An issue that often arises which causes considerable confusion is whether
The problem lies in describing parental alienation as a 'syndrome'. By
definition this means the term is used to describe a 'constellation' of symptoms. This suggests there is no single cause because there may be a range of ways in which the parent is causing the alienation and mothers often blame 'maternal deprivation' for any ill-effects.
In medicine there is usually a cause and effect in the same way courts connect the punishment to the crime. When there is no single attributable cause it is difficult to describe the condition medically.
The Baroness Hayman, former Speaker of the House of Lords, representing the UK Department of Health described PAS in the following way, ‘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’.
DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH Richmond House, 79 Whitehall London, SWIA 2NS, Telephone 0171 2103000 From the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State
David Faber Esq MP
15 APR 1999
Thank you for your letter of 11 March enclosing a copy of further correspondence from your constituent (name and address supplied) about Parent Alienation Syndrome (PAS).
Before I give answers to the specific questions it may be helpful if I offer some general comments on Parent Alienation Syndrome and its classification.
Parent Alienation Syndrome is a relatively new concept, but would come under the rubric of emotional abuse. That parental conflict is damaging to children is well known, but this constellation of parental behaviours does not constitute a childhood psychiatric disorder.
There are two main classification systems for medical disorders: DSM W, which is the American system, and ICD 10, which is more commonly used by British clinicians. These systems do not completely correspond to each other, but Parent Alienation Syndrome is not mentioned in either.
Child psychiatrists using ICD 10 would formulate a “five axis diagnosis”, where axis one names a psychiatric disorder (e.g. depression); axis two any specific disorders of psychological development (e.g. specific reading retardation); axis 3, general intelligence (e.g. IQ); axis 4 any relevant physical disorder, and axis 5 relevant psycho social risk factors. Under this last axis, Parent Alienation Syndrome would be classified under “inadequate or distorted intra-familial communication”.
This type of systematic destruction of a child’s relationship with one of its parents constitutes emotional abuse, but there seems little to be gained by researching it separately.
I can offer the following comments on these questions.
1/How does a disorder become recognised in ICD?
The World Health Organisation has a committee of experts in each medical field, who produce diagnostic criteria, which are updated at regular intervals. ICD is now in its 10th edition.
2/Has any research been conducted in this country regarding the emotional and psychological effects of PAS on children?
A literature search of PAS over the last 5 years, yielded one article from “Allington Manor School and Treatment Centre; Centre for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Emotional-Behavioural Problems, in Hampshire, entitled “PAS: a two-step approach toward a solution.
Otherwise literature is published in American Journals by American researchers. However, there has been a great deal of work on both sides of the Atlantic examining the impact of parental conflict, separation and divorce on children.
3/Does the Government have any plans to recognise PAS as a disorder in this country?
As stated above, this type of parental behaviour is a risk factor for disorder, rather than a disorder in its own right. Most risk factors for childhood psychiatric disorder are non-specific, and this type of parental conflict/emotional abuse is likely to be no different. Thus there is little to be gained by considering PAS separately.
4/Is there any help for children In this country if PAS is suspected?
As stated above, the destruction of the child’s relationship with one parent by the other constitutes emotional abuse, and as such the child’s welfare would be protected under the terms of the Children Act, 1989.
If the child was sufficiently distressed by the situation, there are various voluntary agencies who could offer counselling and support or a referral to local child and adolescent mental health services could be considered.
5/Are there any plans to train Family Court Welfare Officers that are involved with contact disputes on PAS, as the ascertaInable wishes and feelings of the child carry a great deal of weight In the Welfare Checklist In Section 1(3) of the Children Act 1989?
I think this would be a local decision bearing in mind that PAS disputes are relatively rare.
6/Could PAS but regarded as a legal form of emotional abuse?
Categories of abuse for registration (p48 of “Working together under the Children Act 1989″) defines emotional abuse as “actual or likely severe adverse effect on the emotional and behavioural
development of a child caused by persistent or severe emotional ill-treatment or rejection”. This does not have statutory force, but offers guidance to professionals working in this area. The Children Act itself does not define abuse more specifically. 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.
THE BARONESS HAYMAN
NOTE; There is also a collection of articles on Parental Alienation Syndrome and Parental Alienation in family court proceedings in the United Kingdom by the UK expert Dr L F Lowenstein M.A., Dip.Psych., Ph.D.