Parental Alienation: including Fathers

Changing the culture of social work

Photo by Chris Benson on Unsplash

Providing a platform for Progressive Voices

Our guest blogger is a Senior Social Services Manager who is a change catalyst within her department. She recognises that Parent Alienation (PA) is an extremely concerning and growing problem, largely because it is not properly understood. PA is often wrongly blamed on non-resident parents and very little is being done to understand and promote the importance of children having a loving relationship with both parents. She wants to change that situation.

The CCA ethos is that parenting should be shared, not governed by one parent simply on the grounds that they obtained primary carer status — usually through an adversarial legal processes that too often causes severe and lasting damage.


Including Fathers

As a daughter of the most wonderful and precious father, a man who was my hero and my inspiration, and I miss him every day.

I write this in his memory, detailing why fathers — or other absent parents — must be part of any process. Children need fathers in their lives. I would not be who I am today without mine. Children need both parents, and erasing parents from the lives of children is hugely destructive. Yet it is still growing. Fathers are still by far and away the group most targeted by alienation, but everything can and should be related to all parents.

Make no mistake, if we do not address the problem of PA, more and more mothers will become targets as well, as gender equality at home catches up with the gender laws at work. Already, former same-sex parents are enacting PA dynamics too.

So, how do we ensure equality in parenting and prevent PA becoming a disturbing, abusive norm? What does absent or alienated parenting mean? How do we change this and include alienated parents, especially the Hidden Men…?

I have worked as a Social Worker and a manager across various domains in both public and the private sector. I am passionate about:

  • Good Social Worker practice
  • Upholding parents’ rights, families’ rights — including the rights of those who, for whatever reason, are absent or hidden in children’s lives.

I advocate for families’ rights every day and develop teams where this is held in high regard. The whole family are at the centre of all we do.

I want to reach out more to people who may find that they are lone-parenting and to often stop to ask themselves: “How did this happen? Is it me?”

For if we all change our behaviour a little for the better, our children will be the ones to thank us for it.

I design and deliver training on ‘Hidden Men: Fathers can safeguard, too.’ The training is meant to open our minds to the fact there are as many good fathers out there as mothers. They are valuable, have rights the same as the mother, and should be included fully by the social worker in everything they do.

Social workers often work with the ‘main carer’, often focused on supporting change within the family home. Who has taken on that role is largely decided before our involvement.

Learning from serious case reviews, one of the revised approaches for improved practice includes:

  • Identifying the men in the child’s life;
  • Involving fathers and other men;
  • Seeing men as protectors.

This indicates that there has been learning from serious case reviews.

But has it really changed our practice?

What is clear to me is that we need to fundamentally change the culture of social work, changing the thinking, believing that fathers can safeguard. But also, mothers can harm.

Children need safety, and where it is safe and possible, this requires both parents.

It has to be all about the children, their needs, their voice and their wishes, not the agendas of the adults, which aren’t always be child-centred. Alienating one parent from another is a growing, but lesser understood or publicised cause of harm.

My minimum expectations in social worker practice are:

  • Genograms are undertaken from the outset, who is who in the child life; these are done with the adults and done separately with children and young people. This enables us to assess those absent adults.
  • Genograms allow us to start conversation with the resident parent/main care giver.
  • “Absence” comes in many forms. Working full-time, service families, and those parents who do not live with their child, absent parenting takes many forms. I want social workers to engage with the absent parent as much as they do with the main care giver.
  • Social Workers also need to fully understand PA: the signs of it, and proven pathways and tactics that lead to it.
  • The alienated/absent parent, must be included, invited to meetings, sent reports, information should be shared equally with parents.
  • Sessions with the father (absent parent) should always take place. Their voice is vital within any assessment, court report or intervention being offered, regardless of where they reside.
  • If a child is open to social care, there are some concerns, therefore the non-resident parents may be a protective factor, and this cannot be disregarded.
  • Two parents sharing care in some form will, more often than not, be a safeguarding asset rather than an additional risk.
  • Mediating can be useful, but social workers must remain focused on the child, and they need to have the view that a child needs both parents in their life.
  • Assessments should not be signed off by managers unless there is a clear voice of the absent/alienated parent. The assessment needs to address how parental conflict impacts on the child as well as PA. Assessments and reports need to offer a balanced view, where all sides have been given equal weight, and outcomes are evidence-based, with the child at the centre.
  • Some resident parents may not be open about the alienated parent. They may say they don’t know where they live, etc. It is the social worker’s job to build a relationship with the main carer to ascertain this information, and remain focused on the importance of the child.

What we need to do to involve fathers:

  • From the very beginning, emphasise to parents how crucial the father’s role is to the child’s well-being.
  • Encourage fathers to attend appointments and classes. Make appointments for times convenient to them.
  • Involve fathers and male carers in assessments. If there are any additional needs — health, mental health, disability, or even substance issues — ask them directly about these directly in order to offer them services based on their needs.
  • Make sure fathers and male carers, including those who are not directly involved in mothers’ and children’s lives, know about concerns relating to their approach so they can take any necessary improvement action. Consult them about plans, invite them to child protection conferences and include them in core groups.
  • Some fathers — or alienated parents — may still choose not to engage. Whilst a social worker can try to acknowledge this, they must still include them by ensuring their ease of access at all times.

We need to change the narrative from seeing men as threats and to start properly appreciating their role, especially as protectors.

Why?

  • Estranged fathers and ex-partners may be able to give crucial information about a mother and children. Likewise, the siblings of an at-risk child can give insights into family dynamics and important people in their lives.
  • We must explore the potential of estranged fathers to offer protective care and stability; many can if we engage them.
  • Fathers can safeguard, too — as can the paternal family. We must adopt a whole-family approach.

Children need to know their wider family and have the right to understand their whole journey.

It is clear that the Parental Alienation, predominantly fathers, has a detrimental effect on the development of countless of children. Social workers can and should adapt their practice in order to continue on this road of change and inclusion.

In Part 2 I will highlight some of the ways in which I am modifying social worker practice under my control to be more inclusive of fathers and male role-models, and combating alienation practices wherever we encounter them.