Karen and Nick Woodall facilitated a workshop on their work with what they call alienated children and their families. Parental alienation is described as occuring when a parent consciously or unconsciously works towards permanently damaging the child’s relationship with the other parent. Nick Woodall describes it as ” The unjustified rejection of a once loving relationship with a parent, usually in the context of separation and divorce”. They argue that professionals working with separation and divorce need to understand parental alienationand how to treat it. Their work can be read about at: www.familyseparationclinic.co.uk.
There were a number of aspects of their work that gave rise to debate amongst the Family Mediators present and there was some unease at the mixed model they used to treat the families. The Woodalls seem to use a mix of Therapy, Mediation, Assessment and, once might say, Advocacy in their practice. The workshop would have to have had a more thorough study of how the boundaries were managed between those different processes to elicit a fuller understanding.
Some of the core questions for the mediators were as follows:
What’s the difference between parental alienation and high conflict? Maybe they are not mutually exclusive.
Can you assess the children without meeting them? The debate centred around the importance of the voice of the child and how much weight should be placed on this, over the perception of the parents.
Is it possible to mediate cases where parental alienation is happening? The general feeling was that you could, as mediators are not assessing but opening up channels of communication.
Three key questions that the Woodalls highlighted as part of assessing were:
1. What do we know?
2. What do we want to know?
3. What concerns have we got?
How do they play out if you are mediating and do not have an assessment role?
This area of work is very interesting and has resonance for those of us working in separation and divorce. However, there would need to be some work done on how one might integrate this understanding of parental alienation into mediation practice.