It is not the kind of topic that you see raised at Council meetings every day, but the complex and corrosive issue of parental alienation got an airing at the Laois local authority, thanks to Cllr Aisling Moran.
Ass an interesting discussion unfolded, Cllr Moran received widespread support and commendation for her initiative and some interesting insights also emerged.
The problem in a nutshell is when one partner or one side of a family turn to brainwashing a child to hate the other parent in the aftermath of an acrimonious separation. Cllr Moran was emphatic that it has nothing to do with gender but it is first and foremost a child welfare issue.
Apparently such scenarios rather than been isolated cases are unfortunately rampant according to the discourse at the Laois Council meeting on the issue.
Cllr Moran received the support of her colleagues right across the chamber as she called on Ministers Harris and Zappone with responsibility for health and children, to officially acknowledge parental alienation as a form of psychological, emotional and physical abuse. She wants all professionals and statutory agencies to respond to this form of child abuse like they would for all other forms.
Cllr Moran maintained that rather than being a new or modern day phenomenon that parental alienation is a well-worn form of retaliation in the event of bitter break-up and is defined where a child rejects a previous loving and healthy parent without legitimate justification in the context of a separation or divorce.
She referenced Charles Dickens who she said alienated his children from their mother during the 1850’s; The Earl of Westmeath alienated his children from their mother in 1847 and Albert Einstein is probably the first to use the term alienation in 1914 when he wrote about the relationship between his children and himself when his marriage to Elsa broke down.
Cllr Moran went on to contend that recent international studies put the occurrence of parental alienation at 6.7% of the adult population and extrapolated that this would put the numbers affected in Ireland at over 340,000 adults.
The impact and adverse effects on children are well documented she contended and resulted in psychological, emotional and physical harms to children including clinical depression, anxiety, fractured attachments, substance abuse, alcohol abuse, premature sexual activity, academic under achievement, deliberate self-harming behaviours, suicidal ideation and eating disorders.
“It is important to note that these harms occur across the lifetime of these abused children. These dynamics replicate themselves when these children go on to have children of their own. The dynamics of parental alienation transcend cultural, social, economic and geographic boundaries,” she said.
“When considering this theme, it is important to acknowledge that the social and financial benefits of acting now provides immense social, cultural and financial savings to the state when we consider the pressure placed onto state services, as a consequence of the proven effects and psychological impact of parental alienation on these children, into their adulthood and their future families.
“We suggest a number of ways that parental alienation can be addressed – early identification, assessment and intervention of and with families presenting to Family Law Courts or statutory social and medical services and agencies using evidence based best practice models; change the narrative from a custody and access issue where the child is treated as a property of either parent that now focuses on the rights of child to have a relationship with both parents; development and delivery of primary and secondary education programs for professionals, schools as well as those who routinely engage with children and families on a daily basis; swift, evidence-based credibility assessments to identify the veracity or otherwise of allegations by one parent against another,” Cllr Moran suggested a raft of potential actions.
She reiterated that “it is important to acknowledge that parental alienation is not a gender issue, it is not a simple custody and access issue. It is a child welfare issue.”
Supporting her motion, Cllr James Kelly remarked that the only winners in acrimonious break-ups are the legal profession.
Not surprisingly, Cllr Thomasina Connell took exception to this but she did wholeheartedly agree with the substance of the motion.
She abhorred what she regarded as the brainwashing of children which she said she encountered on a regular basis through her work in the family law courts.
“I’m sick of it and I’m dealing with it day in and day out. I see it in acrimonious break-ups where positions are entrenched and children are being destroyed.
“It’s happening and it’s being ignored, it’s happening in every town and village in Laois, this is a local issue and children are being destroyed by the delays and the lack of interventions, everything from anxiety up to self-harming.”