It is now over 30 years since Professor Sir Michael Rutter’s seminal work ‘Maternal Deprivation; Reassessed’ (1972) in which he challenged the accepted principle upon which family court proceedings in the UK are based. Although the Children Act 1989 sought to give such research the force of law, by redressing the balance between mothers and fathers in the interests of the welfare of their children, judicial practice still has not changed.
In his work, ‘Maternal Deprivation: Reassessed’ Rutter (1991, p217) states,
i. Investigations have demonstrated the importance of a child's relationship with people other than his mother.
ii. Most important of all there has been the repeated findings that many children are not damaged by deprivation.
iii. The old issue of critical periods of development and the crucial importance of early years has been reopened and re-examined. The evidence is unequivocal that experiences at all ages have an impact.
iv. The first few years may have a special importance for bond formation and social development.
• not recognised in either the American classification of mental disorders (DSMIV) or the international classification of disorders (ICD10);
• not generally recognised in our or allied child mental health specialties.
Sturge & Glaser consider PAS not to be a helpful concept and that the sort of problems the title of this disorder is trying to address is better thought of as ‘implacable hostility’. They cite a rebuttal of PAS from the USA by Faller, ‘The Parental Alienation Syndrome: What Is It and What Data Support It?’ (1998) But this work is itself subject of a critique by Dr. Gardener (1998) one of the researchers who first highlighted the problem in the United States. Gardener describes how typically children who suffer with PAS will exhibit most of the following moderate or severe symptoms.
1. A campaign of denigration 2. Weak, absurd, or frivolous rationalisations for the deprecation 3. Lack of ambivalence 4. The “independent-thinker” phenomenon 5. Reflexive support of the alienating parent in the parental conflict 6. Absence of guilt over cruelty to and/or exploitation of the alienated parent 7. The presence of borrowed scenarios 8. Spread of the animosity to the friends and/or extended family of the alienated parent
“I have done it in one or two cases but that requires a very delicate process. What is very interesting, I've found in the cases where I've done it, is how rapidly the alienation seems to disappear. A child who a few weeks before had been saying, 'My father is a rapist and a kidnapper and I am frightened of him out of my wits, I don't ever want to see him I'm so frightened of him', in a month or so that child is happily living with his father - with very skilled therapeutic intervention, I have to say. It doesn't happen just like that”.
“Most practitioners would consider denigration of one parent by the other to be emotionally abusive but if the child was otherwise well cared for the court may feel that it is in the child's best interests to remain with the denigrating parent, leaving the denigrated parent understandably aggrieved.”