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  1. Interventions With Alienated Families Peggie Ward, PhD Co-Parenting Assessment Center Natick, MA 016760

  2. Early Warning Signs of Alienation in Court Cases • Transition times - child late drop off, child difficulty leaving car, parents’ unmonitored hostility toward other • Contact time - child resistant to visit • Connection time - child refusal to talk on phone, connect via e-mail, • Aligned parent time - child increasingly home sick, child late to school

  3. Conflict and Child Confusion: Pre-Separation Parent B Parent A School Activities Extended Family Parent A Friends Community Extended Family Parent B Conflict Free Sphere

  4. Conflict and Child Confusion Pre-Separation • Free give and take of information between and amongst family and others • Decisions made by one or both Parents • Child has free access to most feelings “I think … I feel … I act • Power dynamic is stable • Child DOES NOT feel caught

  5. Separation Announced - Hostility Increased Parent A Parent B School Teacher Alerted Parent A’s Family Involved Parent B’s Family Involved Coaches, Music teachers Other activity directors Alerted Community Aware - but Child not yet Pulled in Friends stay outside the Conflict Conflict free zone invaded

  6. Separation Announced - Hostilities Begin(assuming this is a high conflict case) • Child’s sphere is invaded • Child begins to feel pulled by parents • Child’s feelings compromised (fear, worry, confusion, withdrawal, anger) • Child feels decreased power • Child feels increased helplessness with fewer outlets

  7. Court Process Begins School guidance Parent A Parent B Activities: Increased pull Who will drive Who will go Parent B Extended family More involved Parent A Extended Family Friends: Know more as Parents talking To their friends Attorney A Attorney B GAL Process Therapist A Family Therapist Court Papers Left out Conflict Free Zone Disappears - Child Pulled to Choose

  8. Conflict Free Zone Disappears • Child feels world invaded • Child no longer focused on child activities • Child beginning to hide feelings • Child moves closer to parent with whom child has been closer (Parent A) • Child moves away from Parent B • Parent A and B take up their separate roles and include their allies, neighbors, friends

  9. Child is Internally Divided but has externally chosen Child Involved with This portion of world Child Cut off From those outside The conflicted Sphere (as adaptive Mechanism toward People with whom Child has been most Comfortable in past)

  10. Players now in the system

  11. My Brain - 11 yr. old Brian I’m confused. I used to have a left brain and a right brain and they used to work. Now I have a mom brain and a dad brain, and I have to shut one off when I’m at the other’s house. I’m confused - not about where I’m staying but about who I am

  12. Continuum of Pre-Separation Relationships

  13. Post Separation Relationship

  14. Is Any Part of the Continuum Unreasonable?Stoltz and Ney 2002 FCR • Child’s response is reasonable given the adversarial context (can’t say if not abuse then must be alienation) • Need for rapid, comprehensive diagnostic emphasized • Child is in a DOUBLE BIND: “Stay engaged with both parents” and “Choose me” • Child can be “reasonably alienated” and it is still alienation - a reasonable response to an unreasonable system

  15. The Whole System becomes the Problem - one Solution: • For the child: most healthy choice may be rejection of a parent. Define the problem as “resistance” (to contact) and assess resistance from all parts • The whole system is thus involved in the solution • The problem is “outside” the system, and is not one person to blame or label • People will work on solving a problem but may not work on why they ARE the problem

  16. Variables to Identify If you know how you arrived at a certain place, you may know how to get back - those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it Lee and Oleson: FCR 2001

  17. Child Variables - Family System • Age and Stage - can they consolidate a negative image and hold it, tolerate ambivalence, black/white, rigid cognition • Moral - junior investigator - find out who is lying • Emotional security - enmeshment • Abuse or trauma - HX crucial and current • Personality - needs to preserve core identity - lack of a cohesive sense of self is major concern • Peers - positive relationships or beginning of problems

  18. Child Assessment • Motivation/? need to take this position • Context in which position emerged • Process by which position became solidified • Detailed description of events in question • Consistency of events described • Language used in description of events • Rigidity of thought surrounding events • Trauma to child? Result of abuse or alienation

  19. Parent Variables in System • Authoritative vs. authoritarian or lax • Warm/loving/involved vs. passive, neglectful uninvolved • Self confident vs. anxious, fearful, paranoid • Own identity vs. intrusive, psychological needy, role reversal • Protective of child vs. abusive or part of abuse system • Empathy for child vs. counter rejecting or blame • Parent disposable vs. value to child of both

  20. Therapeutic Management of Reunification adapted from Hewitt 1994 • Court ordered, one person direct the case • Review file COMPLETELY before start/ Make certain an assessment has been carefully done and Orders are in Place • PREPARATION: (STAGE ONE) Meet with Aligned Parent Meet with Child Meet with Aligned Parent and Child Meet with rejected parent Meet with aligned parent and rejected parent together Meet with child(ren) to discuss plans

  21. Aligned Parent • Review Process - begin support • Discuss ALL areas of concern (parents and yours) (this may take several meetings, cover issues from assessment) • Discuss anxiety, fear, powerlessness openly • Help separate parent’s own HX from that of child • Get detailed child HX/ discuss problem of resistance for child • Remove parent from role of “investigator” (what other parent has done wrong) to “parent” - active listening, accept, reflect not interject

  22. Meeting with Child • Tell child about therapeutic process, TX role, create safety rules, see situations from many views as well as Court Mandate for Contact • Tell child - no more ?? about who did what to whom and when; they are not an investigator. Child’s role - help family understand the resistance so they can all help in addressing it • Observe if child feel ambivalence: if yes amplify • Make list of what would make things better for child with each parent

  23. Meet with Aligned Parent and Child • Aligned parent encouraged to support to child in meetings - i.e. to give permission for meetings to occur, for child to have own thoughts • Other parent and I - not friends (or whatever words chosen) - but child must see other parent • Child’s lists are discussed -parent helps (if can) modify list, add areas to address and most importantly feels involved in the process

  24. Meet with Rejected Parent • Explain process of therapeutic management/ family TX and answer all questions • Hear rejected parent’s version of allegations, concerns, feelings about child • Show Parent child’s list, get feedback, create list that includes all parts of child’s list that are mutually of concern and open for discussion • Discuss any ground rules child wants/needs, add your own as they fit the situation • Make careful plan for arrival and departure times for child contact with rejected parent

  25. Meet with Aligned Parent and Rejected Parent • Appreciate they are willing to work together • Educate on potential problems children face who lose one parent • Refine earlier discussion _ Resistance is the problem, bring out flip chart and show what would make things better for child • Agree NOT to ask child about meetings, AP not make plans when child with RP, AP may intervene if child rude to RJ

  26. Meet with Child for Preparation THE SPECIFICS • Involve child in planning, and help set rules (where parent sit, no yelling, flip chart with child’s list and parent’s concerns (from previous meetings - what do during session) • Explain that talk time and building/creating more positive thoughts time separate initially (structure) • Brainstorm who resistance helps, who it hurts, how would things be different without it (make clear, parent is pursuing the relationship, the choice not to is not an option)

  27. Child and rejected parent • Rules discussed, plan followed, comfort level established, resistance defined, brainstorming • Work begins - RP not angry, wants to work with child, no retributions, understands child’s resistance • Discuss all ideas that came up in brainstorming, add your own if need be. • RP explain to child his/her understanding of how got to this problem, thoughts to make it better. • After specified time of working with RP and child, “reward with a game or cards or something fun”

  28. Follow up - with each member • Any behavior changes, any symptoms, any positive contact • What each person liked and didn’t, is comfortable or isn’t • Meet with pairs as appropriate to deal with anxieties, stressors • Meet further with child and RJ or AP to continue work on issues as needed • When comfortable - take meetings out of office - walk, snack, park (with knowledge of AP)

  29. Immediate Evaluation Abuse/ trauma clearly ruled out Continue contact One person or team intervention Address all system issues (first slides) PROBLEMS: Slow court process Inadequate evaluation TX not designed with family system in mind Lack of rapid decision making authority One parent has put the child into TX Goals for Intervention