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Abstracts Conference Day One (Legal)

Dr. Amy J. L. Baker - Vincent J. Fontana Centre For Child Protection
How do we know it is parental alienation?
Dr. Baker is an internationally recognised expert in parent child relationships, especially children of Dr. Baker will discuss the four-factor model for differentiating alienation from estrangement and the scientific basis for the model.

Karen Woodall - Family Separation Clinic
Why should we care about doing it right in working with parental alienation?
Karen Woodall will introduce the practice standards for the new European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners which is hosting the conference and will speak about the needs of families affected by parental alienation, for effective help.


Andrew Bridgen MP - Member of Parliament for North West Leicestershire
Moving upstream: Triaging cases using the early interventions approach in the UK
Andrew will speak about the Early Interventions Project championed by Dr Hamish Cameron and recently  by Sir Andrew McFarlane in his speech to NAGALRO. The EI introduces support and triage services at the earliest opportunity in the court process.

Judge Lana Peto Kujundžić - Association of Family Judges, Croatia and Prof. Gordana Buljan Flander - Child And Youth Protection Centre of Zagreb
Lessons from Croatia: What difference does it make when the judge works with the psychologist?
Multidisciplinary and intesectoral approach in assessing and treating children has been set as good practice standard in Europe and world. Children experiencing and witnessing high-stress and traumatising events are at special risk of negative mental health consequences, so following best practice standards is of special importance for that population. According to research and clinical practice, children in high conflict parental divorce, especially when it comes to parental alienation, are in very similar position as children exposed to other forms of abuse and maltreatment. Judges often face the need to find out child's opinion and establish his best interest in such cases, but emotional state of the child hardens the process. The child may be exposed to several interviews, risking to increase the trauma of divorce and/or alienation. In this presentation, the psychologist and the judge will present the importance of intersectoral collaboration and benefits of putting judiciary and mental health system together in order to meet every child's best interest.

Dr Simona Maria Vlădică -Bucharest, Romania
Lessons from Romania: What difference does it make when PA is criminalised?
Simona will talk about the experience of working with the issue of PA in Romania where PA is criminalised and will speak about the way that the voice of the child still prevails even when parents are punished with imprisonment.

Andrea Watts and Victoria Green - Family law barristers, 1KBW
The complexity of representing alienated parents in an adversarial system
Within England and Wales it is acknowledged that there are cases in which one parent will turn the mind of a child against the other parent and that this is likely to be emotionally harmful for the child if it is allowed to continue. There is an obligation on the state, and therefore the court, to maintain and restore relationships between a child and his parents. The need for early intervention is clear in order to prevent the entrenchment of the positions of the parties, and the child. The court system is an adversarial one and as such allegations need to be explored with each party being given the opportunity to be heard. Allegations of alienation made by one parent are frequently met with allegations of abuse made by the other parent.  Each party may suggest that the other has only made the allegations to obscure the true nature of what is going on. In order to establish the truth it is crucial that a fact finding process takes place. This can lead to delays, which may lead to the child becoming further entrenched, and may have serious costs implications for the parties. When the factual basis has been established the court will need to determine whether to take an approach which enlists the assistance of a professional and takes a more therapeutic approach, or whether to take the hard line approach of making orders for contact and enforcement orders for non-compliance. Either approach can lead to protracted proceedings (with a lack of judicial continuity), huge legal costs and unsatisfactory outcomes. Committal to prison, reversing the living arrangement and placement in foster care under an interim care order are all ‘hard line’ approaches which have been taken by the courts of England and Wales but they may be outcomes which the alienated parent would wish to avoid. The last resort, once all alternatives have been explored, is to conclude proceedings with an order for no contact. 

Brian Ludmer - Attorney, Toronto
Using the legal and mental health interlock
In extreme or intractable cases involving alienation, a protective separation of the children from the alienating/favoured parent is generally required to procure a breakthrough in the family system. However, the reticence of Courts to grant this remedy, except when all else has failed, and the lack of resources for both acute-care and follow-on care to assist families through this process requires an analysis of other legal remedies and structured interventions. These provide the “one last chance” for the fractured family system to heal itself prior to a protective separation. Mr. Ludmer's presentation will examine trends in North American case law and the struggles in the legal process in resolving moderate to severe cases of alienation and successful strategies in legal project management.


Francesca Wiley QC - Family law barrister, 1 Garden Court
Lessons from the UK: Parental alienation as a child protection issue
Francesca will provide a lawyer’s guide to managing parental alienation in the UK Family Courts.


William Bernet M.D. - Professor Emeritus, Vanderbilt University
Misinformation regarding parental alienation: Examining reality
Detractors have frequently cited the lack of empirical evidence to criticise the importance and even existence of this mental condition. This presentation will introduce the evidence that supports the reality and significance of parental alienation. (1) In courts in the United States, scientific validity can be demonstrated by showing that the concept has been generally accepted in the scientific community.  Parental Alienation has been recognised by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Psychological Association, the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children and the World Health Organisation. (2) There is a vast amount of descriptive, qualitative research eg. the work of Wallerstein, Gardner, Kopetski, Clawar, Rivlin, Johnston, Bricklin and Warshak. (3) Regarding quantitative research, it is possible to distinguish loyalty conflicts (a common, mild mental condition) from parental alienation (a rare, serious mental condition).

Dr. Steven G Miller - Harvard Medical School
How can and should professionals accurately distinguish between alienation and estrangement
Mental health and legal professionals must often deal with strongly aligned children – that is, children who are strongly aligned with one parent and resist contact with or even reject, the other parent.  Indeed, from an international perspective, there is consensus among experts that we are witnessing a veritable epidemic of this troubling family dynamic.  In such cases, the key question is whether the child is resisting contact for a valid or reasonable reason (in which case, by definition, it is now called estrangement), or whether the child is resisting contact for no valid or reasonable reason (in which case, by definition, it is now called alienation).




Abstracts Conference Day Two (Mental Health)

Dr. Steven G Miller - Harvard Medical School
Establishing standards of practice: Counter intuitive practice and the problem of using generic therapy in cases of parental alienation
Will focus upon the difference between what is and what is not evidence based work in this field and the particular problem of using generic therapy to try and address cases of parental alienation.


Prof. Gordana Buljan Flander - Child And Youth Protection Centre of Zagreb and Vlatka Boričević Maršanić
Lessons from Croatia: Establishing PA as emotional abuse of a child
Even though researchers and practitioners have not yet made a consensus about the concept of parental alienation, recognition of problem is almost universal. Clinical practice of working with alienated children clearly shows their emotional world is mostly like emotional world of otherwise abused children. They often feel unloved, unwanted, as parental love depends of their rejective actions, as they are not competent enough to have their own feelings and thoughts, they feel a lot of shame and guilt, experience cognitive distortions - mostly splitting etc. According to DSM V, emotional abuse can be done even  unintentionally and consequences do not have to be shown immediately. According to all above, parental alienation undoubtedly can be considered as form of emotional abuse. As any other form of abuse, emotional abuse has to be reported and the child has to receive assessment, treatment and protection needed.

Dr Jennifer Jill Harman - Associate professor of psychology at Colorado State University
Power structures among families affected by parental alienation: Implications and interventions
Power is an essential element of social interactions where there is interdependence between people. Asymmetries of power in relationships provide fertile ground for abuses of power to occur. Parental alienation, a form of family violence, is characterised by gross asymmetries of power in relationships that have dissolved. Using interdependence theory of Kelley and Thibaut, Dr. Harman will discuss the common imbalanced power structures that she has found in her research among families affected by parental alienation, how these power structures affect the types of behaviours that alienating and targeted parents can exercise, and how abuse of power can be better addressed to mitigate this form of family violence.

Dr Sietske Dijkstra - Bureau Dijkstra
Lessons from the Netherlands: Domestic abuse and the particular problem of the alienation of mothers from their children
In a series of in-depth interviews, ten mothers spoke about being alienated from their children after divorce. The interviews reveal how ex-husbands employ coercive control to sabotage the mother-child relationships. The specific relational dynamics to undermine those relationships are contrasted with how professionals responded to the alienating tactics. Thematic analysis focuses on relational dynamics, coercive controlling tactics by one parent against the other, and the impact when one parent exerts a malignant influence on the children. A consideration of tactics and results considers the issue of which a parent has power over the children and over the wider social and professional network, and how children respond over time to these controlling tactics. The children may fall into a kind of psychological splitting, refusing contact for which the targeted parent is blamed As their attachment to the latter is suppressed, the rejection can extend, for years and even decades.


Eric J. Green Ph.D. - Johns Hopkins University's School of Education in Baltimore
Educating others: Lessons from the USA
When a family unit descends into high conflict separation or divorce, sometimes parents’ psychologically controlling actions and the impact they have on children are tantamount to psychological abuse, resulting in children’s emotional and adjustment difficulties, negative self-evaluation, and problems in other relationships. Professionals working with families experiencing high-conflict divorce, including child protection service workers (CPS), must be educated and remain sensitive to the assessment of child psychological abuse. However, CPS investigators, who are on the front lines of identifying and protecting vulnerable children from blatant and insidious forms of abuse,  are often inadequately prepared. They require the specialised training necessary to interview, assess, document, and refer the children of high-conflict families who may be experiencing parental alienation, a form of child emotional maltreatment. This talk aims to describe how education informed CPS workers on parental alienation as a form of emotional abuse, resulting in an ongoing conversation toward a recognition of parental alienation as emotional abuse.

Darren Spooner - The St. Giles Clinic
The clinical psychologist as expert witness
The UK context has some unique challenges for those dealing with cases of parental alienation in the family Courts. Darren will discuss his work in the family Courts and how expert influence can result in robust Judicial intervention with positive outcomes where PA-aware family therapy is unavailable. Darren will discuss why expert psychological reports need to serve as robust, educative, science-based interventions in themselves, because other than giving oral evidence in Court the expert psychologist has no other opportunity communicate his/her unique expertise to the Judge and the parties.

Linda Gottlieb - Family Therapist And Parental Alienation Specialist
Reunification programmes: Lessons from the USA in systemic family therapy adapted to meet the needs of alienated children and their families
This intervention for parental alienation capitalises upon the child’s profound instinct for a parent and the power of family systems therapy for healing.  Ms. Gottlieb has facilitated the healing of 40 alienated parent-child relationships through her programme Turning Points for Families and explores the core principles of her work through this presentation.


Dr Hamish Cameron - Consultant Child Psychiatrist (retired)
Protecting practice: The experience of the mental health practitioner
Is the alienated child living a lie? Pretending all is fine but inwardly longing for their other family?  Is that alienated child’s mind held hostage? Is the Resident Parent’s kidnapping of the child from their other family “child developmental abuse?” The Resident Parent causes harm & impairs their child’s healthy personality development by prohibiting their child from having a ‘both-family’ upbringing. The Family Law professional identifies who has the symptoms (child), and who is the underlying problem (Resident Parent).  Judges, lawyers, doctors, psychologists, social workers and nurses are at risk that one or other of the parents’ intense emotional feelings may sway their assessment.  All professionals are vulnerable; none can avoid these pressures. Having at least one experienced Family Law professional as a co-worker steadies a professional coping with the high expressed emotions in a PA case.  It is the solitary practitioner who is most at risk.  It is essential for PA Family Law professionals to have indemnity insurance to protect their own backs. Regrettably, when a complaint is made, most colleges, universities and professional bodies – as well as very many of their colleagues – will testify against them.

Leilani Sinclair - Counselling Psychologist
Contraindications of psychotherapy in cases of parental alienation
This presentation takes a closer look at how the use of nonspecialised therapy can cause further, lasting harm to the alienated child. The therapist’s countertransference,  inability to identify pattern recognition characteristic of parental alienation, and  lack of awareness as to the presence of covert forms of psychological abuse that operate below the level of conscious awareness will be explored. Emphasis will be placed on multidisciplinary strategies that integrate PAS-informed practices within the mental health field in order to engage therapists in a new way.

Nick Woodall - Family Separation Clinic
Using international standards in differentiating and treating cases of parental alienation
When the first European Conference on Parental Alienation Syndrome was held in 2002 and recognition and curation of all of the diagnostic indicators were already in place back then, we might wonder why has it taken so long for a standardised approach to treatment to become available. One of the problems is that the issue of parental alienation, which is a form of child abuse, has been framed within a parental rights argument which has led many to simply dismiss the problem as a high conflict family dispute. When examined from the child's perspective however, it is easy to understand that pathological splitting which underpins parental alienation, results in significant psychological and emotional harm to the child. Which is why, using no blame models of generic therapy, simply do not work and risk continuing the abuse by exposing the child to ongoing recycling of the harmful dynamic. Nick will unpack the way in which international research evidence underpins a standard of practice which has been available for many years and demonstrates how working to this standard brings swift protection and reintegration for the child.