Parental alienation – a phenomenon where one parent poisons their child against the other parent – has become such a feature of the most difficult family breakdowns that Cafcass, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, is to offer targeted support for those affected following a government-funded intensive therapeutic pilot programme .
Distinct from the all-too-common acrimony between divorcing parents, the syndrome is an internationally recognised phenomenon. In America and Canada, “parenting coordinators” are ordered and supervised by the courts to help restore relationships between parents and children identified as “alienated”. In Mexico and Brazil, alienating a child from a parent is a criminal act.
Psychiatrist Richard Gardner developed the concept 20 years ago, defining it as “a disorder that arises primarily in the context of child custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child’s campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of a programming (brainwashing) parent’s indoctrination and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the target parent.”