LENA HELLBLOM SJÖGREN, PhD., Licensed psychologist
Book chapter from the book:
Das Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). Eine interdisxiplinäre Herausforderung fur scheidugsbegleitende Berufe
Internationeale Konferenz, Frankfurt (Main), 18-19 Oktober 2002
The parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). An Interdisciplinary Challenge for Professionals Involved in Divorce
International Conference, Frankfurt (Main), 18.-19. October 2002
Wilfrid von Boch-Galhau,
Walter Andritzky &
VWB – Verlag fur Wissenschaft und Bildung 2003
Making a parent dangerous. PAS in Sweden and Norway
LENA HELLBLOM SJÖGREN
A Swedish paediatric psychiatrist and chief physician evaluated the situation for two sisters when they were 6 and 7 years old. The girls had not met their father since they were 3 and 4 years old, when their mother had alleged sexual abuse after the parent’s divorce. The psychiatrist stated, when half of the girls’ lives had passed, that the girls:
”have developed such a fear of their father that they signal discomfort and loathing both bodily and verbally whenever he is mentioned and they experience an overwhelming panic in situations that can result in any kind of contact with him, such as being able to meet him.”
This chief physician, whose words as the expert of the district court were very influential, stated that the girls’ extreme fear of their father, as well as their distancing from him, has not been caused by the mother, who had forwarded the allegations of sexual abuse, which were found to be unsubstantiated by the prosecutor:
”There were absolutely no signs that the mother consciously directed the children’s behaviour and communication.”
Cases from Sweden and Norway where children have been severely harmed when treated as if their father or mother was dangerous to the child are presented. The aim is to contribute to our knowledge of how to identify ongoing alienating processes, so that we, as professional psychologists, psychiatrists, physicians, social workers, lawyers, solicitors, judges, do not contribute to perpetrating alienation, which can result in Parental Alientation Syndrome, PAS.
In 1991 Richard Gardner was invited to Sweden to tell about his work to differentiate between true and false accusations of sexual abuse. In his work with families in separation conflicts, he had met parents, at that time mostly the mothers, who had falsely accused the other parent of abuse, and who were influencing their child, living with them, to perceive the absent parent as dangerous. In 1994 Gardner was invited to Norway to lecture on the same subject.
To alienate a child from a parent can of course be done in many other ways than claiming unsubstantiated sexual abuse. So far, in the Swedish and the Norwegian courts where I have introduced PAS in my written reports and when giving expert witness in court, PAS has not been accepted. They have not understood the fact that a parent can influence the child to turn against the other parent, and that, if this influence has gone far, the child needs help to escape that harmful influence. It has not yet been accepted that public authority figures, just like parents, can act to alienate a child from one or both parents, thereby harming the child.
In January this year a Danish organization called ”Father in support for children and parents” invited people from the Nordic countries to Copenhagen to a conference on ”Parental Alienation when parents break up.”
But to my knowledge PAS has not yet been accepted in the Nordic mental health community. This can be due to the fact that so far little has been written in our languages about PAS. It may also be that almost everyone is familiar with the fact that children can become weapons when their parents separate and/or fight for custody. Therefore it is argued that this is nothing new and need not be addressed in a new way.
Divorces are, as we all know, common. If the existing trend continues, then half of all Swedish and Norwegian marriages will result in divorce. The estimated number of couples that break up after having lived together is twice as high as for married couples.
If the trend goes on, nearly half of all Swedish children will experience that their parents separate before they are 18 years old. To be noted is that both the figures mentioned are hypothetical.
About half a million Swedish children 0-17 years old lived separated from one of their parents in 2000, the majority of these, 84 %, lived with their mother. (Source: SCB Children and their families 2000.)
When I broke up from a ”common-law” relation that had lasted twenty years our teenage daughter came to live with me, and our son stayed with his father. I became a mother again after that and now have two wonderful children in my marriage. Although separations are common, not many end up with such damage as is the case when PAS can be diagnosed. I want to warn you that I am going to tell you about some of the very sad cases I have come across in my work as an investigative psychologist. I want to tell you about a sad reality, which we can perhaps try to change.
It need not be said, but just in case, I am not talking about children rejecting a parent, where there is corroborated evidence that the children have been harmed by that parent. It is as essential to differentiate the harm done to the child by the alienator, from other sources of harm done to the child, as it is to identify the alienator.
There can be disagreement as to what ought to be considered as harmful to a child. One area where we can hopefully find consensus is the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Article 8:
” 1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home
and his correspondence.
2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this
right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a
democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the
economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for
the protection of health or morals, or for the protection. of the rights and
freedoms of others.”
If this is accepted, it follows that a child has the right to both its parents and other family members, without interference of a public authority acting on one parent’s side against the other parent, or a public authority acting without substantiated accusations against one or both parents.
If one parent prevents the child from contact with the other parent, and in so doing influences the child to reject that parent as if it was the child’s own will not to see that parent, then the child’s rights have been violated and the child has been harmed.
Two Norwegian boys protected from seeing their father
This is a case of miscarriage of justice. The accusations that the father had sexually abused the children, put forward by the mother, their maternal grandparents, and supported by the professionals involved, were made when the boys were 4 and 2 years old, in 1990, when the parents separated. One of the two therapists who questioned the boys states in his report:
”I ask M (the eldest boy 4 years old) if someone has put his willie in his mouth.
I repeat the question. He says no, but slowly. My colleague reminds him that he
told about this yesterday.”
These two experts who helped the children, to what they call, disclose, stated that they went on with therapy and:
”We have only become more and more convinced that our conclusion that M,
and probably also S (the younger brother), have been sexually abused by their
father was correct.”
The boys were given therapy as if they hade been sexually abused by their father, and the therapists concluded that they had. This is an example of confirmatory bias strengthening the alienating process.
The father was sentenced to prison and served prison for two years and three months.
I was asked in 1995 by the father’s lawyer to make an analysis of all the material in the case. When it was established by a new court as a fact five years later that the accusations were false the boys were no longer boys. They have had no contact with their father during childhood, as the mother had claimed that they didn’t want to see their father, that they were afraid of him, or that they wouldn’t feel good if they had to see him. The boys who were totally dependent on their mother couldn’t contact their father on their own.
They were brought up as if their father were dead.
Two Norwegian girls ” protected ” from seeing their father
In 1989 when Sara was two years and three months old and Anna was three and a half, they were taken to be questioned in a so called judge inquiry. That was after their mother had reported that she thought they had been sexually abused by their father. It was a psychologist who put the questions to the child, the judge sitting behind listening. In the beginning the mother was present. She said to the two little girls:
Mother: I have told her what you told me. Do you remember what you said that your dad had done?
The mother leaves the room. The psychologist then questions Anna 3.5 years and Sara 2.3 years, with the inbuilt assumption that the father has done something:
Psych.: Can you Anna remember what you told your mum about what he, dad, had done?
(Comment: The psychologist asks about what the child has said about dad to mum, not about something that might have happened. One way to help a child without suggesting too much could have been to ask a leading question in two directions: has your dad, or your mum, done anything to you that you didn’t like?)
The psychologist brings a boy-doll and a girl-doll. She points out their genitals, names them, and asks one of the girls to ”show on the girl’s genitals what he, dad, did.”
None of the girls answers. The psychologist asks:
Psych.: What was it that he touched your genitals with, did he take his finger, did he take his willie, did he take something else? / … /
The psychologist gave, as you can see, a lot of (suggestive) information in her questions. The girls sometimes said yes and sometimes no, but didn’t seem to understand. Once they said ”he shot us”, an information that was ignored by the psychologist. The psychologist praised the children for ”having told me a little about what he dad has done” so that now ”we can help you and mum and see to it so that it doesn’t happen again.” The eldest was once more reinforced to tell more:
Psych.: Did dad do something more that you want to tell about Anna? You are so clever to tell such things. Did he dad take his willie in your genitals? Sara, no, Anna?
In her report the psychologist stated that she had heard Anna tell about ”father having touched their genitals with his willie.”
The mother took the girls to therapy. Only Anna was considered old enough. From the first group session the therapists reported:
”When we went to the playroom and the mothers were about to leave, Ann clung to her mother. After the mother had left she sat in the sofa. In our introduction we said that this is a group for children who have been exposed their father having done something not good to their body, especially we have introduced the theme genitals against genitals.”
The father was sentenced to prison for one year and nine months. The girls were taken to see more and more therapists. The mother moved very far away with the girls. The success of the alienation process that had been going on was total, something that was pointed out by me in my analysis in 1999.
The girls had lost their father.
They have not seen him at any time during the thirteen years that have passed since 1989.
Now, in the summer of 2002 a high court (Hålogoland Lagmannsrett, Tromsø) has decided in accordance with the father’s appeal.
This will probably turn out to be yet another case of miscarriage of justice, where irreversible harm has been done to children.
A Norwegian court decision
On the 6th November 2001 a higher court in Norway (Gulating Lagmannsrett) decided in a PAS case, without any mention of a parental alienation syndrome. There were three expert opinions, one from a psychiatrist, appointed by the lower court, one from a psychiatrist appointed by the higher court, and one from me who had done a report at the request of the father’s lawyer when the case was to be decided in the higher court.
The psychiatrist appointed by the lower court and I had independently analysed the situation and had come to the same conclusion: that the children were harmed by their mother’s denigration of their father. He had left her, but he had not left the children, as the mother tried to make them believe. We both recommended that the children should be transferred to their father, who would guarantee that they could see their mother.
The mother’s lawyer argued, as referred by the court:
” She agrees that the children cannot grow up with a picture of their father as a
monster, but (claims that) neither she nor other adults close to the children have
influenced them against their father. /…/.”
The father’s lawyer argued, as referred by the court:
”What is to be decided is what is in the best interest of the children. The
children are cut off from contact with their father, and it is a fact that the mother
rejects the children’s right to see their father. This ought to be seen as neglect.
/ / With support from the judgments by Sjögren and Westlye it is demanded
that the children are freed from the picture of their father as an enemy. In the
long-term the prognosis concerning the injurious effects on the children is better
if the children are transferred to their father.”
The court did not take such a decision. The expert appointed by the higher court didn’t
recommend a transfer, but in a sense they accepted something that had been said about PAS.
The court wrote:
” The experts are of one opinion, and the court accepts it, that if the contact
between father and children is not re-established in a foreseeable future, this will
involve a risk that the children’s development of their personalities will be
harmed. The court appointed expert has formed his opinion that the risk of
harming the children by transferring them to father is greater than the risk of
harming them in connection with a delayed reconnection with their father. /../ In
agreement with the judgement by the expert appointed by the court the majority
has noticed that the mother is now conscious, more so than before, of the
children’s need to have contact with both parents, and that she will follow up her
responsibility to help erase the picture of the father as an enemy.”
As far as I know the eldest children have now met with their father – there is hope that the children can grow up with both their parents present in their lives.
A Swedish example
Suicide by the father when filing against the alienating mother
One day some time ago a message arrived. It said that a father who had been falsely accused of incest had taken his life. The father and I were writing a book together about sources of error when investigating accusations of child sexual abuse. The falsely accused was working as a prosecutor when his former wife, after their separation, accused him of having sexually abused her daughter/his stepdaughter at the time they all lived together. When she realised that she was believed by the police and the prosecutor investigating the case, she also accused her former husband of having raped her regularly during their marriage, and to have tried to suffocate their new born baby three times.
The accused prosecutor was detained. He was found guilty of the sex crimes he was accused of. (The alleged suffocation was dropped as it was so very obvious that it could not possibly have happened.) He was sent for a major psychiatric examination. In that psychiatric clinic he was able, for the first time, in the process, to check dates and journals which proved that many of the allegations were impossible. He was also able to have a new lawyer. The court proceedings in the lower court had to restart.
At that time I had made a thorough investigation at the request of the new lawyer. It was evident that the stepdaughter had had a loving relationship with her stepfather before the separation, and that her mother had begun to say bad things about him at the time she was told that he had found a new woman. It was also very clear from the statements by that little girl (6 years at the time) that the girl had been influenced by her mother to say the same bad things as her mother did, but that the child mixed them. There were misunderstandings, inconsistencies and contradictions in the child’s statements. Late in the process the mother presented a diary, which I found out must have been written in a short time and recently.
The accused prosecutor was found not guilty in the lower court and in the higher court.
More than one year of humiliation, including not being allowed to even see his own daughter, had then passed.
The daughter was as it is called, protected from him, with support from the professionals involved. Another word for this kind of protection is, as I see it, alienation.
He filed charges against his former wife for her false accusations of having tried to suffocate their daughter (defamation). New allegations then came from his former wife. They were supported by her lawyer, the same lawyer as represented her in her former false sexual abuse and rape accusations.
The father taught policemen shooting and one day he shot himself. Since his death his daughter has not been allowed to see her paternal grandparents. She has lost not only her father but all her relatives on his side.
Eva and Lena have not seen their father for ten years
Per and Ann Andersson separated on March 5, 1992, following a marriage that did not quite reach the five-year mark. Both stated that the relationship had been troubled. At the time they separated they had three children – Eva, nearly four, Lena two and a half years old, and a newborn son named Kalle. They were deeply in debt, having lived only two months in their newly built house, close to Ann’s parents.
They decided to have shared custody, but eight weeks after their separation, Ann suddenly filed a police complaint claiming that Per had abused both daughters sexually. She said a lot of negative things about her husband and was recommended by the child psychiatrist she went to not to let the children meet with their ”bio father.” A preliminary investigation was begun, which in turn led to Per being charged, but no evidence was found to support the allegations.
My interviews with the girls, their mother and their maternal grandparents documented that the adults close to the children had taught the girls that their dad was nasty, and that everyone who believed in him was nasty or not nice.
From my interview with Eva, then nearly 5 years old:
LHS: Do you remember what your dad looks like?
Eva. No, I don’t even remember him, I haven’t met him for a long time and I don’t
LHS: Don’t you miss him?
Eva: No, he’s nasty.
Eva says with an angry voice:
Eva: Lots of people believe in daddy, almost the whole country.
Daddy ‘s been around the whole country and said we miss him even though we
don’t. And then everyone in the city believe him and they’re dumb. But not our
friends of course.
From my interview with Lena, then three and a half years old:
LHS: Has your dad played rough with you?
Lena: No, he has been nasty to me.
LHS: What’s he done when he’s nasty?
Lena: I don’t know.
LHS: Do you remember anything?
LHS: Do you remember anything good he’s done?
LHS: Do you remember anything you’ve done with your daddy?
Lena then tells me that her maternal grandparents, her pals, and the others who live next door think her daddy is nasty, but not her paternal grandma – and she is not nice.
The district court decided regarding visitation and custody on December 21, 1993, I quote:
”The interest in that the relationship between the children and their father be reconstituted. as soon as possible will have to be seen as secondary to the consideration that the children should not be exposed to inappropriate influence, direct or indirect, through a change in their situation.”
The mother’s inappropriate influence was never addressed.
The mother, supported by her parents, who did not like Per at all, tied the girls to her. Through her consistent distancing from the girls’ father and his whole family, ‘she created a total repudiation and fear of him. This clearly was PAS, but there was no acceptance of my statement on that at that time.
After my investigative report and supplementary answers to questions put to, me as a court-appointed expert by the district attorney he decided to dismiss the indictment. Per Andersson was acquitted (March 11, 1994). But the girls were not allowed to see their father. The mother claimed they were afraid of him.
At the request of the district court in 1995, a paediatric psychiatrist and chief physician evaluated the situation in connection with a custody and visitation hearing. His report dated January 13, 1995, states that the girls:
”have developed such a fear of their father that they signal discomfort and loathing both bodily and verbally whenever he is mentioned and they experience an overwhelming panic in situations that can result in any kind of contact with him, such as being able to, meet him.”
This chief physician describes such a situation in detail when he went with mother Ann to leave Kalle with his father for a visit and the girls became totally panic-stricken:
”When the mother and I make it clear to the girls that they are to come along in the car when their mother is to turn over Kalle to their father for a coming visitation, rather than. stay with their grandmother as usual, both Eva and Lena panic. Eva protests hysterically and Lena is deeply shocked. Their mother cooperates loyally and competently in trying to de-dramatise the coming situation, but without effect.
‘When I help the mother to put the overall on Lena, something convinces both girls that this is really going to happen, Lena is so overwhelmed by panic that she fights wildly and loses all contact with her surroundings, just as Eva sitting in her corner screaming monotonously is also out of contact.”
At the time they met their father last they were just two and almost four years old. In 1995 they were just five and almost seven. They had lived with their mother and their [maternal] grandparents, who all clearly distanced themselves from the girls’ father and the whole of his family. Even so, the chief physician whose words as the expert of the district court were extremely influential, stated. that the girls’ extreme fear of their father, as well as their standing off from him, had not been caused by the mother:
”During my two visits in the mother’s home I felt that both Eva and Lena were generally mentally well developed and healthy, but with a repudiation of their father and willingness to express loathing of his person. I did not experience that there was a gramophone-like or parrot-like behaviour in Eva’s way of expressing this. On the other hand, on the surface Lena seems not as involved in the matter and sometimes gives the impression of aping her big sister. There were absolutely no signs that the mother consciously directed the children’s behaviour and communication.”
In addition to the fact that this expert seems blinded by his one-sided position for the mother and his lack of knowledge of how influence works, he also ignores the acquittal judgement and says that there probably was sexual abuse after all:
”It is not sure whether sexual abuse has occurred or not, and now it is impossible to arrive at any truth in this question. If the father is granted visitation rights, this ought to be joined with the required presence of some other person and limited to times when another person can be present in order to protect Eva and Lena against the possible risk of abuse. At the same time, this is a prerequisite for possible future attempts at providing the girls with a more positive attitude and internal picture of their father.”
The girls had and have a right to their father, but this reciprocal perspective was missing.
Their father was cut off from them, totally alienated – and still is in the year 2002, when ten years have passed.
(The professionals who supported the mother’s false allegations of sexual abuse are still
experts on child sexual abuse.)
Emma 4 was ” protected” by her mother from her father – and died
Emma, 4 years old, was protected from her father by her mother and grandmother with support from the social. workers and a child psychiatry team. I have not investigated this case, as I have with the others I’ve told you about, but I have talked several times with Emma’s paternal grandparents.
Emma was the grandchild of the Swedish ambassador in Greece. He wrote a full page article in Sweden’s biggest daily newspaper in 1998 (Björn Elmér: Dagens Nyheter 15 March, 1998) about what had happened. This was after Emma had been killed by her mother and grandmother. They had both lived to protect Emma from her father whom they, after Emma’s parent’s separation, claimed had sexually abused Emma.
This was something neither the police nor the prosecutor supported. It was decided in court that Emma must be allowed to meet with her father. She was ”rescued” from meeting her father by her mother and maternal grandmother. They took her life. After that they took their own lives. So dangerous had they made Emma’s father in the alienation process that death was preferable.
PAS – when the alienator is a parent supported by public authority figures
I think it is human and understandable that the help-seeking parent is the one whom the social workers, and other helping professionals, unconsciously choose to identify with, and whose perspective they then often have as their own spectacles. Here is one example from this year, the quotation is from the social worker’s note after a telephone call from a 6-year-old boy’s mother, who wants the social authorities to decide that the boy shall be protected from seeing his father:
”The mother tells that the boy, when he has been with his dad, has severe panic
anxiety and is unable to sleep. He cannot eat and mother has to feed him for
several. days. He says that he doesn’t want to go to his dad. / … / When we ask
what the boy has told about his visits to his dad mother tells us that he has not
been allowed to have the light on/ /, he has to brush his teeth in a special way,
he must put his knife and fork in a special way. Nor is he allowed to get the
bath room floor wet.”
Some of these absurd rationalizations were repeated by the boy.
The day before the same social worker had got a formal report from the school nurse, a
colleague of the mother’s, Here is a quotation from the first case note:
”Mother has sole custody. Not sure that there is any need to see the father. We
shall investigate the boy’s need of support and the mother’s capability to protect
the boy from his father abusing him.”
A lower court had decided in this high conflict parental case more than one year earlier
(Örebro tingsrätt dom 2001-01-22, p 15):
”What has been found out in the case doesn’t give ground to suspect the father
of, as the mother has argued, having abused the boy, or in some other way
harming him or treating him badly during his upbringing.”
When the mother rephrased her accusations this summer there were new social workers to listen and to support. Probably they wanted to help.
One-sidedness and lack of impartial investigation can make it very difficult for the courts to realize that it can be a question of a parental alienation syndrome as the alienator is supported by the social authorities. These authority figures, blinded as they are, fail to realize the ongoing alienation which is damaging to the child. They testify in court that yes, the child is afraid of the other parent, and yes, the child doesn’t want to see the other parent.
PAS when the alienators are public authority figures
This case is about a mother, who has been wrongly diagnosed as a child abuser, and painted black by the social workers. They tell her oldest daughters, now teenagers, that their mother is a liar, dangerous, incapable of taking care of them, and that she doesn’t care about them. They only allow a few supervised visits every year.
The two oldest lived with the mother and her first husband/their father until they were 10 and 9 years old. The eldest had been diagnosed by three doctors as being mentally retarded with autistic traits. Her sister had allergic problems when she was a little child, also medically documented.
The youngest daughter has been in her mother’s care only two nights in her whole life. It all started when the mother was to give birth to that girl and was, considered to be behaving strangely when she was in hospital. That girl’s father had beaten and threatened the mother, something the mother did not dare to tell about at that time. In 1999 that man was sentenced for his crimes.
A child psychiatrist wrote at the request by the social workers in charge, in 1998:
” The investigation material displays that the daughters have been exposed to the form of child abuse that is called MSbP. This has been most actively and most potentially handicapping for the youngest girl, but the same fundamental problem also exists for the eldest and her sister.
The investigation material also displays that the mother, in spite of confrontations with information about the real health conditions for the children and attempts to give pedagogic and psychosocial support, has not succeeded in breaking her behaviour to falsify the history of illness for the children.”
This statement made at the request of the social workers confirmed the diagnosis of Münchausen syndrome by proxy the social workers had already made. They did this on the initiative of the paediatrician when the mother gave birth to her third child in 1996 and behaved strangely ( because she was abused and threatened). When the mother complained. about the diagnosis to the authority in charge, pointing out that the doctor had never seen her, or any of her children, the answer was that she had no right to complain as she had not been the doctor’s patient.
The three daughters were sent to two different foster homes 200 kilometres away from their mother. The two oldest are allowed to meet with their mother under supervision two hours every six weeks, the youngest only two hours every second month.
The mother fights the social authorities for the sake of fighting, the social workers say, and this proves that she is in a ”pathological state”, according to them. Also according to the social workers, the mother has to come out of that pathological state if she is ever to have any chance to have her children back.
The eldest daughters have been influenced to see their mother the same way as the authority figures do, that is, as a dangerous person incapable of taking care of her children.
Her new born baby boy was taken into forced custody only a few days old, on the initiative of the social workers responsible for the daughters. This new born boy and his father have been kept in an emergency and investigation home for more than one year.
The task given to the father by the social workers was to protect the child from his mother. He has repeatedly been informed about his wife’s dangerousness.
The social workers have tried to force the father to choose between the child and the mother. Without success. They have kept contact over the phone and their love has survived. Now – after 601 days of separation and forced custody – they have been allowed to be a family once again.
The youngest has not developed PAS, the second youngest child doesn’t know that the lady she meets now and then is her mother. The two eldest, I think, have developed. PAS.
When their mother got serious cancer last summer the girls did not answer when she phoned them at the decided time. I wrote a letter to the girls telling them that their mother needed to talk to them and gave some numbers.
After a month I received a letter from the social authorities criticizing me for having written to the girls. The last sentence was: ”For your information, the girls have not received your letter.”
Another alienated Swedish mother
I’d like to tell you a few words about another child who was alienated from his mother. If that boy, Daniel Sigström, had lived he would have celebrated his 25th birthday last Sunday. But he didn’t survive his fourteenth birthday. He had then been separated from his mother for three years, and forced to live with people who did not take his diseases seriously, and who had no love for him. Daniel had diagnosed epilepsy, a minor heart problem and a tumour in the hypothalamus, which his first doctor thought caused his hormone disturbances so that he developed physically into a man when he was eleven years old. He was sensitive to infections, as was his mother, who had lung problems, and other diseases. Daniel’s father left home when Daniel was a baby, he had psychiatric problems and didn’t take part in Daniel’s upbringing.
Daniel’s mother wanted the best care possible for Daniel. She asked the social authorities for help when Daniel was a preschool child, and her own father was dying. Daniel was able to stay in another family sometimes.
The mother there thought Daniel’s mother was overprotective. Daniel was taken to different institutions, not the ones his mother chose.
His mother, who criticized the care that was given to her son, was diagnosed as Daniel’s biggest problem. It was said that she had a symbiotic relation and that Daniel had to be released from his mother, who worried too much about him.
It was decided that Daniel would be much better off away from his mother, in a better home than hers. Daniel was taken into forced custody.
First he was taken to the child psychiatric clinic, and then to a children’s home when he was eleven years old (and looked like a man).
A child psychiatrist, former colleague for ten years with the social worker in charge, when they both worked in the child psychiatry clinic, declared:
”In a future foster home for Daniel it is very important that the mother’s contact with him is restricted, so that the placement gives the boy the opportunity not only to root himself in his new setting, but also to be relieved from unnecessary loyalty conflicts.”
The social worker has noted in her journals that the only loyalty Daniel had at the time was to his mother.
Daniel was taken 400 kilometres to a foster father who, as was found out by Daniel’s mother, had recently been treated for his heroin addiction and who had also been sentenced for drunken driving (being drunk while there was a child in the car). The foster mother was in her thirties. She had had her first child with an unknown father at fifteen years of age. These two foster parents had just had a baby together when they were chosen by the social authorities as a qualified foster home for Daniel.
A person in charge of the forced custody explained:
”The foster parents were chosen for their good references regarding their
experiences and capability of handling the contact with the placed children’s
The foster parents did not at all like Daniel’s mother who was worried that they could not take care of her son. She was not allowed in their home, and as time passed she was not allowed to phone her son.
Daniel wrote letters to his mothers in the beginning of the placement. Here is one:
I prefer to live with you. I think this LVU (the forced custody, my remark) is
exaggerated. Take for example Nina, she also has LVU. But she is allowed to
have her mum sleeping here.
PS: I don’t like it here.
Bye from Daniel.”
After two and a half years in the foster home the responsible social worker wrote in her journal that Daniel:
”Does not consider himself to stand his mother, if she does not change. I have offered mother economic help to afford therapy. Mother has refused in writing.”
When Daniel had been sexually abused by an older teenage boy in the foster home Daniel was moved to a former alcoholic, who was acquainted with the foster parents. This young man knew even less about epilepsy than the foster parents. Daniel didn’t phone his mother. At that time he was totally alienated from her, he had been told that she didn’t care for him but just wanted to criticize and use him as a spy. Daniel continued to have recurrent seizures, also several major seizures.
His mother wrote desperate letters to the authorities because she was worried. She got no
answers. The day after Daniel’s death Daniel’s responsible parents, the authority figures,
wrote an answer that Daniel was very well. They had not yet received the message that
Daniel had died the night before after repeated major seizures from the early evening.
The mother describes herself as being more dead than alive. Every day she is tortured by the thoughts of her son’s suffering and his death. After some years she sued the authorities for his death and for the suffering they caused him and her, when they cut them off from each other.
(Both court instances have decided in favour of the social authorities and the child psychiatric clinic. The mother was sentenced to pay about 2 million Swedish crowns for the costs in court. The Supreme Court in Sweden has refused the mother’s appeal.)
According to the
• Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 12),
• the European Convention. of Human Rights (Article .8),
• and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 16)
a child, has a right to family life. When a child is influenced to think of a parent, who has not harmed the child, as someone not worth seeing, or worse, as someone to be afraid of and to reject, then that child’s human rights have been violated.
It is a child’s right to keep as close contact as possible with parents, siblings and extended family.
What have I tried to say today in my lecture on PAS in Sweden and Norway?
• Firstly children are harmed, mentally and sometimes also physically, if their rights to family life is violated, and they are separated from a parent who has never done any harm to the child, and with whom they have had a loving relationship.
• Secondly it has to be acknowledged what parental alienation and parental alienation syndrome is so that professionals do no contribute to harming children in an ongoing alienation process resulting in PAS.
• The alienator/-s must be identified to be able to stop the harm done to the child.
This must be done whether the alienator is
– a parent alienating the child from the other parent (sometimes supported by her/his parents),
– or it is one parent with support from one or several authority figures,
– or one or several professionals in the social welfare system who has taken over custody.
What we know is that there is a long way to go, as so many professionals must, in the best interest of their own job, reject the idea of themselves contributing to harm children or even worse be identified as alienators.
Research is lacking. One thing that ought to be investigated is the long term effects on children who have been separated from a parent and have been influenced to reject that parent, a rejection that has been incorporated, and has led to a separation over childhood, and adulthood, as in the two Norwegian and in one of the Swedish cases I have told you a little about.