Families with children who are going through separation are in a fragile state. In order to get the best long term outcomes for children it is vital that they make it from what was once an intact family structure to a healthy separated family structure that is centred around meeting a child’s emotional and developmental needs.
Families that struggle to do this will often come to the attention of professionals. Either through the Family Court process or through reports made in schools and social services, usually after a child starts displaying protest behaviours that get them into trouble.
It is important for the network of professionals interacting with the family to understand that a child being manipulated to reject a “good enough” parent has massive implications for their emotional and psychological well being. It is crucial that service providers understand this dynamic, the assessments required, the solutions that are available and the need for them to remain neutral to support the child’s right to maintain a relationship with parents where it is safe to do so. Families may have struggled for years with this dynamic before they come to the attention of professionals and rejection of a parent is well underway. The behaviours that drives this dynamic will have been present even when the family was intact, although unlikely to have been recognised for what they were.
It is important to listen to a child’s wishes and feelings but it must be understood, that sometimes what they say they want is not actually what they want and maybe not what they need. They may have been coerced and where that is the case, it is a form of child abuse and a form of domestic abuse by proxy. Whenever a child rejects a parent, assessment is required by a psychologist who understand the attachment system, family systems, personality disorders and complex trauma or an assessment using the Dynamic Maturation Model is recommended. it is important for those assessing a child for ADHD or conduct disorders to consider if a parents attachment/adaption style is unwittingly causing symptoms/protest behaviours in the child.
Those working in public services face enormous pressures to do their jobs with limited time and money. Families know this but we also know the damage being done to children, parents and extended family members in this situation. It is imperative that awareness is raised through training programmes. That opportunities to intervene early are taken and where the situation has become serious enough that a child has experienced and emotional cutoff from a “good enough” parent (rejected them), the right therapeutic and legal interventions are put in place to support the family.
Family breakdown impacts the wider community. People who are alienated from family members may become alienated from their friends and the wider community. Family members may draw on public services for support with their mental health, behavioural problems and where there is chronic stress over time, their physical health. Parents going through family breakdown may lose focus at work reducing their productivity. It is important for professionals to recognise the significant impact the loss of a living child has on a parent or other family members.
Righttolove.uk aims to provide resources for professionals working with families to help them understand this type of family dynamic and why it is important for them to take action early. Anything you can do to get your organisation to understand this dynamic will help tens of thousands of children each year in the UK and stop adverse childhood experiences from repeating from generation to generation.