16 October 2023
The Family Separation Clinic has, today [16 October 2023] submitted its response to the Family Justice Council’s consultation on Draft Guidance on responding to allegations of alienating behaviours, which was published in August.
The response reiterated the Clinic’s view that such cases, where determined, should be treated, first-and-foremost, as chid protection cases and that consideration of whom the child should live with and who they should spend time or otherwise have contact with should be secondary to the child’s physical, emotional and psychological well being. It also stressed that determination of cases requires the greatest attention to the underlying dynamics that is causing the child to become, or be at risk of becoming, hyper-aligned to one of their parents and, in the process, being induced into rejecting the other.
Amongst other things, the Clinic also raised concerns about certain aspects of the Draft Guidance including the proposed list of ‘alienating behaviours’ that the court should consider, the joining of children to proceedings, the role of Guardians, the removal of children, and the enforcement of judicial orders.
Nick Woodall, who is a partner at the Clinic noted concerns about the proposed burden of proof. He said, ‘the Draft Guidance proposes that, whilst alienating behaviour can be subtle and insidious, a parent alleging alienating behaviours must discharge the burden of establishing that such behaviour has occurred. We consider that this is incompatible with s.1 of the Children Act (1989) which states that, when a court determines any question with respect to the upbringing of a child, the child’s welfare must be the court’s paramount consideration. We believe, as with other allegations of abuse, in circumstances where alienating behaviour is alleged, it is the responsibility of the Court to investigate so that it may put in place the necessary child protection measures.'
The FJC consultation document said it is hoped that this guidance would contribute to increased understanding, good practice, and ultimately good welfare outcomes for children and added that the guidance includes sections on the Litigation Journey, Case Management, Welfare decision, understanding hostility and psychological manipulation in cases in which alienating behaviours are alleged and the use of experts.
22 September 2023
The Clinic has delivered training to a large group of mental health and other professionals working with children and families, in the Finnish capital Helsinki. These included social workers, family therapists, domestic abuse specialists and meeting supervisors (known as contact supervisors in the UK).
The training focused on working with childhood relational trauma in divorce and separation and explored the Family Separation Clinic's Child Protection Pathway. As well as being adaptable in meeting different socio-legal contexts, the pathway fits with the statutory responsibilities of social workers to ensure that abused children are protected from harm. The pathway begins with understanding the problem of children’s alignment and rejection through a psychoanalytic or psychodynamic lens and takes practitioners through a series of steps towards treatment which is rooted in structural therapy.
FSC partner and therapist, Karen Woodall, said, 'What was striking about working in Helsinki, was the focus upon the psychodynamics of family life, including the attention paid to transgenerational trauma repetition in families experiencing all forms of abuse. This focus, which includes a psychodynamic understanding of the transgenerational nature of domestic abuse, translates into a wide range of family focused services which are designed to give children the very best start in life.'
She added, 'Working with the concept of relational trauma in divorce and separation and the way in which it manifests when a child becomes hyper aligned with one parent and rejecting of the other, was extraordinarily easy in an environment where practitioners are used to considering all the ways in which children become triangulated into adult matters. Protecting the abused parent and child dyad, in circumstances where a child is being manipulated and drawn into the adult dynamics of divorce, is easier when practitioners understand the psychological aspects of this process. The absence of parental rights ideology in support services, means that barriers to understanding and utilising a child protection approach for working with this problem are low'
16 June 2023
The Family Separation Clinic has written to Ambassador Václav Bálek, President of the UN The Human Rights Council, expressing our deep concerns about the Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences, titled Custody, violence against women and violence against children, arguing that it substantially misrepresents the the issue being reported upon and includes factual errors and misleading statements that render the report unreliable. The letter also proposes that the consultation process was significantly flawed in that it lacked transparency and, therefore, does not allow for an informed debate of the issue and cannot be relied upon by the Council. In addition to these concerns, the letter states that the findings and recommendations of the report had been substantially established in advance of the consultation, and that the Special Rapporteur has referred only to submissions that support that prior position.
In spite of a commitment to do so, the Special Rapporteur has failed to provide either the submissions in full or even a list of the organisations and individuals who made submissions. Neither
has she provided details about why certain submissions were referred to in her report whilst others were not. Whilst the Special Rapporteur uses these submissions to evidence her report and
inform her recommendations, without the opportunity to scrutinise these texts, they are little more than hearsay.
Many of narratives and public discourses on this subject are driven by parents who have been judged, through due process, to have harmed their children.
It is known that organisations referred to in the report, and whose testimony is relied upon, articulate the subjective experiences of parents who have been judged, through due process, to have harmed their children. Whilst, of course, it must be accepted that courts will and do make errors, the testimonies of such parents must be calibrated to take account of this and the subjective experiences of parents who have been judged, through due process, to have harmed or abused their children should not be the main driver of law or policy.
The Clinic has asked that the contents of this letter are shared with the most senior representatives from all members of the Human Rights Council for the 17th cycle and, in the light of the concerns we have raised, respectfully asks that Ambassador Bálek recommends to the fifty-third session of the Human Rights Council that the Report of the Special Rapporteur be dismissed.
Read the letter here
13 June 2023
The Family Separation has complained, in the strongest possible terms, about a misleading reference made by the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls in her report titled ‘Custody, violence against women and violence against children,’ dated 13 April 2023, in which the SR infers that the Clinic is a lobby organisation that promotes ‘parental alienation.’
The letter of complaint points out that this is grossly untrue and misleading, noting that the Clinic is a highly respected therapeutic organisation that, among other clinical delivery, provides therapeutic services to severely abused children under the instruction of the High Court of England and Wales or relevant local authority child protection departments. The letter also makes clear that the Family Separation Clinic is not a lobby organisation, nor does it campaign on or promote ‘parental alienation.’
Whilst the Clinic does provide training for professionals across a range of disciples, and delivers these across the world to highly reputable organisations including government and non-government organisations employing highly skilled and accredited practitioners, commissions to deliver training are extended on the basis of the Clinic's reputation for excellence in child-centred practice.
As an example, the complaint refers to the organisation named to in the SR's report, the Committee for the Protection of Children’s Rights in Poland, which is a highly respected organisation, delivering services in 19 locations across the country. Its stated activities include, protecting the rights and interests of the child, and helping abused children who are victims of emotional, physical and sexual violence as well as neglect and improper care.
The Clinic has asked that the SR draw attention to this inaccuracy in her report, to the President and all delegates to the fifty-third session of the Human Rights Council and either amend the relevant paragraph in her published report or attach a note referring to this inaccuracy.
15 December 2022
The Clinic has submitted its response to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and Girls’ call for inputs on 'custody cases, violence against women and violence against children.'
In response to the specific themes raised in the call for inputs, the Clinic reported that we consider that all children, women and men have the right to live free from the perpetuation, threat or fear of violence and are not aware of any reliable evidence that not enough attention is given to the interconnections between domestic violence and abuse and issues of child custody and parental relations in the courts of England and Wales.
The Clinic also noted that allegations of domestic violence and allegations of 'parental alienation' are present in some contested child custody cases and that such allegations may be true, false or fabricated. We proposed that, where courts are faced with claims and/or counter-claims of domestic violence and/or 'parental alienation' by one or both parties, it is the duty of the courts to determine the facts of the matter and make rulings that are based on the best interests of the child. We reported that there is no evidence, and it is not our experience, that the courts of England and Wales systematically fail in that duty.
Our submission agreed that all children should be protected from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury, abuse, or maltreatment, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parents. We made clear our position that any cases in which parents, deliberately or unconsciously, cause psychological and emotional harm by: interfering with the child's attachment bonds; causing fear; inducing maladaptive psychological defences; threatening or enacting violence; parentifying, spousifying or otherwise causing role corruption; and any behaviours that draw children in a parent's intra or inter-personal conflicts at the expense of their own physical, psychological and emotional wellbeing fall within these parameters, and that it is the responsibility of the courts, child protection services and others to protect children from such harm.
Our full submission can be found here
8 April 2022
The Clinic delivered two days of practitioner training in Warsaw, at the beginning of April. The training event was organised by the Committee for the Protection of Children’s Rights (KOPD), which is a non-governmental, public benefit organization. The Committee has been active since 1981 and its mission is to protect the rights and interests of children and their families.
Forty professionals attended the training over the two days, including psychologists, psychotherapists, psychiatrists, social workers, mediators and one judge. Attendees came from across Poland to develop understanding in working with alienated children and their families. The training, titled Recognising and responding to alienated children and their families, looked at the problem of children’s post-separation rejection of a parent from the perspective of established psychological and psychotherapeutic theory and focussed on the particular defence mechanisms that are typically in operation.
KODP is committed to counteracting family violence and its effects. They conduct awareness-raising campaigns to draw attention to signs of emotional, physical and sexual violence as well as neglect and inappropriate care. Their goal is to promote awareness of children’s rights and unravel abuse of children’s rights in family and public life.
14 January 2022
The International Academy of Practice with Alienated Children will hold its inaugural conference in Acre, Israel in June 2022. This hybrid event will bring together clinicians and researchers from across the world to explore psychological splitting in children whose parents have separated or divorced.
The Conference, titled Reunification and recovery: Practice and theory in the treatment of alienated children, will be held on 14-16 June 2022 with headline speakers including Barbara Jo Fidler, Ph.D. and Benjamin D. Garber, Ph.D..
More information can be found on the IAPAC website:
24 September 2021
Following the lifting of travel restrictions brought in as a result of the COVID pandemic, the Clinic was finally able to deliver training to professionals in Malta.
The three-day training event was convened on behalf of the Church Schools Children’s Fund, under the European Union ESF-funded project ‘Matthew’ ESF.02.153 – Operational Programme II – European Structural and Investment Funds 2014-2020, to deliver training for psychosocial professionals in understanding and supporting alienated children.
The training was delivered over three days to 48 participants, including counsellors, social workers, play therapists, psychotherapists, educational psychologists, youth workers and guidance teachers, and looked at a range of issues associated with children's rejection of a parent after divorce or family separation.
In particular, the content focussed on alienation in children as a relational problem and explore ways of understanding the pressures that children in such circumstances face, as well as considering how professionals from different disciplines and in different settings could work together to identify and support children who may be at risk of psychological splitting.
The training also provides for ongoing development and support work to ensure that knowledge and skills are embedded and built upon in the workforce.
14 October 2020
We received huge amounts of positive feedback after the Family Separation Clinic's online Havening Techniques® workshop with Elyse Killoran. We were delighted to welcome attendees from the UK, Canada, USA, Romania, Ireland, Israel, the Netherlands, Sweden, Mexico, Poland and Australia. The Havening Techniques are a healing modality that is designed to help individuals overcome problems that are the consequence of traumatic encoding and can be be used as a self-help technique or shared with family members and friends. It is described as a brain-based therapy that "resets" neural networks and supports the re-integration of the body and the brain.
The workshop was delivered through the Clinic's Lighthouse Project which is designed to bring as much low cost help to families affected by relational trauma in divorce and separation as possible. This workshop was delivered within the gift economy where the recipient decides what they will pay for the service.
Those who attended the workshop were provided with an understanding of the science behind - and a set of techniques to activate - a natural process to soothe the nervous system and recover from emotional pain, including the neuroscience behind how we encode emotional pain , the connection between emotion pain and the encoding of trauma , and practice in using this simple and effective tool for both emotional self-regulation and building emotional resilience .
7 March 2020
The Clinic delivered three days of intensive training for professionals in the Republic of Ireland between 5 and 7 March 2020. The programme, which was hosted by the charity, Caidreamh, was delivered in two packages.
A one-day introduction to understanding and working with children and families affected by parental alienation was open to all interested legal and mental health practitioners and was attended by 36 professionals. This provided a foundational understanding of alienation and basic differentiation of cases, recognising and understanding the dynamics that lead to alienation in children, setting parental alienation in context and capacity to differentiate between alienation and other causes of resistance in children of divorce and separation.
A three-day advanced programme, which was open to mental health practitioners with a psychology, psychotherapy or social work qualification, attracted 17 professionals. Content included theoretical concepts of alienation, advanced differential assessment, court presentation, concurrent therapeutic trial, effective treatment routes, healing the psychologically split child and contextual application of theory and practice within Ireland.
Those who attended included solicitors, social workers, psychotherapists, art therapists, psychologists, barristers, Guardians, and members of the probation services.
4 February 2020
The Clinic visited the Icelandic capital, Reykjavík, at the end of January to work with professionals, parliamentarians and parents around the issue of parental alienation.
On the first day, Karen Woodall and Nick Woodall delivered foundation training to a wide rage of professionals including lawyers, therapist and child protection practitioners. The training focussed on non-diagnostic approaches to understanding children's rejection of a parent.
On the second day, they delivered a lecture to members of the Icelandic parliament which was followed by a lively Q&A session. Finally, they hosted a workshop for parents and carers affected by alienation.
10 July 2019
In July, Karen and Nick Woodall spent three days working with colleagues at the Child and Youth Protection Centre of Zagreb. Two of the three days offered additional education and training for psychologists and psychotherapists already working with complex cases at the Centre, as well as introducing a number of invited professionals from elsewhere in Croatia and Serbia, to the methods used at the Family Separation Clinic. Some of the work centred around group supervision of cases provided by attendees.
On the third day of their visit, Karen and Nick delivered a two hour lecture to an audience comprised of around 200 judges, lawyers, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and others from around Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Slovenia, at the Teaching Institute of Public Health in Zagreb. The lecture was jointly hosted by the Child Protection Centre and the Croatian Association of Judges for Youth, Family Judges and Experts for Children and Youth. It was introduced by Dr Gordana Buljan Flander and Judge Lana Peto Kujundžić and, because the lecture was so over-subscribed, it was also live streamed to a separate room in the Institute, as well as on the internet. The Child and Youth Protection Centre reported that:
‘the lecture ,,Understanding and working with children and families affected by alienation: hearing the authentic voice of the child and intervening to help recovery“ was organised by Child and Youth Protection Center of Zagreb and Association of Judges for Youth, Family Judges and Experts for Children and Youth. The lecturers were Karen and Nick Woodall, internationally recognized authorities in area of alienation, partners in Family Separation Clinic in London, who, engaged in daily close cooperation with social welfare, health and justice systems, work on the issue of alienation. The lecture was viewed in person, at the Andrija Štampar Teaching Institute of Public Health and via live stream video on Center’s Facebook and Youtube channel, by more than 2,500 experts of different profiles, as well as interested people.’
Karen and Nick highlighted the need to recognise alienation as a child protection issue and explained how the child’s defensive psychological splitting in the face of a threat within their attachment relationships can cause lasting damage to the child, even after they have been reunited with a previously rejected parent. As a result of the lecture, the Centre has published a draft document entitled Experts protecting children from emotional abuse in divorce: Establishing good practice in Croatia.
During the visit, Nick Woodall appeared, alongside the Centre’s Mia Roje Đapić, on Croatian television’s main morning news programme discussing the physical and emotional abuse of children.
The topic is currently high on the public agenda in Croatia and there have been a number of high profile cases in the country. The Child and Youth Protection Centre of Zagreb was established in 2002 in order to provide effective and systematic support of traumatized children and their families.
27 June 2019
On Thursday 28 June 2019, Nick Woodall presented at a conference entitled Interdisciplinary Approach to Disputes Involving Juveniles in Cases of Parental Alienation at the Bucharest Tribunal in Romania.
The Bucharest Tribunal – the central court in the capital - together with the APISET Association, organised for the first time in Romania an international congress devoted exclusively to the issues of children affected by alienation. It was also the first international congress organised by a public authority in the field, that is, the biggest court in Romania that handles juvenile cases. The Tribunal, who understand the gravity of the phenomenon of emotional abuse of children in divorce and separation, are committed to providing knowledge and training around the issue of children’s post separation rejection of a parent.
The audience was made up of judges, prosecutors, lawyers, psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, social workers and other working with families. In Romania prosecutors are treating as criminal offences cases of non-observance of measures concerning the custody of minors, harassment and ill-treatment of minors. Professional specialists from Romania and abroad met for two days to listen to a varied programme including presentations on understanding alienation from legal, cross boarder, forensic, psychological and therapeutic perspectives.
Nick’s presentation, titled Working With Post-Separation Pathological Splitting in Children, drew on established psychological and psychoanalytic constructs, as well as international research into the phenomenon of children’s post-separation rejecting behaviours, describing how using differential assessment protocols enables practitioners and the courts to not only understand why the child is rejecting, but also what needs to be done to bring about the best outcomes for the child.
12 June 2019
Nick Woodall and Karen Woodall provided the keynote presentation, during the opening session, at the Empowering Children Foundation (Fundacja Dajemy Dzieciom Siłę) national conference, in Warsaw, in June. FDDS is the biggest Polish NGO that works to protect children from abuse.
The national conference on early prevention of child abuse and neglect is held annually and the Clinic was invited to present a paper titled 'Using differential assessment protocols to ensure best outcomes for rejecting children'.
The conference was attended by around 400 professionals, including social workers, psychologists, doctors, nurses, day carers and probation officers. It was organized in cooperation with the City Hall of Warsaw, Department of Public Health of Warsaw Medical University, under the auspices of the Minister of Labour and Social Policy, Minister of Health and Ombudsman on Children’s Rights.
Whilst in the Polish capital, the Clinic also delivered a clinical workshop for professionals attended by more than 20 psychologists from different parts of Poland.
31 May 2019
Nick Woodall, psychotherapist and partner at the Family Separation Clinic, gave a presentation entitled ‘Working with post-separation pathological splitting in children’ at the Missing Children Europe conference in Ghent on 31 May 2019.
The conference 'Hear me out!' The voice of the child in international abduction cases' was the final conference of the European VOICE project which aims to ensure a more child-friendly legal system by involving children in international child abduction cases and other international family disputes by offering them the opportunity to be heard and to take their interests into account. Within the project, attention is paid on the one hand to child-friendly methods for hearing children in international child abduction cases and on the other hand to child-friendly ways of incorporating the child's voice in cross-border family mediation. The conference produced recommendations for hearing the child in international child abduction cases.
Nick’s presentation focussed on the care that must be taken in listening to the voice of the child and, in particular, the problem of defensive splitting in children who have become alienated from one of their parents. He provided the conference with the theoretical framework within which to understand alienation in children, along with explanations about the kinds of diagnostic tools that can help courts and practitioners to differentiate between psychologically split and alienated children, and those that may have suffered harm at the hands of the parent that they are rejecting.
The conference also heard testimony from Geike Hoebanx who was abducted as a child. Other presentations included The Impact of family resiliency on the wellbeing of children in cases of international child abduction - Professor Dr. Koen Ponnet, University of Ghent; Child participation as a tool to create best practices for return - Eveline Vlassenroot, University of Ghent and Sara Lembrechts, University of Antwerp; Hearing children in International child abduction cases: Engaging with the children - Blrgitte Beelen, SYNTAGMA; Good practice in hearing children in International abduction cases - Adrienn Varges-Jeges (Hungary), Boriana Musseva (Bulgaria) and H.M. Boone, Guardian ad litem (Netherlands); Brussels lla recast - Prof. Thalia Kruger, University of Antwerp; and The hearing of the child and deontology - Prof. Giacomo Biagioni, University of Cagliari.
The conference was sponsored by the European Union, Ghent University, the University of Antwerp, the University of Genoa, MKK and the International Child Abduction Centre.
26 February 2019
On 26 February 2019, both Nick and Karen Woodall gave presentations at the a symposium on complex separation and alienation in Antwerp, Belgium.
The symposium, organised by the organisation Het Huis was attended by around 100 professionals working with families after separation, including judges, psychologists, social workers and court evaluators. It was held in the impressive Port House situated in the old docks area of the city.
Also speaking at the symposium were Rita Hey, founder of Het Huis, psychiatrist Binu Singh, family court judges Marie-France Carlier and Wendy Verhaegen, forensic psychologist Frédéric Declercq, and Dirk Van Overloop a Judge at the Antwerp Court of Appeal.