Coping with the Parental Alienation Syndrome

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The Department of Health

The D.o.Health is the authority called in to deal with children at risk from abuse. The wording 'at risk' is important. Being at risk of physical/sexual abuse or neglect is reasonably easy to assess, and often reported by neighbours, teachers, and those close to the children.

Being at risk of years of emotional suffering, becoming a truant, becoming anti-social, becoming incapable of having stable relationships, and the like, are not risks. In fact, in cases of PAS they are almost certainties.

When those events happen, the Dept of Health has other services ready and waiting to deal with them. It knows how to keep itself in business.

The reply below dated 24th July 1992 from a Social Services Inspector who is now a CAFCASS Advisor. It relates to the fact that contact is stopped or disrupted with impunity, and that many Social workers, CWO's and the like who deal with these problems are themselves single-mothers, and therefore unable to be unbiased.

And further, if they are themselves guilty of contempt of court for disrupting contact, then they should not be allowed to work in the departments that seek to resolve this problem.

Dear Mr Hayward
Thank you for your letter of 14 July addressed to Mr Laming Chief Inspector with regard to the proposed guidelines for fathers regarding contact with their children.
I am seeking the advice of a number of colleagues and, bearing in mind the holiday period, I will write again as soon as possible.
Your letter does raise some important issues in what is a complex and painful area. As you mention it is not only social services who may be involved but also the Probation Service. This suggests that any advice from the Department of Health may also need to be discussed with the Home Office.

The reply was followed up with another, dated 3rd August 1992.

Dear Mr Hayward
Further to your recent letter I am now able to respond to little more fully to the concerns raised with the Chief Inspector.
What you are portraying are questions about bias amongst court welfare officers. This would I think be a matter for Lord Chancellor's Department in their supervision of magistrates courts. Where a mother is also a social worker it may well be that she may be able to use her influence and contacts. On the other hand, there must be instances of fathers being solicitors and no doubt they do the same. Also I assume cases may arise the other way around i.e. the father being a social worker and the mother being a solicitor. There is very little that anyone can do about this.
What you seem to be asking in your last paragraph is whether an employer brought to court for not complying with the court orders should be dismissed from social services employment. Not complying with a court order would almost certainly be contempt of court and although people may imprisoned for this and it can be a criminal offence, nevertheless I suspect that it will not appear as a conviction on many lists. I suppose that technically it should be declared under the Children Act Disqualification Regulations so it would apply for these purposes but even if this is so, it really depends upon the attitude of local authority employers as to whether or not they consider it would debar a person for employment. We obviously cannot comment on how different local authorities would react around the country.
If in an individual case an organisation such as yours took up a complaint against an authority, the Department of Health would not normally involve itself until the authority's complaints procedure had been fully explored.

NOTE. The argument presented against my complaint simply states that they do not intent to investigate the matter; a typical reply.

The matter of PAS was followed up again with the D.o.Health, and a reply of 26th July 1993 from the Health Promotion (Medical) Division stated:

Dear S Hayward
Your undated recent faxed letter refers.
Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is not referred to in Working Together under the Children Act 1989 the guide to interagency arrangements for the protection of children from abuse. This guidance refers to physical, sexual, emotional abuse and neglect only. which are the major recognised forms of "abuse" for which children can be "registered" by Social Services departments.
Parents Against Injustice (PAIN) at 3 Riverside Business Park, Stanstead, Essex 0M24 8PL might be able to help you with your enquiries.
In the meantime I will circulate your papers amongst colleagues in the department for their comments.

NOTE. The Doctor dealing with Health promotion does not consider PAS a form of emotional child abuse. Letters to the D.o.Health asking what forms of emotional child abuse are recognised have yet to be answered.

The reply above was then sent to the Secretary of State for Health at the time. It got the reply dated 8th October 1993 from the Community Services Division.

Dear Mr Hayward,
Thank you for your letters of 3 August and 26 September to Virginia Bottomley about Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) and a copy of a letter from Dr Susan Shepherd of this department. I am very sorry for the delay in replying. Your comments concerning PAS have been noted
I would like to assure you that the Government is very concerned about all forms of child abuse and is very much aware of public anxiety on this issue. The Government attaches a high priority to this problem and has sought to tackle it through up-to-date guidance, various measures designed to promote training in this field and through the Children Act 1989. Substantial funding will be given this year for a range of training projects for social workers in child abuse.
The potential for alienation of children by feuding parents is a commonly recognised problem. The Children Act aims to encourage contact for children with both parents, involving as little disruption to their home situation as possible and encouraging conciliation to minimise continued conflict between family members.
As far as the involvement of Family Proceedings Courts are concerned, I am afraid that is the responsibility of the Lord Chancellor's Department.

NOTE. The italics are my own. In 1993 the D.o.Health states 'alienation of children' is a commonly recognised problem. In 2002 they still don't have a name for it.


The experts in the field range from academics that study children, families, and the social implications of family problems, through to the self-help groups for children and families. Some groups that include 'family' are thinly disguised women's groups, and 'single-parents' normally refers to 'single-mothers'.

In spite of the predominance of women in this field, the bulk of family studies on family break-ups are by women, and much media coverage in support of fathers is by women. That is, sympathy for individual single-mothers does not translate into support for the social ills that come from the loss of traditional family values. The vast majority of women will put the children's interests before their own.

In general, psychiatrists see PAS as one of many problems that are the outcome of 'women's empowerment' over the last century. As women have become increasingly able to compete in the markets, their financial dependence on men has decreased.

The choice of 'work or family' moved to 'work and family', and then with laws biased towards them, 'maintenance and family'. Men lost their monopoly of the market place, but gained nothing of the domestic scene. Men effectively became replaced by the State. The 'New Man' who was going to share family duties, never arrived; and few women were prepared to hand over the family to him even if he had arrived.

Not only do women replace men in the market place, the men displaced are less able to compete for women. The point of marriage being essentially to protect women and the children, now no longer fulfils this role. This in turn has led to a rise on co-habitations with the result that more and more men now have children outside of marriage, with the consequent loss of rights over their children.

The other side of the coin is that most women want to be in a relationship, so are not happy with emasculation of men. Though they may be able to have a family without the father being around, it is not easy, and many lost control of their own lives. An FNF questionnaire on PAS asked the question 'What was the real reason the mother alienated the children from the father?' The most common answer was 'She is a control freak'. That is, the children were often the only ones she had control over, and in consequence was not actually alienating the children because she hated the father, but because to lose the children to the father would have left her with nothing. This factor alone suggests that mediation rather than the courts offer the best solution.

Psychiatrists recommend mediation, and that these matters be taken out of the courts. The following replies from psychiatrists and those working in the field of child-welfare.

Not all at the time of writing, were aware of PAS as a syndrome. A reply from the British Psychological Society dated 22nd October 1993 stated:

Dear Mr Hayward
The Parental Alienation Syndrome
Thank you for your recent letter addressed to the Business Manager.
Normally when the Society receives a letter such as yours we send a copy of the enclosed standard letter which gives advice on how to access the psychological literature, and you may find the general advice in this letter helpful.
My expectation is, that the pattern of behaviour you describe is quite likely to be authentic, and may well be very commonly witnessed by practitioners who are working with children and their patents. However, I suspect that describing the behaviour pattern as the Parental Alienation Syndrome is probably idiosyncratic to a particular American author. It sounds like a very apposite title but nevertheless unlikely to be one used generally in the literature. It could perhaps catch on as a new specialist description, but I expect it has not done so and probably others will have described sinullar phenomena, but not necessarily given it this particular title. If you follow the leads given in the enclosed standard letter and were for instance to look up in the index of Psvcholodcal Abstracts, you will discover if the term is in general use. To find if the concepts are covered under other headings is of course more difficult.
When we receive enquiries such as yours we like to be as helpful as we can, and In that I am no special expert in this field, I will refer your letter on to the Secretary of the Societies Division of Educational and Child Psychology, and if on reading your letter and my reply Mr Sheppard believes he has any further information to add, I am sure he will write to you directly. I hope this way of proceeding proves valuable.

NOTE: the bold highlight is mine. It does show that psychologists are aware of the behaviour pattern, but does not have a name for it.

This problem is expressed again in a reply from the London Clinis of Psycho-Analysis dated 23rd November 1993.

Dear Mr. Hayward
Thank you for your letter to the Clinic Director, dated 12th August, 1993, which was passed on for my attention at the beginning of September.
I do apologise for my delay in writing back.
Although I recognise that it often happens in cases of acrimonious divorce that one parent may be alienated by the other parent I am not sure that it is helpful to create a new syndrome, that of PAS to describe this complex situation.
I believe it is important to try to help parents to do their best for their children and that certainly fathers are as important as mothers in the on-going care and control of the children.
I would be interested in receiving more information about the organisation 'Families Need Fathers' for my records.

NOTE: The bold highlight is my own. Again there is no common word or phrase used by psychiatrists for PAS.

A practitioner from the Hospitals for Sick children also recognizes the problem, and states in a letter dated 7th October 1993:

Dear Mr Hayward
Thank you for your letter of 12th August and the document about this syndrome that you enclosed.
There is no doubt that the outcome that you describe, namely that a child states that they do not wish to see the non-custodial parent happens far too frequently as a result of the bitterness between marriage partners after the breakdown of their relationship. However, I feel it is stretching matters too much to describe such a process as a syndrome. Each case has elements that need to he looked at in their own right. It is to be hoped that the implementation and availability of mediation services between the parents might be more successful in remitting the numbers of such cases. There can be no doubt, however, that there will remain a number where the child's need to security with at least one parent necessitates removing his contact with the non-custodial parent. I think it unlikely that you would find literature about this matter listed under 'Parental Alienation Syndrome' although there is much material about the involvement of children in the conflict of loyalties between their parents.

NOTE: The highlights are my own. It is the same problem of not accepting PAS as a syndrome, and not having other terms to describe a well-recognised problem. To some extent one can appreciate why some psychiatrists do not want another syndrome. Their job is to help the patient medically, not legally. There are also many related 'syndromes that include:

  • The 'Battered Mother syndrome' (no battered father syndrome though they make up around a quarter of reported cases).
  • The 'Stockholm syndrome' where children are effectively held hostage by the mother, and are frightened of being 'rescued' by the father in case the mother harms them.
  • 'The Implacable hostility' syndrome where the mother is totally hostile to anything the father says or does.
  • 'S.A.I.D' (Sexual allegations in Divorce). False allegations against the father.
  • 'False Memory Syndrome' where the child 'remembers' having been abused in spite of there being no evidence of it happening.
  • 'Munchausens syndrome by proxy' where the mother uses the child sufferings to gain attention to herself.
  • 'Borderline personality disorder' where the mother is not sure about her own personality, and uses the children as a form of stability.
  • 'Pre-menstruel Tension' (PMT). Though not a disorder, some women suffer badly from this, and it can lead to constant rows, which in turn create hostile situations. It is often predictable, and efforts should be made to get help from a Doctor.

There are many more such syndromes and disorders. A brief study of these will give some idea of the 'invisible' enemies.

Though these letters, and many others to experts in the field of child welfare, go back around ten years. At the time of writing in 2002, the term PAS is still not officially recognised by the authorities. But being officially recognised and being generally recognised are two different things.