alienation syndrome leaves bruises deep inside
Mar 31, 2009 04:30 AM
In the end, it was one tiny voice that silenced anyone who still had doubts that parental alienation is real and one of the most insidious forms of child abuse.
The voice wasn't real – Dashiell Hart opened his arms wide and threw himself off a
But his voice was brought to life at a
Dash was just one tiny soldier in the growing army of children who are becoming collateral damage in bitter battles between ex-spouses that are overwhelming
"Over 12 years I had four different sets of lawyers trying to convince the courts my son, who lived less than 10 minutes' drive from me, needed to see the mother who loved and raised him," Richardson told the conference.
"Maybe it's still believed that no parent would wound their child for their own selfish gain. Maybe people still believe that the loss of a parent is not that big a deal – parents get sick, have car accidents, get cancer, they die. But alienated parents aren't dead – and the children know it."
"With PAS children there are generally no outward or tangible signs of maltreatment,
Hart was granted interim custody of Dash –
To show her love, she would leave freshly baked cookies on Dash's front doorstep.
The year that Dash was 11,
"There are transfers of time followed by transfers of power and children know enough to keep themselves safe," said
"A shift takes place in the child's mind. This is the heartbreak of PAS: children are forced to choose between their parents because, in their mind, they've already lost one parent (to the divorce), and they're terrified of losing the other."
Dash went from being a happy, healthy 7-year-old to threatening to jump out the second-storey window of his school at the age of 9. At almost 12, he showed up at court in his father's clothes.
Judges are now starting to tackle PAS head-on, with an increasing willingness to switch custody to the alienated parent and order the children into treatment.
But back in the 1990s, most wouldn't even acknowledge it as a real issue, said
After years of being told she was "idiotic," "uncaring" and even "dangerous," Dash grew into a teenager who lashed out constantly at his mother, who by now had remarried and had two young sons.
PAS "has everything to do with who has custody," she said. "It's a crime of calculation and opportunity. Arguing about whether or not PAS is a syndrome or a mental health disorder or abuse just ties everyone up in knots while real children and real families suffer this harm. A child's fundamental right to be loved by both his or her parents is destroyed by PAS."
And the effects are long-lasting, as parental alienation expert and researcher Amy Baker told the conference.
Her study of 40 adults who were alienated as children revealed lifelong battles with low self-esteem, alcoholism and drug abuse, as well as high divorce and suicide rates.
Parental alienation used to be known as "malicious mother syndrome." But it's become a more equal-opportunity form of emotional abuse of children over the last two decades, according to a new study of some 74 Canadian cases, which was released at the conference.
In 24 of the 74 high-conflict divorce cases examined by veteran
Many divorce experts, mental health professionals and child advocacy workers, some of whom spoke at the conference, have long argued that this approach encourages parental alienation by treating the children as prizes to be won or lost in bitter battle.
Colman said the study's results confirmed for him that Canada's divorce laws need to be amended to make "equal, shared parenting" the norm in all divorce cases, except when there are extenuating circumstances such as domestic violence, mental health or other issues that make one parent clearly unfit