Psychotherapist, Writer, Trainer, Researcher
Putting Children First: Working with the Ascertainable Wishes and Feelings of Children Suffering from Induced Psychological Splitting
Date: 21 Feb 2023Author: karenwoodall5 Comments
When considering what order to make in respect of a child and what is in their best interests, the court must consider the statutory checklist at section 1(3) of the Children Act 1989. The first of these factors is ‘the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of their age and understanding)’.
“Ascertainable” vs “expressed” wishes and feelings
The court should draw a distinction between the child’s ascertainable wishes and feelings and their expressed wishes and feelings. This will be particularly important in cases where one parent is influencing or even coaching the child, so that what they are saying may not reflect their real wishes and feelings.
In the recent case of Re L (a child)  EWHC 867 the court emphasised that focus must be placed on the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child, stating that “actions speak louder than words”. In that case, there was a striking contrast between what the child said about his father in the presence of his mother – which was entirely negative – and the reality of their relationship. The court accepted the view of the Guardian that any expression of the child’s wishes would be unlikely to represent his true wishes and feelings, and to that extent it would not be possible to ascertain the child’s genuine view. Further, the court accepted the Guardian’s opinion that it would have been emotionally harmful to ask the child, in those particular circumstances, which parent he wanted to live with. The court also held that, whilst it is a fundamental principle which is applicable to every case, the manner and degree to which the child is heard will vary from case to case.
(Content Above from Today’s Family Lawyer)
There is a great deal of misinformation on the internet which is designed to mislead the reader on the matter of how children’s welfare is considered in the family courts. Bearing in mind that most families make the crossing from together to apart, without entering into the family courts, it is the case that those who do use them, are often forced to do so because there is no other means by which to maintain a relationship with a loved child. In the current toxic atmosphere which surrounds the family courts, it is very easy to become drawn into the polarised ideological fight which is currently focused upon attempts to obfuscate the harm which is caused to children when they are influenced or manipulated. Staying out of that, by recognising how the Children Act works, is an essential part of keeping the focus upon the welfare of the child.
When working with children who align with one parent and reject the other outright, often with contempt and sometimes with allegations which are found to be false, the focus is always on the welfare needs of the child. Understanding that children may sometimes require, interventions which prevent them from being harmed by a parent who is fixated upon their own views and through that, binding a child into their false beliefs, is about child protection. When children reject a parent who was seen to be loved and was seen to be good enough, the focus has to be upon the parent to whom the child is aligned because it is there that the pathological patterns of behaviour, which cause the child harm, are seen.
The myth that anyone who does this work is giving children to abusive fathers, is a trope which was introduced into the narrative in the UK in 2020 and it is just that, a myth. Children who are harmed in divorce and separation, are harmed by their mothers and harmed by their fathers and in such circumstances, where there is a strong alignment with one and a complete rejection of the other, children are doing the only thing they can do in extremely difficult circumstances. The primitive defence of psychological splitting, is induced by a parent whose intra-psychic conflicts create anxiety in the child, that they are either going to be abandoned by that parent or, enmesh the child into a fused dyadic relationship. This is the source of the harm to the child and where it is seen, the latent vulnerability it causes, means that there is a necessity to act to protect the child.
Despite the rise in child led theories of parenting, it is still the responsibility of adults to raise their children, who are not born with the capacity to make wise choices for themselves but are guided to understand their needs and then begin to make decisions and choices as their capacity grows. Neuroscience explains why children do not have the capacity to make reasoned decisions, in its explanation of how the brain develops and when this is understood in the context of how children are vulnerable in emotionally and psychologically charged circumstances, it is clear why decisions may have to be made which are not necessarily in line with how children express their wishes and feelings.
Understanding the ascertainable wishes and feelings of an aligned child, means that their wishes and feelings are understood in the context in which the arise and the age of the child and their understanding of what is happening. Children suffering from induced psychological splitting, in which their expression of absolute love for one parent and absolute hatred for the other, do not have the capacity to understand what is happening because they are defended against that and thus unable to make decisions for themselves which are based in reality. In circumstances such as this, the child’s wishes and feelings are heard but understood in the context in which they arise, the Court having the responsibility to make decisions on behalf of the child, some of which may not be to the child’s liking.
In circumstances where children align and reject it is the case that beneath this outward presentation are often layers of complex dynamics in the relationship between aligned parent and child and years of struggle by the rejected parent to maintain input in the child’s life. When the relationship between aligned parent and child is scrutinised over time, those layers of complex dynamics are raised to the surface, giving an opportunity to test whether that parent can change their behaviours. If a parent cannot change and the child remains in a fused dyadic relationship, consideration has to be given to how that affects the child over time. This is far away from the campaign strap lines of abusive fathers and protective mothers, it is child focused work which takes a long view of the child’s best chances for health and wellbeing. To achieve that some difficult decisions may need to be made by the Court but nonetheless it remains all about the long term wellbeing of the child.
Putting Children First in this work is about giving children the very best chance in life so that they do not have to deal with the long term psychological/psychiatric impacts of being captured in a parent’s intra-psychic conflicts, this is about child protection from a relational trauma which causes longer term fracturing of sense of self. Induced psychological splitting in divorce and separation causes longer term harms which cannot be readily seen in the here and now. Working with the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child, allows for a longer view and wise decisions on protection from that risk of harm.