I have met and heard the tragic stories of many parents. PA is a function, by and large, of a custodial ex-partner, although some alienation can start while the couple is still together.

This blog is a story of experiences and observations of dysfunctional Family Law (FLAW), an arena pitting parent against parent, with children as the prize. Due to the gender bias in Family Law, that I have observed, this Blog has evolved from a focus solely on PA to one of the broader Family/Children's Rights area and the impact of Feminist mythology on Canadian Jurisprudence and the Divorce Industry.

Monday, September 28, 2009

New Research on Alienated Children ~ Forensic Psychology - Family Court

Forensic Psychology - Family Court

(Daniel H. Swerdlow-Freed, Ph.D.is a Licensed Psychologist. Contact information is available at the end of this article.)

Several years ago, our newsletter featured an article on parental alienation, in which we summarized Richard Gardner's proposition that parental alienation syndrome, or PAS, was a diagnosable disorder with distinct features. Over the past several years, his opinions have received much criticism and led mental health professionals to formulate research-based explanations of the dynamics that cause children to reject contact with a parent. On the basis of their research, Drs. Joan Kelly and Janet Johnston recently published a new theory of the alienated child, which we believe advances understanding of this complicated issue. Since this topic is of interest to so many of our readers, we are providing a summary of their paper. **

Kelly and Johnston define an alienated child as "…one who expresses, freely and persistently, unreasonable negative feelings and beliefs (such as anger, hatred, rejection, and/or fear) toward a parent that are significantly disproportionate to the child's actual experience with that parent." Their definition requires that the child's behavior toward and relationship with the alienated parent should be the primary focus, rather than the behavior of the alienating parent, as Gardner suggested. Furthermore, they note the importance of differentiating the alienated child from other children who resist contact with a parent for realistic or developmentally appropriate reasons.

This new formulation conceptualizes a child's relationship to each parent as falling along a continuum from positive to negative. At its most healthy end, a child enjoys a positive relationship with both parents and wants to spend approximately equal time with each of them. The next position is for children who have an affinity with one parent. These children feel closer to, and prefer to spend more time with one parent but desire substantial contact with the other parent.

Some children express a consistent preference for either their mother or father during the marriage, and have formed an alliance with that parent. Following separation or divorce, these children may desire limited contact with the non-preferred parent, although they do not completely rejecting this individual. Alliances often develop because of unhealthy dynamics that existed during the marriage, intense post-divorce conflict or children's moral assessment of their parent's behavior. Such alliances have the potential to become unhealthy, particularly if parental conflict continues at a high level. Two factors that distinguish allied from alienated children are that the former are willing to acknowledge positive feelings for the non-preferred parent, and they can articulate credible reasons for seeking reduced contact with that individual.

Children who have witnessed or been subjected to violence, abuse or neglect, are at increased risk to become estranged from the parent who perpetrated these acts, although their feelings about that parent may only be expressed after separation has occurred and a sense of safety has developed. A child may also become estranged from a parent who is extremely immature and self-centered, consistently unreliable or inadequate, or chronically angry, rigid or critical. While estranged children may present as if they are alienated, they differ from alienated children because their fear and anger have a basis in reality and their attitudes and behavior are in proportion to these experiences.

At the unhealthy end of the continuum is the alienated child, who completely rejects a parent without showing any guilt or ambivalence, and refuses all contact with that individual. Severe distortions and exaggerations often characterize the child's reports about the relationship with the rejected parent. Close scrutiny reveals that these youngsters are often responding to dynamics that occurred during the divorce process, to ill-advised parental behavior and to their own psychological vulnerabilities.

Using a systems framework, Kelly and Johnston identified a series of factors and child responses that are critical to accurate diagnosis and effective intervention. They determined that while risk factors vary from one case to another, they often contain the following components: a child who has become triangulated in the parental conflict, a spouse who experienced the decision to divorce as a profound humiliation, an ongoing pattern of intense conflict and litigation, and to the involvement of new partners, extended family or other professionals who purposely or unwittingly contribute to conflict.

If a child perceives that s/he has been abandoned by a parent, that child is vulnerable to become alienated. Feelings of abandonment may occur when a parent leaves the marital home, when a child is seriously confused about the reasons for the separation or divorce, or when a parent begins a new love relationship and devotes less attention to the child. In some cases, separation followed by long periods with no contact between the nonresidential parent and the child can exacerbate the child's sense of abandonment.

Children who were psychologically vulnerable prior to separation often lack the resiliency to cope with the pressures that accompany divorce. Some children find it easier to deal with anxiety and uncertainty by siding with one parent against the other, and thereby securing the preferred parent's loyalty. Children who do have good reality testing may become confused by events they witness or overhear, and are vulnerable to misinterpret or misunderstand their meaning, especially if they cannot discuss these situations with a caring adult who can help them make an independent evaluation of their experience.

Through our work with divorced children and parents, we know that no single factor produces an alienated child, and that these convoluted, difficult situations threaten the psychological well being of each family member. We believe, along with Kelly and Johnston, that a comprehensive assessment is needed to clarify the multiple factors that have led a child to reject a parent with whom s/he previously enjoyed a meaningful relationship. Only with the benefit of such an evaluation, can each pertinent factor be identified and accounted for, and an effective intervention strategy planned and implemented.


Spanking hurts — more than you think

There are a lot of proponents of spanking on the Star site making comments. I offer this to them. What is the relationship between child maltreatment through so called "corporal punishment" and Domestic Violence between partners? How is slapping your spouse any different that slapping your child? My comments on site are as follows:

Domestic Violence and hitting children...hmmm... is it related

I note with great interest many people on this thread are pro-spanking. I also wonder if you carry on with this pattern and hit your spouse thinking it will also bring your partner into line. This form of family violence is pretty much equal between genders and affects about 7 to 8% of the population - both male and female. For those who favour hitting your children - will you also indicate you also hit your spouse for the same reason. Are you just unable to provide a more positive way to teach children there are boundaries they ought not cross? There is no correlation between misbehaving children and whether they were spanked to deter inappropriate actions so if you are using that as an excuse let me disabuse you of that right now. Teaching violence to not misbehave is a pretty odd way to acquit yourself and perhaps if you do this frequently I'd suggest getting the help you need.

Submitted by Mike Murphy at 3:26 PM Monday, September 28 2009

A new study suggests corporal punishment can adversely affect a child's IQ. Do you think any amount of physical punishment is appropriate for children?
Not sure
Sep 28, 2009 04:30 AM
Staff Reporter

Children who are spared a spanking grow up to have higher IQs than those who are physically disciplined, according to a study by one of North America's leading scholars on family violence.

Murray Straus examined the IQ scores of more than 1,500 children, divided in two groups – ages 2 to 4, and 5 to 9 – and compared them with IQ scores from four years later.

Straus found young children who had been slapped or spanked scored an average of five points lower on IQ tests than those who hadn't been hit. The discrepancy among the older age group was about 2.8 points.

"The bottom line is, kids need a lot of guidance and instruction. They just don't need to be hit," he said.

He presented his findings Friday at the International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Trauma in San Diego, Calif.

"This shows that spanking kids slows their development of mental ability," Straus, a professor at the University of New Hampshire's family research laboratory, said yesterday.

Straus, who co-authored the study with California-based professor Mallie Paschall, said being hit is a traumatic experience, causing stress that could disrupt cognitive skills and impede learning.

So, rather than spanking a child who has done something wrong, it would be better to tell him that what he did was wrong, Straus said.

"Corporal punishment impacts everything: self-esteem, intelligence, both emotional and intellectual," said Peter Dudding, executive director of the Child Welfare League of Canada.

The study defined corporal punishment as hitting a child at least three times a week with the intention of discipline, not injury.

The practice is criticized by the United Nations and banned in 24 nations across the world, including Sweden, New Zealand and Spain.

In Canada, however, a 2004 Supreme Court ruling upheld section 43 of the Criminal Code, allowing parents and caregivers to use reasonable force when disciplining a child no younger than 2.

Shortly after the court's decision, a Liberal Senator proposed a bill to prohibit corporal punishment, which passed its third reading in the Senate in June 2008. But the bill never became law because Parliament dissolved. "If you're over the age of 18 and I lay a hand on you, that's assault," Dudding said.

"But if you're younger than 18 – that's justifiable by our Criminal Code."

He said the new study adds to the arsenal of international research showing corporal punishment can have harmful lasting effects.

Straus said the study, which will be published in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, shows evidence that younger children are more affected by being struck because "their brains are in a point of rapid development."

The study found a correlation between how often a child was hit and how slow his mental development was, even when Straus factored out other agents that could affect development, such as wealth and parents' level of education.

In his research, he also examined nearly 18,000 surveys from university students in 32 countries, including Canada.

He found, by and large, that in countries with high national-average IQs, spanking is not socially acceptable.