports the child having secure relationships with both parents? 3

4  High conflict and violent divorce disputes do not resolve themselves  The “worst” cases are conflict- habituated or otherwise change-resistant 4

5  Conflict-resolution = /  basic family-system change  “Allowing” these adversarial family systems to persist  worsens them. 5

6  These families (and children’s best interests)  attract disproportionate judicial/GAL resources  benefit least from these services  emotionally & otherwise, are not cost-effective uses of GAL time and energy. 6

7  More is confidently known about  identifying child alienation, and  distinguishing it from other similarly-appearing phenomena  than about remedying it – judicially or therapeutically. 7

8  Only how to assess and “diagnose” child alienation –  mostly, “qualitative” (clinical) data and anecdotes  scant empirical research data 8

9  Not what to do about it (court orders, educational programs, psychological treatment) –  A few, recent small scale studies of expensive, psycho- educational and psychological treatment programs (FCR, 48, 1, January, 2010; FCR, 39, 3, July, 2001)  Studies of judicial dispositions? 9

10  Dynamics of high conflict & violent divorce  Closest – “in your face and personal” – contributions to child alienation from  Child  Aligned parent (AP)  Rejected parent (RP) 10

11  Distinguish alienation from similarly-appearing dynamics  Affinity  Alignment  Enmeshment  Estrangement 11

12 1. Child “rejects or [adamantly, actively, and “unreasonably”] refuses or resists contact” with a parent, or 2. PPPs involve children’s “extreme withdrawal or gross contempt” (in some cases, verbal and physical aggression). 12

13 3. Marked change from an earlier “good,” securely attached P-C relationship (necessary but not sufficient) ; 4. Child’s aversion is applied to RP’s associations, e.g., extended family members. 13

14  Unusual phenomena*:  High conflict C/P cases often involve one or both parents’ “alienating” messages.  But almost all children want parents to be happier and less angry and adversarial.  * “Parentectomies” are very rare. 14

15  Unusual:  Children of conflicted divorce often react with severely disturbed motivations/priorities, moods, behaviors, etc.  But most also feel loss and longing – especially for the parent with whom they have reduced contact. 15

16  Rarely do they cut off and attack a separated parent. 16

17  Other etiologies of “reasonable” & “unreasonable” parent rejection and resistance  Affinity  Alignment  Enmeshment  Estrangement  “Hybrids” 17

18 “Differential diagnosis” of child alienation is most developed and discussed vis-à-vis child “estrangement” – a healthy reality-based, survival-oriented – “reasonable” response to child or family abuse and violence. 18

19 Nested Ecological (Interactive “Russian Dolls”) Model J. R. Johnston & L. E. G. Campbell (1988). Impasses of Divorce: The Dynamics and Resolution of Family Conflict. 19

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22  Child  Alienating (Preferred, Aligned) Parent (AP)  Rejected (Target) Parent (RP) J. B. Kelly & J. R. Johnston (2001). “The Alienated Child: A Reformulation of Parental Alienation Syndrome,” FCR, 39, 3,

23  Rigid & closed – admits no “grays”  “Owns” and advocates AP's views and agenda  May not appear distressed or disturbed, otherwise  Transgresses generational boundaries 23

24 1. “Angry [total] rejection” of RP, which grossly inflates RP’s actual failings, shortcomings, and alleged insults. 2. Often “demonizes and vilifies [RP for] trivial reasons….” 24

25 3. Open “hatred” or contempt for the RP / RP’s deficits. 4. Absolute resistance to contact with RP,” except under duress including with therapist: “therapist alienation”? (Garber, 2004). 25

26 5. AP is totally “Good”; RP is totally “Bad.” 6. “For me / against me” logic: wants to confer only with professionals, e.g., GAL, who seem to “fully support [ending child’s]… relationship” with RP. 26

27 7. Unlike abused children, accusations/anecdotes may only slightly depart from AP's allegations: 27

28 a. “…scripted lines…endlessly repeated…[lacking emotional congruence and w/ little, if any, supporting] substance, texture, or detail,” which abused children can provide. b. “Sound…rehearsed, wooden, brittle….[Often] use adult words or phrases.” 28

29 8. “…might describe how [the AP] is suffering, has been harmed economically and emotionally by [the RP], and [deserves child’s]…total allegiance.” 29

30 9. Will not consider “any information that might undermine…[AP’s legal position, and]….vigorously rejects any suggestion that [child’s] obsessive hatred…has any relationship to the views or behaviors of the AP.” 30

31 10. Litany of complaints, at least some being trivial or irrational (“he’s trying to ‘buy’ my love”; “she’s trying to ‘spoil’ me”). 11. Denies and explains away apparent pleasure during PPPs (“just pretending”; “made to”). Note: Persons known to have been abused as children also can be seen smiling in family photos. 31

32 12. “…although [seemingly] very angry, distraught, and obsessively fixated on the hated parent in the therapist’s or evaluator’s office…[child may] function adequately in…settings removed from the custody battle.” 32

33 13. Adamantly asserts “right” not to visit. 14. Toward RP – who s/he “viciously…denigrates”– the child “shows no overt fear, shame, guilt, or regret…[and no noticeable] ambivalence.” 33

34 a. Evident entitlement and freedom to enact culturally inappropriate animosity and disrespect toward the RP, his parents, and other associations. b. Can appear pleased or proud with h/h abusive and hurtful actions. 34

35 15. Within the RP’s home the child’s “behavior is severely problematic and disturbed. Child “might destroy property; act in obnoxious, even bizarre, ways; and treat the [RP] in public w/ obvious loathing, scorn, and verbal abuse.” 35

36 16. Presses to have constant telephone contact with AP – to “whisper hostile observations about the RP’s words, behaviors, meals, and personality.” 36

37 17. Apart from PPPs, “all efforts [by RP] to directly communicate…are rebuffed…[instead] demands [RP] never [makes] contact …stops ‘harassing’…with presents and letters (which are often discarded or unopened), and cease…legal efforts and court appearances.” 37

38  Personality traits  Words and actions obstruct RP- child relationship  Displays hostility & suspicion re. RP  Asserts own excellence as parent  Denigrates & discounts RP  Message – RP is non family  Communication with 3 rd parties 38

39 1. Rigidly defended and moralistic. 2. Lacks insight, denies & externalizes any role in child’s parent-rejection: advocates “only what child ‘wants.’” 39

40 1. Frequently displays blatant hostility and suspicion toward RP’s a. negative attributes b. non commitment to the child 40

41 2. Trumpet own demonstrated excellence as a parent. Yet  defends (doesn’t admonish) child’s inappropriate actions,  withholds school or extra- curricular activity information. 41

42 3. Denigrate and discount RP: a. having wanted to abort the child b. abandoning the AP and the child (“us”) c. absence from home / family d. involvement in self-centered or disreputable preoccupations 42

43 Denigrate and discount RP: e. has nothing (important) to offer the child f. is dangerous, uncaring, immoral, irresponsible * Investigation  do not corroborate allegations * AP remains anxious, unpersuaded, & possibly undeterred 43

44 4. Message: RP is non family a. Refers to RP by first name, pronoun, or worse – not as “mom”/“dad” b. Calls live-in companion/spouse “mom”/“dad” 44

45 RP is non family c. “Changes” child’s surname at school and health clinics d. Blocks RP  Child communication i. screens calls ii. withholds or trashes b-day and holiday cards & gifts 45

46 RP is non family e. disregards placement orders, e.g.: i. supports child’s “right” not to visit ii. refuses to “force” child to visit f. sabotages placement transitions (by being absent, aggressive, withholding, competitive, etc.) 46

47 RP is non family g. punctuates child’s return “home” w/ displays of separation anxiety, distress, loneliness, fragility, etc. 47

48 RP is non family h. refuses co-parental communication i. “advocates” for child against RP j. doesn’t encourage child’s assertiveness with RP 48

49 Good parenting includes not only listening and validating…child’s feelings, but also helping [child to] see things from another person’s perspective, resolving not avoiding conflicts, having expectations, and modeling compassion, empathy, and forgiveness…. (Fidler & Bala, 2010) 49

50 RP is non family k. Child’s “positive” references to RP or PPPs  withdrawal of affection, guilt-induction, etc. l. despite, e.g., RP’s alleged “danger,” supports child’s obnoxious, aggressive, hurtful acting-out during visits 50

51 RP is non family m. non verbally communicates RP’s extrusion from family e.g., the child is to not to share with the RP anything about life at “this house” 51

52 RP is non family n. Child becomes “spy” or monitor and reporter about RP’s misdeeds and missteps during visits 52

53 RP is non family o. calls during visits to check on child’s safety and mood p. provides child means (cell phone) to “secretly” contact the AP when “upset,” “frightened,” “mistreated,” etc. 53

54 5. Communication with 3 RD parties a. omits RP’s name and contact info from healthcare, school forms b. uncritically “believes” & airs child’s reports of maltreatment 54

55 Communication with 3 RD parties c. harasses w/ baseless child abuse reports to law enforcement, child protection i. repeats allegations to GAL and others – despite prior investigation’s negative findings ii. thus, disrupts PPPs 55

56 Communication with 3 RD parties d. informs child’s friends’ parents about RP’s unsavory, neglectful, and other reprehensible acts and lifestyle 56

57 …the child comes to know…it is impossible to show love for both parents; showing…and receiving love from the RP is tantamount to betraying the AP. A child’s loyal behavior is rewarded with warmth, attention, love,…material goods. (cont’d) 57

58 Disloyal behavior is negatively reinforced with punishing looks, anger, withdrawal and abandonment, a risk the child cannot take having already “lost” one loving and loved parent. (Fidler & Bala, 2010) 58

59  Passivity & withdrawal  Counter-rejection  child  Harsh & rigid parenting style  Judgmental, demanding interaction with child  Self-centeredness & immaturity  Diminished empathy for rejecting child 59

60 a. Anxious conflict-avoidance between spouses within the intact family may marginalize a timid parent from child’s daily routines and activities; or this passivity may grow or be more evident after separation. 60

61 b. Because of “limited finances, felt inadequacy, or anticipated failure… after separation, by “initiat[ing] little or no contact with the child, or refrain[ing] from therapeutic and legal interventions to resume contact, the secondary parent’s peripheral position…might worsen….” 61

62 c. “Alienated children, having been bombarded with messages that the [RP] does not love them  see [h/h] withdrawal as lack of interest and abandonment, which [can]  further fuel their rage”  reinforcing the absent parent’s inclinations to stay away.” 62

63 “…hurt and humiliated,” the RP reacts in kind  w/ rejection, refusals, disregard, rudeness, verbal abuse… “[F]rustration…impatience… retaliatory needs” may trigger such defensiveness.  The “child perceives these counter-rejections, and the aligned parent uses them, as demonstrations of the RP’s lack of true attachment....” 63

64 a. Some RPs are harsh, cold, and rigid in relating to the child. Although not amounting to maltreatment, the child readily feels hurt and “abused” by such attitudes and behaviors, which serve as a basis to refuse contact. 64

65 b. In less conflicted divorcing families, this “parenting style might cause future difficulties in parent-child relationships, as they do in married families [w/ adolescents]…but it would not lead to complete rejection and refusal to have contact.” 65

66 a. RP’s “perfectionistic expectations, attitudes, and words, e.g., about…child’s school or athletic performance, [h/h] choice of friends, preferred dress, etc., may be in partial response  RP’s perception of the AP’s indulgence and permissiveness toward the child. 66

67 b. “In turn, the aligned parent  counter-reacts to the perceived harshness and overcompensates  becoming even more lenient or overprotective….” 67

68 a. “The child might have observed [the RP’s] putting his or her needs ahead of the child’s during the marriage….[In] the custody battle, these behaviors are focused on, exaggerated, and come to symbolize the parent’s disinterest in the child.” 68

69 b. While not laudatory, such priorities do not usually merit “the extent of fury and denigration typical of the alienated child.” 69

70 a. RPs “often cannot differentiate the [alienated child or h/h] needs and behaviors from the motivations and behaviors of the aligned parent,” and perceive the child as a manipulated tool or surrogate of the AP. 70

71 b. Angry toward the AP “for creating the…alienation, [RPs] have little empathic connection with the child and cannot be emotionally available…even when [the child] raises legitimate complaints. This lack of empathy or even subtle dismissal of the child’s feelings can lead to intensified fury in the child and can deepen the alienation.” 71

72 Adult Children of Alienation as Interview Respondents A. J. L. Baker, Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome (2007), “Role of the Target Parent” 72

73  Adult children of “PAS” report:  wishing RP “would have done more to fight for the relationship and prevent the alienation.”  “…felt hurt and angry when the targeted parent finally gave up trying to have a relationship.” 73

74  No matter how adamantly they had cut-off the RP, “they were…shocked when…the parent walked away….experienced as rejection” and abandonment.  Felt the RP should have not “believed or [been turned away by] the child’s rejection.” 74

75  … that the RP should have known their…rejection [was] insincere, and otherwise motivated…  …i.e., trying to survive in the ways children know how within the parental war zone. 75

76  Despite their words and actions to the contrary, these adults say that, as children:  they accurately perceived what occurred between their parents  did not understand their RP’s adult intense pain of rejection 76

77  had (unrealistic) expectations of the RP’s ability to look beyond their words and behaviors  greatly valued those RP’s who remained connected with them, as tenuous and distant as these ties were, at the time. 77

78  Affinity  Alignment  Enmeshment  Estrangement 78

79  Affinity – child’s clearly stronger secure attachment to (and separation anxiety from) a parent, reflecting: Child’s gender, age, temperament, comparative “goodness-of-fit” to each parent, parent-child relationship histories, shared interests, etc. 79

80  Alignment – child’s “preference” for association with a parent, paralleling parents’ relative involvement w/ child, their respective qualities of (at least neutral, non abusive or neglectful) parenting practice, capacity, and skill 80

81  Can develop before, during, or after separation/divorce  Can further develop into “alienation” during separation or after divorce when: 81

82  child feels abandoned by a parent’s leaving  child is troubled/angry about remaining parent’s visible emotional injury  child insinuates or drawn into legal disputes – e.g., re. finances, relocation – and resolves loyalty or other emotional conflicts by “siding” with a parent or h/h own self interests 82

83  Enmeshment –  “…psychological boundaries between…parent…and child have not been fully or adequately established….‘we’ is often used to describe feelings, opinions, and experiences.” 83

84  in public, physical closeness between parent and child seems developmentally and socially inappropriate  child may display lack of independence in establishing and maintaining age-appropriate peer relationships 84

85  “Often the child…is highly attuned to the…parent’s neediness and dependence and assumes responsibility for protecting the parent.  Parent and child are “rarely aware of what is going on and believe they share an excellent relationship.” 85

86  “In the extreme, a dramatic role reversal might be seen in which the child very clearly assumes a caretaking role….” S. Friedlander & M. G. Walters (2010). “When a Child Rejects a Parent: Tailoring the Intervention to Fit the Problem,” FCR, 48, 1,

87  Estrangement –  child’s rejection of an abusive or neglectful parent, or  resulting from exposure to one parent’s abusive or violent treatment of the other. 87

88 Even in response to a RP’s abuse or neglect of h/h child’s safety, or RP’s mental illness, “the average [primary caregiver] will seek different avenues and more rational means [to protect] the child [rather than cutting off all contact]…. such parents [can] recognize…the child [can love] the RP despite the [RP’s] destructive, [abnormal] behavior.” 88

89  The “aligned” parent of an estranged child  may be able to support the child and RP’s continued contact, if reliably safe conditions during PPPs can be arranged  and will press to suspend or end placement, in order to protect the child from further harm 89


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