U.S. Representatives, Georgia Needs You

You’ve seen the news reports, heard the stories and talked about it on social media, or maybe only quietly shared it with your counselor when privately grieving what has happened to you or to your loved ones.

The next step for Georgians is to ask our policy leaders to help create momentum on this issue. Please sign the petition below and get to know your U.S. Representatives by sharing your experience with them.

What is the overall goal?

Keeping our children safe, our families stable and healthy, protecting our rights as parents and grandparents to care for our own children. To do this, we need to improve how our courts and legal professionals manage family disputes that enter the the legal system.

Did you know? We reached over 1000 signatures on our previous petition, so just imagine what we can do now!

News Report: Call for Fulton Family Court Investigation

What do Fulton County families and children need most?

If you ask parents caught in legal conflict, you’ll likely hear the word transparency.

Georgia news media, parents, advocates and legal professionals attended a press conference on April 24th that covered in detail the danger experienced by safe, loving parents and their children in family court cases.

The allegations are serious and a plea was made to Fulton County’s District Attorney Paul Howard to investigate the claims.

The press conference featured Georgia expert William Perry who is known for his news reports on ethics failures in government. Perry, who goes by Georgia Ethics Watchdog in his reports, learned just how dangerous the legal environment is for families, and decided to do something about it. Several tragic stories were shared and family law attorneys weighed in, agreeing that something needs to be done. Atlanta’s Fox5 News aired the story that evening, doing a remarkable job at laying out what is complicated and challenging to explain.

The news report explained that for these parents who are being victimized, nothing is more important to them than their children. Children are reportedly being taken from them without any regard for the law.

Perry addressed needed policy changes and spoke about his challenge to law enforcement and other authorities to investigate cases where good parents are wrongfully accused, torn from their children and set up to fail.

My Advocate Center’s term to describe the problem is profit over protection.

Outcomes make no sense given our laws and the facts in such cases.  The real needs of children are thrown by the wayside. Does it need to be this way?

The image here was taken by a news team at the Fulton County courthouse in recent years, when custody experts were paid to suppress evidence of child abuse that was substantiated by forensic evaluations and law enforcement. The litigation resulted in protection and proper medical treatment being withheld from the child.

Young adults are coming forward now to speak about their experiences such as what this child experienced when outcries for help were ignored and silenced. There is no need to wait in beginning investigations and working to remove danger by closing loopholes in state policies.

When families are exploited there is often a lack of transparency and due process in the management of the litigation, so Perry emphasized the need for parties to be allowed to record their own court proceedings.

Superior Court Rules on Recording Court Hearings

This issue was addressed by Georgia’s Supreme Court and Superior Court judges and includes recommendations from stakeholders in the press, My Advocate Center and other advocacy groups.

The new rule changes take effect in May of 2018, benefitting the public, professionals who are ethical and committed to protecting clients and children, and also benefitting the courts in creating more efficiency and positive outcomes.

Parents, grandparents, professionals and even children are speaking up about experiences and the need to take action. Contact My Advocate Center’s founder Deb Beacham here to report details to My Advocate Center or to ask for assistance.

Investigations and News Reports Matter

Learn more about what is happening across Georgia and how investigations can make all the difference in improving safety, family stability, and the ability for parents and children to recover from trauma.

Contact My Advocate Center to review case studies and data on these issues. Investigators will discover that the problems described here are wide-spread and found nationwide, but with Fulton County’s large population and high rates of domestic violence and child abuse, there is a special need for a concentrated review of cases in this area.

Background material for news reports and investigations can also be found in reports such as this story by an Augusta news station about glaring misconduct by a Guardian ad Litem who manipulated cases based upon whether vulnerable women would comply with his demands, or not.

Training Materials for Professionals on Harm Caused by Alienation of Children

This is a lot to read, but critical for professionals to get this that it is no small thing to enable this form of abuse to ruin the lives of children when you are in a position to make life better for them.

 

AAML_Alienation of Children and Parents_2015 by Deb Beacham on Scribd

Do you know how to recognize harmful behavior in children who have been turned against a parent?

Excerpts found below are borrowed from the above document and may include occasional notes by My Advocate Center as this review is part of a larger study geared toward reducing childhood trauma and improving safety for parents and children.

Page 14:

Good grades in school, excellent performance in sports and performing arts, and polite, compliant behavior in settings apart from the rejected parent comprise only some aspects of healthy psychological functioning. Children who suspend critical thinking and judge parents as either all good or all bad are prone to transfer such cognitive practices to peer relationships, resulting in the rupture of friendships at the first sign of conflict.

Alienated children’s relationships with their favored parents may appear ideal because of the absence of conflict and frustration. In some cases, though, children pay for such harmony by neglecting their own needs.22 Often these children feel responsible for their favored parent’s emotional well-being. They comfort distressed parents, serve as confidantes, and assure parents of their allegiance. Alienated children often sacrifice age-appropriate independent functioning in order to gratify favored parents’ needs to keep the children close at hand and dependent.

Page 15:

The children believe that they have their favored parents’ approval to suspend the usual rules of morality when dealing with the targets of their enmity.

Apart from what may be covert or subtle corruption of character and respect for authority, alienated children suffer overt irrational anxiety or hatred of a parent and declare their wish to completely erase good parents from their lives.

Such irrational feelings represent significant psychological disturbances, regardless of how well these children function in other domains.24 At the very least, unreasonably rejecting a parent is as serious a problem as are other irrational aversions and anxieties, such as avoidance of school, peers, or open spaces. Their obsessive hatred of rejected parents is at least as worrisome as fixed negative stereotypes and irrational prejudice toward members of religious or ethnic minorities.

Severely alienated children suffer significant impairments in their cognitive, emotional, and behavioral development.25 They maintain a highly distorted view of a parent. They are unable to give and receive love from a good parent.

What would be a normal response, if the parents were not separated?

If these children were living in an intact family, professionals would not doubt the wisdom of addressing rather than ignoring the problems.

It is not necessary to cite the long-term consequences of parental alienation to justify the importance of addressing the problem. The family’s dysfunction in the present is sufficient justification for intervention.26 In addition to alleviating the child’s obvious impairments, interventions are needed to improve the functioning of both parents. Some mental health professionals and lawyers too readily counsel rejected parents to accept the situation and wait passively for the child’s return. Those who make recommendations and decisions for these families should understand that the family is suffering and should be aware of the immense tragedy for a child to lose a parent and for a parent to lose a child.

It is easier to appreciate what is at stake when parental alienation is seen through the eyes of a parent who is the victim. One mother puts it this way:

It is like your child has died, but you can’t go through the normal grieving process. Instead you are stuck in this Twilight Zone-like nightmare with no end in sight. You know your child is being abused, and this is child abuse pure and simple, but no one will help you save their hijacked souls and you are forced to stand and watch, with your hands tied behind your back. She describes what mental health professionals term ambiguous loss or complicated loss, more difficult to resolve than grief over the death of a child because it defies closure.27 She also identifies the pain of standing by helplessly while her child’s character is corrupted.

Page 17:

In addition to the emotional impact on families, parental alienation is implicated in violence, suicides, and homicides. An example is a father who alienated his children and then conspired with them to kill their mother. Explicitly recognizing the power of the father’s influence, the district attorney charged the man with having “coerced, persuaded and enticed his children to commit this atrocious crime upon their mother.”28

Researchers have limited data on what happens over time.

Researchers can extrapolate long-term outcomes, though, from several well-developed lines of investigation. These include: the impact of exposure to poorly-managed parental conflict, the consequences of intrusive parenting, and the risks to future development associated with parental absence and unresolved conflicts with parents.30

The literature on parenting most relevant to understanding the consequences of parental alienating behavior are studies on parental psychological control, also called intrusive parenting. This is defined as parenting behavior that “constrains, invalidates, and manipulates children’s psychological and emotional experience and expression.”33 Examples of psychological control include: “If I have hurt her feelings, she stops talking to me until I please her again.” “Is less friendly to me if I don’t see things his way.” The concept of intrusive parenting was not created with alienated children in mind. But “manipulating children’s psychological and emotional experience and expression” is precisely how authorities on the psychology of alienated children describe the negative influence of the favored parent.34

This type of manipulative parenting is linked to subsequent higher levels of depression and antisocial behavior.35 Higher risk for depression is also one of the known longterm hazards of parental absence during childhood.36

Some of the dynamics of this elevated risk may not apply to situations where parental absence is caused by the child’s rejection, but most of the identified reasons for the negative impact of parental absence are relevant to the risks faced by an estranged child growing up apart from a parent and without that parent’s psychological contributions to development.

The greater the discrepancy between the amount of nurturing and involvement children received from each parent—and for severely alienated children it is the most extreme—the lower their subsequent self-esteem, life satisfaction, and quality and satisfaction with friendships, and the greater distress, romantic relationship problems, and troubled ruminations about parents these children experience when they are young adults.37

In addition, children who hold a parent in contempt risk feeling contempt for the aspects of their own personalities that reflect identifications with the rejected parents. The resulting diminished self-esteem may contribute to depression. Children cannot escape the knowledge that each parent is part of them. It is difficult to harbor great contempt for a parent without, at some level, feeling terribly impaired.

In subsequent years many of these children regret missing out on the relationship with the rejected parent. As they mature, many feel ashamed and guilty for having caused so much pain to a loving parent.

Why is it important to take action to prevent such abuse and harm?

Overcoming severe alienation usually involves extensive litigation, multiple failed attempts to modify the behaviors of the alienating parent and child, and sometimes an intensive intervention, all of which take a lot of money and time. The longer the process takes, the more the losses accumulate. The longer the absence of contact between parent and child, the more lost opportunities mount for the creation of family memories. School performances, music and dance recitals, scouting trips, science fair projects, sports events, proms, and graduation ceremonies all create memories marred in future years by the parent missing from the photographs.

Can educational programs help?

The programs teach about the impact of parental conflict on children and the importance of avoiding bad-mouthing and alienating behavior. They offer no guidance, though, on how to respond when the other parent engages in alienating behavior that places the children at risk for joining in a campaign of denigration and rejection. The programs exhort parents to refrain from behaviors that encourage alienation, but they make no suggestions to proactively protect children from succumbing to a parent’s alienating behavior or to stem the tide of alienation before it becomes severe. In short, parents receive no advice on how to respond effectively to the challenges posed by their children’s rejection and provocative, contemptuous behavior. As a result, alienated parents typically make mistakes that compound the problem.43

Therapy?

Page 25:

Counseling is not only ineffective in many cases of moderate and severe alienation. Often it makes things worse. Counselors who lack adequate understanding and competence in dealing with parental alienation may be too quick to accept at face value the favored parent and child’s representations of events.53 This can result in misdiagnosis and misguided treatment.

Detailed and Unambiguous Court Orders are Strongly Recommended

Parenting coordinators and therapists who work with high conflict cases emphasize the importance of the court issuing detailed and clear orders. A parent who is intent on obstructing the child’s contact with the other parent will exploit every loophole and ambiguity in the orders to accomplish this goal. For instance, the parent may claim that the child is coming down with a cold and can’t make the shift between homes. Or the parent will sabotage court-ordered treatment because the orders failed to specify which parent is responsible for getting the child to the therapist. Attorneys who represent rejected parents should anticipate every conceivable excuse to keep children from their clients and then ensure that the orders protect against these contingencies. If this is done at the stage of the initial temporary orders, it could help prevent alienation from taking root and becoming more severe. Attempts to corrupt a child’s view of a parent most effectively crowd out the child’s positive feelings and memories when the child has no reminders of the parent’s love and no time to enjoy that parent.55 The child becomes more dependent on the favored parent and more likely to see the absent parent through the distorting lens of the parent doing the bad-mouthing.

When their parents separate, children have no norms about what to expect. If they have regular contact with both parents from the outset, this becomes the status quo and the norm. If they lose contact with a parent, they come to regard this as normal. The longer children are apart from a parent, the stronger the negative attitudes, the more resistant to change, and the more difficult it is to reunite children with their rejected parent. The longer the children’s will dominates the behavior of adults, the more difficult it will be for the children to appreciate and accept that decisions about contact are not theirs to make.

Can courts do more to safeguard relationships between targeted parents and children?

One provision of many court orders, designed to safeguard children’s welfare, may have undesirable consequences. Parents are admonished to not speak negatively about each other to the children, not involve the children in parental conflicts, and not discuss the litigation with the children. The problem is that alienating parents, either intentionally or inadvertently, regularly violate this provision.

This places parents who are targets of badmouthing and smear campaigns in a bind. If they do not speak to their children and correct misinformation that persuades the children to see them in a bad light, they give their children no help to cope with the bad-mouthing, and may stand idly by as their relationship with their children gradually deteriorates.56 But if they do speak to their children, they risk being seen as criticizing the other parent, involving their children in the parents’ conflicts, or inappropriately exposing the children to litigation matters.

Lawyers and judges should recognize some limitations of court orders that attempt to regulate parent-child communications about the divorce. For example, parents should shield children from most adult-adult issues and not undermine the other parent’s relationship with the child—that is the true intent of such court orders. But a parent who is the target of bad-mouthing may need to defend his or her parent-child relationship by sensitively providing information to counter accusations the child hears from the other parent.

Even the most unambiguous and detailed orders will not help if they are not enforced. A parent who obstructs the children’s contact with the other parent may benefit from the status quo. In In re Miller and Todd, a New Hampshire court awarded custody to a mother who successfully interfered with the father child relationship.57 The court found that the mother alienated the children from their father, but reasoned that the children had spent the majority of their lives with her and that is where they felt most comfortable. This is typical for such cases. The absence of contact establishes a status quo that the court honors in order to spare the children drastic changes.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court vacated the award.58 It recognized that the father was denied contact with his children for more than two years, and that awarding custody to the mother because of the lack of father-child contacts rewards the mother for violating court orders.

The decision quoted the Vermont Supreme Court: Although obviously well intended, the court’s decision effectively condoned a parent’s willful alienation of a child from the other parent. Its ruling sends the unacceptable message that others might, with impunity, engage in similar misconduct.

Left undisturbed, the court’s decision would nullify the principle that the best interests of the child are furthered through a healthy and loving relationship with both parents.59 This reasoning gives voice to the most frequent complaint parents make regarding their custody litigation:

Repeated violations of orders go unpunished, with some parents making a mockery of the court’s authority.

Experts agree. Dr. Joan Kelly notes, “[A] significant number of these parents have come to believe . . . that noncompliance with court orders, whether for facilitating contact between the child and rejected parent or attending divorce education classes or therapy, brings no negative consequences.”60

Are some professionals encouraging misconduct and willfully causing psychological harm to children and safe parents?

In some cases a child runs away from the rejected parent’s home into the welcoming arms of a parent intent on driving a wedge between the child and the other parent. Law enforcement authorities can be effective in such situations by retrieving the children, giving them stern lectures, and returning them to the parent from whom they ran away. The police are more likely to do so if the court orders anticipate such an event and direct law enforcement personnel to enforce the parenting plan.

Unfortunately often the police dismiss such incidents as family matters that need to be settled in court and not by police intervention. A parent is less likely to harbor a runaway child if he or she expects swift sanction from the court for violating orders. Instead what often occurs is that the children remain out of touch with their rejected parent as the litigation slogs through a quicksand of legal maneuvering and failed psychotherapeutic attempts to remedy the problem.

Drawbacks of leaving children with the parent using alienating tactics:

Leaving the children with their favored (abusive parent who is manipulating the children and exploiting the court process) parent may be less stressful for some children in the short run, and may be a default option if the court determines that the rejected parent lacks the capacity to assume full-time care of the children. In terms of alleviating alienation, though, this option has significant drawbacks.

It is not recommended when the favored parent has a history of sabotaging treatment (e.g., repeatedly failing to bring children to appointments, or repeatedly terminating treatment until locating a therapist who supports the favored parent’s position in the litigation).

It is not recommended when the favored parent exposes the children to an emotionally toxic environment, such as intimidating the children into rejecting the other parent. The literature on domestic violence describes the manner in which efforts to turn children against a parent sometimes represent a continuation and extension of behaviors by the other parent intended to harass, control, and punish a former spouse or partner.66

Are many court professionals currently getting it wrong?

According to a consensus of studies, treatment of severely alienated children while they remain apart from the rejected parent and with the favored parent is more likely to fail than to succeed and it may make matters worse by further entrenching the child’s distorted perceptions of the rejected parent.67 This is true for all models of treatment of irrationally alienated children proposed in the literature. Extending unsuccessful treatment while the child remains with the favored parent carries the hazards of delaying, and in some cases preventing, the eventual delivery of effective help.

Custody evaluators and guardians ad litem often prefer this option because they believe it is less intrusive and requires less of an adjustment on the children’s part than removing the children from the primary care of the favored parent.

Typically, court orders for treatment under this option are open-ended with vague and non-specific treatment goals (e.g., to reunify the parent and child, or to improve the parent-child relationship).

This is the reality for most parents being pushed out of their children’s lives. Is this intentional?

If treatment fails (which is more likely than not with severely alienated children who have no contact with the rejected parent outside of therapy sessions), the rejected parent wants to return to court as soon as possible (assuming finances allow), while the favored parent delays the process as long as possible. When the case is back before the court, the judge is likely to order an updated evaluation by the original evaluator. The timing of the re-evaluation is subject to the evaluator’s schedule and is usually prolonged by the favored parent’s obstructive and delay tactics.

The longer the delay, the older the children, the more accustomed they become to living estranged from a parent, and the less likely the court will be to overturn the status quo.

Note: in going through this body of work, it seems that there is great incentive for an abusive parent to violate court orders and engage in mental cruelty by manipulating and coercing children as it is so easy to get away with causing harm this way.

To what degree will abusive parents manipulate and collude to avoid intervention?

Collusion to Discourage Interventions and Placement with the Rejected Parent:

When the favored parent worries that an evaluator, guardian ad litem, or the court are likely to hold the favored parent in large measure responsible for the children’s alienation, and may place the children primarily with the rejected parent, often the favored parent encourages the children to pretend that they have overcome their alienation. Cooperative and superficial polite behavior replaces the former avoidance and disrespect. After months and sometimes years of no contact and scornful rejection, the children begin to comply willingly with orders for contact.

In an attempt to obscure the fact that the children had ever been alienated, the favored parent and children rewrite history. In one case, after the court heard evidence about a child’s animosity toward his mother’s extended family, one boy falsely claimed that he had been having weekly phone contact with his maternal uncle. Through texts and emails requesting to meet, greeting cards signed with love, and surreptitious voice recordings, the children fulfill their assignment to create a record that the favored parent subsequently uses to argue in favor of maintaining the status quo. Toward the end of a trial, a teen contacted her mother after months of avoidance to ask to meet for dinner.

The mother was aware that the offer was a ruse. If she refused the invitation the father would claim that the mother was not doing her part toward reconciliation. If she accepted the invitation, the judge would hear that the mother-daughter relationship was on the mend and no additional intervention or custody modification was needed. After hearing the details of the children’s communications during the contact, I advised the mother to be aware that her daughter likely was recording the entire interaction. The mother replied, “Come to think of it, she left her cell phone in the center of the dining room table during the entire meal.”

It exposes the power that the favored parent has wielded all along to remedy the problem and underscores that parent’s role in fomenting, strengthening, and supporting the children’s suffering.

At the same time, it reveals a previously unseen malleability in the behavior of the favored parent and children when sufficiently motivated by the court’s authority.

The sham, intended to convince the court to take a hands-off approach, instead helps the evaluator and the court appreciate that the successful resolution of alienation requires the court’s firm expectations, oversight, and enforcement. When the children believe that, as far as the court is concerned, failure is not an option, they are more likely to engage meaningfully in efforts to repair the damaged relationship.

The fear of getting the favored parent in trouble with the court provides children with a face-saving excuse to “follow the rules” and return to a normal relationship with the other parent. The children then feel relieved to shed the burden of having to disrespect one parent for fear of disappointing the other.

Can the court or professionals expect the abusive parent to do right by the children and other parent after winning?

The parent with whom the children are aligned has carried on a lengthy campaign to support the status quo of no contact between the children and their other parent. It is unlikely that the aligned parent will be inclined to relinquish the campaign in the immediate aftermath of the court’s decision.

Tips for Lawyers Representing a Parent Who is Alienating the Children – page 67.

1. If your clients are aware that they are undermining their children’s relationships with their other parent, impress upon them the damage this is likely to cause the children in the near-term and in the future.

4. Ensure that your clients understand the possible legal consequences for interference with custodial contact and for violating court orders.

The Targeted Family Usually Does Not Recover, but Faith Remains

Despite weathering cruel treatment and untempered hatred that would drive most people away, many rejected parents maintain a steadfast commitment to their children’s welfare and invest considerable resources trying to restore positive relationships. Very often the tragedy extends to an entire half of the children’s family who remain astounded and deeply hurt at the formerly loving children’s complete estrangement.

Challenge to the Legal Community and to Healthcare Professionals

The outcome of cases with severely alienated children spells the difference between elated parents who recapture their identities as parents versus bereft parents who mourn the loss of their children and whose children grow up with parents who may be perpetrators of emotional abuse, who force them to make a child’s version of Sophie’s Choice, and fail to honor their right to love and be loved by two parents.

If they don’t find their way back to their rejected parents when these children grow up and have their own children, the next generation is deprived of a legacy.

Helping these families is challenging and a heavy responsibility.

It is not often that legal and mental health professionals get the chance to alter the course of generations.

Ready, Aim, Fire at Pain and Anguish

Following the grief over the loss of life in school shootings, I started researching and realized that others were doing the same thing, trying to find the root cause for the extreme rage and motivation to harm others. I knew from a couple of situations that what happens to children during escalated and prolonged family conflict had something to do with these rampages.

A few insights shared on Mic.com:

“A parent’s death or divorce also appears to be a commonality among some of the lone shooters — Adam Lanza (Newtown, 2012), Elliot Rodgers (Santa Barbara, 2014) and Nikolas Cruz (Parkland 2018). Research indicates boys appear to be more at risk than girls when their parents divorce, particularly when it comes to higher suicide rates.

“It’s one brick or thread that could set a child up to have more a vulnerability if someone doesn’t step in and raise a child, teaching them to respect the rights of others and that actions have consequences,” said Richard Warshak, a clinical psychologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and author of Divorce Poison, which explores acrimonious divorce and the psychological effects on children of parental bad-mouthing.

“Divorce sets in motion a set of changes that put kids at risk for problems in behavior.”

Divorce is not “inherently bad” for every child, he says. But there are risks, especially if it changes the family’s financial situation or parents “bad-mouth” each other.

Several studies over three decades show that divorce — especially an acrimonious one — can increase a child’s risk for developing depression, anxiety and engaging in criminal acts.”

These issues aren’t things we discuss often enough, but we should.

I wish I didn’t have a personal experience to validate these findings, but I do. I witnessed it in my own step-sons, when I was too young and without the authority to help them overcome what had happened to them and their mother. And, I didn’t have the right information at the time. I just knew they were suffering, and it seemed like there had to be a way to help them through it. I wish I could have done more to help them avoid failures in those early years, and the loss of one’s life later on.

No, I can’t go back in time, but I can engage leadership, stakeholders and problem-solves across society to do more with what we know now.

Remaking of Minds using Psychological Abuse

It’s possible to wear someone down to the point of making them think and act in ways they otherwise would not. This is one form of psychological abuse explained by Psychology Today in this article that reveals what happens to children who are mistreated within the context of family conflict.

My goal since beginning research on this problem, and then reporting on the ways children are used and harmed through the mismanagement of family conflict, has always been about reducing childhood trauma and disrupting cycles of dysfunction.

The dysfunction I’m referring to manifests as addiction, mental illness caused by family violence, sexual abuse and neglect of children, abandonment, financial failure and home loss, suicide and divorce as primary examples. Children experiencing these forms of dysfunction are more vulnerable to exploitation, more inclined to rage and desperation. Boys seem to be more severely impacted by divorcing parents than girls, according to this article featured on Mic.com which explains the commonality between young men involved in shooting rampages. [See Ready, Aim, Fire at Pain and Anguish]

A prominent dysfunction is also seen in how bonds between loving, safe parents and their children are broken down and destroyed. Georgia law speaks to misconduct in the form of poisoning the mind of a child against a parent, showing that this is abuse and that it harms both the child and the targeted parent.

The term often used in courts and by psychologists is parental alienation. Alienation of affection is specifically prohibited in court orders governing custody and care of children of divorced parents. If one parent acts to cause distance and break the loving bond between the child and the other parent, he or she can be held in contempt. Why this form of misconduct is not being confronted and corrected in our courts is a separate matter.

The term as an allegation of wrongdoing, however, has been improperly applied often in Georgia court cases involving actual child abuse and/or domestic violence, to blame the victimized or protective parent trying to keep the child safe and the abused parent’s rights intact.

The right to nurture and care for one’s own child is a protected right in our courts, but that right is stripped away by wrongfully condemning the targeted or abused parent for “alienating” the child from the perpetrator of abuse. As a result of this misapplication of the term alienation, it has had a polarizing effect on parents who have suffered from its use and amongst professionals involved in family conflict.

Another useful article on this subject featured in Pyschology Today can be found here.

Notoriously and across the globe, parental alienation syndrome (“PAS”) has been used by questionable custody experts to fault protective parents by claiming the safe parent has engaged in a sickness, a disorder, to cause an abused child or child who has witnessed or experienced family violence to want distance from the abusive parent. The conduct of such professionals goes against the needs of the child and is in direct conflict with laws specific to child safety and protection.

What the expert is saying to the child is that he or she should accept the abuse as normal. It is common for experts appointed or hired in custody cases to normalize abusive conduct, including psychological abuse, neglect, violence and even sexual abuse. Actually, this tactic is most commonly used in cases involving true sexual abuse of children to discredit the abused child and the parent fighting to protect the child. Of course, the expert, whether a psychologist or attorney acting as a guardian ad litem, is being paid to manage or filter information going to and from the child, to the court and other authorities, but always in a way that serves to guard the abuser and restrict the safer or more nurturing and emotionally healthy parent.

The expert is saying to the safe, protective parent that you should avoid asking for protection or else face condemnation and separation from your child. This tactic is based in fraud and often involves acts of false reporting and perjury by the experts influencing courts and other authorities against the safe parent and in favor of the abuser. Claiming that a parent who seeks help for a child who is having medical or psychological treatment withheld by an abusive parent, for example, is alienating the child from the other (abusive) parent is a false allegation.

This is extremely common in such cases involving child custody where there is evidence of actual abuse and the perpetrator expects the custody experts to suppress evidence of abuse. The false allegation serves to put the safe parent on the defensive, forcing him or her to spend more money defending against the false allegation. The focus of the expert’s investigation, instead of being on the perpetrator of abuse and on protecting the child, becomes a series of substantial steps to condemn an innocent parent. This is why U.S. legislators included language in a Congressional concurrent resolution discourages the use of “parental alienation syndrome,” as it is misused or used for wrongful purposes.

For the purposes of this article and throughout the rest of my reports, the terms alienation, alienating behavior and parental alienation are referring to the abusive conduct by either a party to family conflict or a professional engaged in targeting the safe parent and exploiting, for profit, the children involved. Any form of alienating behavior is an intentional act to cause harm and should be identified and corrected as such; children should be protected from this form of abuse.

The proposed legislation is solid, but there are other tactics involving psychological abuse and professional misconduct yet to be addressed. There are a host of false allegations and abusive methods that come in to play in litigation, but what they all have in common is that they cause trauma and increase risk of other injuries to both children and loving parents.

There is an entire body of work on this form of psychological abuse shown above in the poisoning of a child’s mind and in the manipulation of their normal behavior to break the bond between parents and children. Psychology Today featured the work of Dr. Craig Childress to explain the harm done and to demonstrate what can be done to address and correct the damaging misconduct. Excerpts of this spotlight on the issues follow:

Trauma to Safe Parents and Children

  • Enduring the experience of parental alienation is also a profound form of psychological trauma experienced by targeted parents. It is both acute and chronic, and externally inflicted. It is thus a type of domestic violence directed at the target parent. The fact that children witness such abuse of a parent also makes alienation a form of child abuse. This is perhaps the principal source of anxiety for the alienated parents, who witness the abuse of their children, and are prevented from protecting them.
  • This psychological trauma of alienated parents differs from what groups like combat veterans face when they develop PTSD, yet the experience of targeted parents is a form of trauma as debilitating as any other. Although not all parents who are victims of parental alienation experience trauma, as the same event that plunges one parent into trauma may not do so with another, those who are closely attached to their children and were actively involved in their lives most certainly do.
  • Losing the bond with your child is also a form of complex trauma. It is no coincidence that the pathology of the parent who engages in alienation is often born in complex trauma from the childhood of that parent, and that the current processes of attachment-based parental alienation are transferring onto the targeted parent a form of complex trauma. The childhood trauma experience leads to the development of the aggression behind parental alienation. From a psychodynamic perspective, the processes of parental alienation represent a reenactment of the childhood attachment trauma of the alienating parent into the current family relationships. The trauma reenactment narrative represents a false drama created by the pathology of the alienating parent, in which the targeted parent is being assigned the trauma reenactment role as the “abusive parent;” the child is being induced into accepting the trauma reenactment role as the supposedly “victimized child;” and the alienating parent adopts the role of the “protective parent.” None of this false drama, however, is true.
  • The parenting of the targeted parent is entirely in normal range, and the child is in no danger and does not need any protection from that parent.

The Nature of the Problem

  • A major impediment for victimized parents is that the problem is largely systemic in nature, as support services for alienated parents are virtually non-existent, and support services for their children are also in short supply.
  • When parents of alienated children attempt to bring their concerns to child welfare authorities, as parental alienation is a form of child abuse and thus a child protection matter, these agencies often disregard the problem, and when they do become involved, rarely share their findings in family court child custody hearings, despite the fact that this information will serve the best interests of the child.
  • In parental alienation situations the targeted parent is put on the defensive, and must continually try to prove to therapists and others that he or she is not “abusive” of the child. The targeted parent is often blamed for the child’s rejection, even though he or she did nothing wrong: “You must have done something wrong if your child doesn’t want to be with you.”
  • It is often deemed irrelevant that the parenting practices of the targeted parent are entirely within normal range. The alienating parent, often skilled in the use of adversarial combat (and thus rewarded within the current adversarial system), thus has the upper hand. In this upside-down world, your child is being taken from you, and no one seems to care or understand.
  • The emotional trauma inflicted on the targeted parent is severe, and the grief of the targeted parent is deep.

Keep in mind that the intent of the parent using alienating tactics against the targeted parent is to do harm. The effect if the abusive behavior if successful is erasing the targeted parent from the lives of their children either completely or to a significant degree.

There is no current solution to prevent this abuse or to help targeted parents and children overcome it.

  • The trauma experience captivates the psychology of the targeted parent, as the world of the targeted parent revolves entirely around the trauma experience and the false drama.
  • Repeated court dates, lawyers, therapists, custody evaluations, that all occur in the context of continuing parent-child conflict, consume the targeted parent. Yet it is vital for targeted parents to find ways of coping with the attachment-based complex trauma of parental alienation. They must strive to achieve the triumph of light over the darkness of trauma, and find their way out of the trauma experience being inflicted upon them.
  • They must free themselves from the imposed trauma experience, restoring their psychological health within the immense emotional trauma of their grief and loss.
  • As much as targeted parents desperately want to save their children, they cannot rescue their children from the quicksand by jumping into the quicksand with them. If they do, they will both perish. Instead, they must have their feet firmly planted on the ground, steady in your own emotional and psychological health, and then extend your hand to retrieve your child. But even then, given the nature of parental alienation and its profoundly damaging effects on a child, a child may not grasp the parent’s hand.

Can a Parent Engaged in Alienating Behavior Become Self-Aware and Change Course?

  • According to the work of Dr. Craig Childress, parental alienation is first and foremost an attachment-based trauma.
  • Attachment-based parental alienation is essentially a role reversal of a normal, healthy parent-child relationship.
  • Instead of serving as a “regulatory other,” which involves providing stability and meeting the child’s emotional and psychological needs, alienating parents use their children to meet their own needs, violating boundaries and seriously compromising and damaging the child’s healthy development.

If a parent is indifferent to the harm he or she is causing a child, that parent isn’t going to seek treatment and work to change behavior, let alone help heal the injury caused to children and the targeted parent. The alienating parent will refuse to acknowledge wrongdoing and, if confronted, will escalate the abusive behavior. Left to his or her own devices, the abusive parent will continue causing harm.

This pattern of continuing abuse despite laws and court orders is similar to that seen in the conduct of the perpetrator of domestic violence of a physical nature. The severity of the harm being done can be better understood by reading the statements made by Congress in House Resolution 72.

Intervention from authorities, responders, healthcare providers and other stakeholders in child protection is needed.

Learn more about tools provided to courts around the United States about coercion, bullying and deception of children, about how easy it is for the abusive parent to present as the better parent because of being skilled at lying and manipulating, and about approaches courts can take to remedy these forms of abuse.

Download and read the Judicial Guide to Child Safety in Custody Cases.

Access insights about bullying and suicide rates.

Let’s talk if you are interested in learning more about solutions.

I appreciate your time here and commitment to improving protections for our children.

Deb Beacham

Investigating Backpage and Exploitation

Exploitation is one of the worst diseases of all time in our society.

Exploitation isn’t a new disease; acts of abuse in taking advantage of those who are vulnerable, who can be beaten down, held hostage in some manner, used for work, sex, entertainment, experiments, etc., and to increase the perpetrators’ profits have occurred since the beginning of our existence.

It is almost impossible to avoid as it occurs in many forms, so when an investigation such as this one into the website Backpage and the people running it leads to a shutdown, seizure and federal charges, it’s a big win.

Exploitation of others, especially of children, isn’t going to slow down until profit centers collapse and perpetrators are exposed. In my work and throughout this website I explore and report on various forms of exploitation and abuse. I believe it’s important to identify the pressure points in society where vulnerabilities are created or worsened, where families are broken down, parent-child relationships disintegrated and children destabilized to a point that puts them at much greater risk for harm. Families in conflict, especially when children are involved, are ripe for exploitation. It is profitable to take advantage and to use children to increase profits.

Common sense, even without all of the available data, tells us that when you destabilize children, increase uncertainty, take away needed medical and psychological healthcare, traumatize them by denying access to nurturing and safe parents, enable perpetrators of physical and psychological abuse, you are setting our young ones up to fail. You are also creating inventory for those who profit from exploitation of children.

What is Backpage and what is the impact of this investigation?

As seen in Reuters online news:

Groups and political leaders working to end forced prostitution and child exploitation celebrated the shutdown of Backpage, a massive ad marketplace that is primarily used to sell sex. This effort involved multiple states and federal authorities including the FBI, IRS and also the US Postal Service. The website posting said U.S. attorneys in Arizona and California, as well as the Justice Department’s section on child exploitation and obscenity and the California and Texas attorneys general had helped shut down the website.

“Today, Backpage was shutdown. It’s a huge step. Now no child will be sold for sex through this website,” tweeted US Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

Heitkamp helped draft legislation passed by the Senate last month that makes it easier for state prosecutors and sex-trafficking victims to sue social media networks, advertisers and others that fail to keep sex trafficking and exploitative materials off their platforms. The bill passed by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 97-2.

President Donald Trump will sign the bill into law next week, said Heitkamp. The legislation, featured prominently in the popular Netflix documentary “I am Jane Doe,” amends the Communications Decency Act, which has shielded website operators from state criminal charges or civil liability if they facilitate sex ads or prostitution.

“Shutting down the largest online U.S. marketplace for sex trafficking will dramatically reduce the profitability of forcing people into the commercial sex trade, at least in the short term,” said Bradley Myles, chief executive of Polaris, an international anti-slavery group that runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

There would be “a dramatic shift in the marketplace starting tonight,” Myles added.

This article by Medium explains more about the steps and effort involved to achieve the passage of SESTA and the shutdown of Backpage.

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE FEDERAL LEGISLATION HERE.

The legislation followed a two-year investigation by the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, on which Heitkamp serves, into ads placed on Backpage.com of victims of sex trafficking, including in North Dakota.

The new federal law will empower states to do more to protect those vulnerable to trafficking. The name of the legislation is the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA).

Specifically, SESTA would:

  • Allow victims of sex trafficking to seek justice against websites that knowingly or recklessly facilitated the crimes against them.
  • Eliminate federal liability protections for websites that assist, support, or facilitate a violation of federal sex trafficking laws.
  • Enable state law enforcement officials, not just the federal Department of Justice, to take action against individuals or businesses that violate federal sex trafficking laws.

Senator Heitkamp emphasized that this legislation is necessary to immediately provide victims an avenue to seek justice for their exploitation – and make sure that companies will be held liable to the fullest extent of the law for profiting from this form of modern-day slavery.

Note: until there is greater liability and consequences for those profiting from all forms of exploitation of children, both online and offline, our children will not be safe. This work at the state and federal level to take down this website and charge the people responsible for facilitating child sex trafficking is a great step; it is already having a powerful impact on the exploitation of minors.

In local Georgia news:

Atlanta news station WSB-TV’s reporter Lauren Pozen interviewed advocate Kasey McClure of 4Sarah.net along with attorney Esther Panitch who is waging battles for victims childhood sexual abuse.

“Lots of companies who host other people, who communicate through them, are really going to be watchful for to see how far this goes because it’s not just an unpopular website like backpage, but will it affect other websites that maybe are kind of on the line,” said Channel 2 legal analyst Esther Panitch.

Advocates for victims of sex trafficking say the takedown  is a step in the right direction.

“More victims started coming forward and saying this is happening to me and I think people started recognizing they had a problem. The issue that is going on with backpage is them being held accountable for basically allowing men to exploit and rape minors,” said advocate Kasey McClure, who founded 4sarah.net.

How does this affect my community, my children?

Backpage.com let users create posts to sell items but it is mostly known for prostitution among adults but also trafficking children.

Channel 2 Action News reported child trafficking as recently as last month in Cobb County where police found prostitutes as young as 14 years old inside a Marietta motel. Teens told police they were forced to create ads on backpage.com.

Children should not be treated as commodities, should not be sold or exploited, ever. They deserve our focus, and need our time and resources to protect them. Do you agree? Contact me here to learn more about what you can do.

Noteworthy Research by My Advocate Center

Studies show that it is routine practice for professionals involved in family conflict to break down relationships between protective parents and children. It is routine practice to engage in psychological abuse of the children and to put them in harm’s way, escalating stress and worsening coping mechanisms.

These children become more vulnerable to addiction and exploitation.

Why is this happening? The answer is multi-faceted but simple:

  • It’s profitable to do so.
  • Family conflict cases create ripe opportunities to increase profits at the expense of victims of abuse and/or fraud.
  • Perpetrators of abuse are motivated to spend more to avoid consequences; they are also often led to break other laws to avoid exposure.
  • Parents who are desperate for protection, including for their children, are easy to destabilize and take advantage of during litigation; trauma is intentionally caused and used to wear them down, using up time and financial resources as well as removing community support from them in the process.
  • Children can be easily isolated or cut off from the protective parent and worn down or brainwashed into not resisting against abuse; during the course of such abuse the children are also often denied the kind of medical and psychological treatment needed to survive and cope with what has happened to them.
  • There is no oversight, let alone accountability, for those exploiting and profiting from this form of child trafficking.
    • Even in cases where child sexual abuse has been confirmed by DFCS or other forensic experts, the result is the withholding of protection and a coverup of the abuse.
    • Even when professionals obtained proof the abuser created and/or possessed child pornography, this evidence did not serve to protect the children.
  • Anyone trying to stand up for their right to protect their children faces attacks to discredit and destabilize them; and may even be denied due process, including being prevented from presenting evidence and testimony in their defense.
  • Children who have asked to be heard are silenced, with some sent out of state and isolated by appointed court professionals such as psychologists acting as “evaluators” of the family conflict concerning the children.
    • Children who are not sent away are still restricted and controlled through the use of certain therapists and/or guardians who serve to control the thought process of abused children, and filter or control the flow of information to and from the children.
    • The professionals in these roles will often also submit false reports to courts, give false testimony to protect the abuser and/or to blame the protective parent.
  • Putting profit over protection is the norm that parents are not warned of before submitting their lives and giving up their rights in our courts

Use this form to report a situation involving any of the above issues. For reports involving child abuse, click here.

Fortunately there are also legislators at the national level who understand this is a major problem;

The mishandling of family conflict by professionals who control and profit from undoing and withholding what children need, including safety and the nurturing care of a safe parent, is a problem that feeds the sexual predation industry and also benefits from it. The two areas of exploitation serve the other and conflict with the key policies and statements set forth in this concurrent resolution in our U.S. Congress.

  • Child Safety must be the first priority in matters of custody litigation, and states should improve how custody cases are adjudicated
  • 15 million children per year are exposed to domestic violence or child abuse, which are often linked
  • Child sexual abuse is significantly under-documented and under-addressed in the legal system
  • Child abuse is a major public health problem with an estimated total cost of $124 billion related to child maltreatment, including physical, sexual, psychological abuse and neglect, and that is just for one year’s worth of confirmed cases.
  • The CDC’s work on Adverse Childhood Experiences (“ACE”) further explains the harmful impact in this resolution
  • Allegations of family violence, child abuse and child sexual abuse are discounted often in litigation
  • Perpetrators of abuse are often given custody of the children. There’s more, but you get the idea.

My parting thought for you is this question:

Is it possible to strengthen families and to better protect children so that we eliminate the vulnerability of children to predators?

Deb Beacham

 

Georgia Political Update: Victim Protection and Perpetrator Accountability

Many of our citizens believe that protection for victims is the battle cry only heard from the progressive side of the aisle, but in this past legislative session I learned about the role of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board and how conservative values drove policy reform efforts to better serve victims of abuse and to improve safety and stability for our citizens.

One of the things that stood out for me is that the Georgia Baptist Mission acknowledged its members have as much to lose as other religious groups from extending statutes of limitations for suing not only sexual predators but also the entities that enabled and/or covered for the predator. In spite of this financial and public exposure risk, the Baptist leadership stated firmly its position to seek better protection for the vulnerable and real accountability for perpetrators of child exploitation.

This is not a liberal or conservative issue, nor is it a characteristic of one party or another.

It is resoundingly a matter of right versus wrong.

We need more of this form of advocacy, this type of integrity and leadership. We need more people across society to loudly and firmly, “No,” to putting profit over protection. In my work and social engagement, online and offline, I’ll continue to acknowledge and support good work by those on all sides of political, faith, protection and enforcement issues. The more we all pull together and close the divides that exist around this problem, the faster we save lives and stop abuses of all forms.

The topics of predatory behavior, the lack of transparency and accountability for perpetrators, the lack of protection for children and adult victims of abuse, and the extreme difficulty for victims and survivors to recover are ones I’ve been studying, analyzing and reporting on for years. I’ll continue this work far into the future, specifically focused on solutions that both prevent and assist in recovery.

I’m especially grateful to all participating actively and investing in creating change in this area of our society. Thank you for standing up, speaking out, and showing up repeatedly and demonstrating your commitment to improving safety and allowing for recovery.

In this section below, I’ve included an excerpt of the legislative update from the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s Public Affairs team:

SEXUAL ABUSE

“On a positive side was legislation like HB 732, sponsored by Rep. Deborah Silcox, that increases fines and penalties for pandering and solicitation for sex trafficking. These are the “middle men” who are out there drumming up business for pimps and johns. This legislation is needed to crack down on all who are a part of sexual exploitation of individuals for sex trafficking in our state. See GBC resolution on this issue https://gabaptist.egnyte.com/dl/JTaByb5jS7/RESOLUTION_ON_HUMAN_TRAFFICKING.PDF_ .

Rep. Jason Spencer addresses the topic of sexual predators at a press conference. MIKE GRIFFIN/Index

A bill that caused a sizable amount of controversy had to do with HB 605, The Hidden Predator Act. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Jason Spencer, (https://christianindex.org/children-hidden-predator-act-2018/ ) passed the House by a 170-0 vote. The bill basically allowed the statute of limitations to be extended to allow victims of child sex abuse to sue entities who had covered up child sexual abuse in the past. The bill was severely amended in the Senate. (https://christianindex.org/legislative-update-georgia-hidden-predator-act/ ) It was amended so much that there was very little legal remedy left for those whose statute of limitations had run out for criminal prosecution.  This legislation was introduced in the context of the legal cases regarding the Boy Scouts, The Catholic Church and USA Gymnastics.

Georgia Baptists supported this bill because we felt that it struck a balance in allowing the victims to sue, and the rights of the entities to defend themselves. However, because of the severe amending done by the Senate, the House did not agree with their version. The Senate would not appoint a conference committee and the House would not agree to the changes and the bill, therefore, died. This is a sad outcome for these victims/survivors of child sexual abuse.”

 

Let me know about your involvement in these issues and how I can better support you by contacting me here, and by connecting and engaging on social media.

Thank you,

Deb Beacham

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Protected: Children Traded as Commodities

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