Sunday, August 19, 2012

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)

When you think of child abuse, what immediately comes to your mind? For each one reading this post I am sure a different scenario or act popped into your mind. This is because there are so many different forms of child abuse that very few outside of the obvious acts of child abuse are discussed or thought about. The purpose of this Critical Thinker post is to make us aware of one form of child abuse that is rarely heard of yet is extremely common. In fact, it is so common that it flies under the radar for most of us and is in many cases unrecognized by the courts in separation or divorce cases. To the frustration of many, the fact that the court may not recognize this form of abuse does not mean that it does not exist. Psychologists and therapists term this form of abuse as Parental Alienation Syndrome or PAS. Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is what Dr. Richard A. Warshak describes as a systematic process of psychological manipulation in his book Divorce Poison: Protecting the Parent-Child Bond From a Vindictive Ex., one of two books that I found fascinating and informative about PAS with the other being Brainwashing Children: Exposing and Combating the Most Common Form of Child Abuse by John T. Steinbeck.

Both Warshak and Steinbeck unpack for the reader the definition of PAS along with the ugly and dangerous impacts of being a child or children subjected to PAS. Both also describe in great detail the roles of each person who engages and who is affected by this very common form of child abuse. According to Wikipedia the free encyclopedia Parental Alienation Syndrome is term coined by Richard A. Gardner in the early 1980s to refer to what he describes as a disorder in which a child, on an ongoing basis, belittles and insults one parent without justification, due to a combination of factors, including indoctrination by the other parent and the child's own attempts to denigrate the target parent. Gardner introduced the term in a 1985 paper, describing a cluster of symptoms he had observed during the early 1980s. According to Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the Children's Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, each State provides its own definitions of child abuse and neglect based on minimum standards set by Federal law. While PAS is still being debated as to whether it is a syndrome or psychological disorder, one cannot dismiss the facts after reading the major types of abuse and neglect below (see below) that the tenets of PAS intersect many of the major types defined.

According to Mr. Steinbeck in his book Brainwashing Children, children that are kept away from a parent without just cause or reason are more likely to:
  • Use and abuse alcohol or drugs
  • Drop out of school prior to graduation
  • Get bad grades
  • Be incarcerated at some time in their life
  • Run away from home
  • Attempt suicide
  • Be diagnosed with depression
  • Have anxiety disorders
  • Have difficulties in their own relationships when they mature
  • Struggle with friendships and interpersonal interactions
  • Not trust people
  • Not have a good relationship with either parent
  • Not have healthy romantic relationships
  • Have issues of self-doubt
  • Become pregnant as teenager
  • Have anger issues
  • Lack of self-esteem
  • Difficulties in trusting his or her own perceptions
  • Lying behaviors
  • Physical aggression
  • Other social problems

He goes on to say that each child will react differently, but they will be affected in ways that are harmful to their emotional and behavioral development.

Sadly for the children, the parent who is initiating or engaging in PAS behavior is usually in denial that he/she has any part in the creation of an alienating environment by partaking in any of the following activities that include but are not limited to:
  • Bad-Mouthing
  • Bashing
  • Brainwashing
  • Isolating
  • Instilling fear
  • Encroachment
  • Selective Memory

Dr. Warshak states in his book Divorce Poison that parents are not the only targets of bad-mouthing, bashing, and brainwashing. According to Dr. Warshak, grandparents, and sometimes an entire extended family, receive the same treatment. He further states that this problem cuts across gender lines. Women and men in their roles as parents, stepparents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents are all vulnerable. And, in ALL cases, the children suffer, hence the reason for this blog post – children are suffering and being abused as a result of the behavior of the adults they are supposed to trust most in their lives.

Until reading this post, you may not have been made aware of PAS (hence another reason for this blog post), however, as a result of reading this post, I encourage you to look out for the signs of PAS in children whose parents have separated or divorced. I encourage you to read Dr. Warshak’s and John T. Steinbeck’s books referenced in this post to make yourself even more aware of what too many of our children and adults for that matter are dealing with in their daily lives. I found both books to be extremely helpful to me and thought I would share them with you in this post. PAS is something to definitely critically think about. I look forward to reading your thoughts in the commentary section of the blog. You can follow the critical thinker on Twitter @thinkcritical01.

How Is Child Abuse and Neglect Defined in Federal Law?Federal legislation lays the groundwork for States by identifying a minimum set of acts or behaviors that define child abuse and neglect. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), (42 U.S.C.A. §5106g), as amended by the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003, defines child abuse and neglect as, at minimum:
  • Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or
  • An act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.
Most Federal and State child protection laws primarily refer to cases of harm to a child caused by parents or other caregivers; they generally do not include harm caused by other people, such as acquaintances or strangers.What Are the Major Types of Child Abuse and Neglect?Within the minimum standards set by CAPTA, each State is responsible for providing its own definitions of child abuse and neglect.1 Most States recognize four major types of maltreatment: physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. Although any of the forms of child maltreatment may be found separately, they often occur in combination. In many States, abandonment and parental substance abuse are also defined as forms of child abuse or neglect.The examples provided below are for general informational purposes only. Not all States' definitions will include all of the examples listed below, and individual States' definitions may cover additional situations not mentioned here.Physical abuse is non-accidental physical injury (ranging from minor bruises to severe fractures or death) as a result of punching, beating, kicking, biting, shaking, throwing, stabbing, choking, hitting (with a hand, stick, strap, or other object), burning, or otherwise harming a child, that is inflicted by a parent, caregiver, or other person who has responsibility for the child.2 Such injury is considered abuse regardless of whether the caregiver intended to hurt the child. Physical discipline, such as spanking or paddling, is not considered abuse as long as it is reasonable and causes no bodily injury to the child.
Neglect is the failure of a parent, guardian, or other caregiver to provide for a child's basic needs. Neglect may be:
  • Physical (e.g., failure to provide necessary food or shelter, or lack of appropriate supervision)
  • Medical (e.g., failure to provide necessary medical or mental health treatment)3
  • Educational (e.g., failure to educate a child or attend to special education needs)
  • Emotional (e.g., inattention to a child's emotional needs, failure to provide psychological care, or permitting the child to use alcohol or other drugs)
These situations do not always mean a child is neglected. Sometimes cultural values, the standards of care in the community, and poverty may be contributing factors, indicating the family is in need of information or assistance. When a family fails to use information and resources, and the child's health or safety is at risk, then child welfare intervention may be required. In addition, many States provide an exception to the definition of neglect for parents who choose not to seek medical care for their children due to religious beliefs that may prohibit medical intervention.4Sexual abuse includes activities by a parent or caregiver such as fondling a child's genitals, penetration, incest, rape, sodomy, indecent exposure, and exploitation through prostitution or the production of pornographic materials.
Sexual abuse is defined by CAPTA as "the employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct; or the rape, and in cases of caretaker or inter-familial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children."
Emotional abuse (or psychological abuse) is a pattern of behavior that impairs a child's emotional development or sense of self-worth. This may include constant criticism, threats, or rejection, as well as withholding love, support, or guidance. Emotional abuse is often difficult to prove and, therefore, child protective services may not be able to intervene without evidence of harm or mental injury to the child. Emotional abuse is almost always present when other forms are identified.
Abandonment is now defined in many States as a form of neglect. In general, a child is considered to be abandoned when the parent's identity or whereabouts are unknown, the child has been left alone in circumstances where the child suffers serious harm, or the parent has failed to maintain contact with the child or provide reasonable support for a specified period of time.
Substance abuse is an element of the definition of child abuse or neglect in many States.5 Circumstances that are considered abuse or neglect in some States include:
  • Prenatal exposure of a child to harm due to the mother's use of an illegal drug or other substance
  • Manufacture of methamphetamine in the presence of a child
  • Selling, distributing, or giving illegal drugs or alcohol to a child
  • Use of a controlled substance by a caregiver that impairs the caregiver's ability to adequately care for the child

ResourcesChild Maltreatment This report summarizes child abuse statistics submitted by States to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) during 2006. It includes information about child maltreatment reports, victims, fatalities, perpetrators, services, and additional research.

Resources on the Child Welfare Information Gateway WebsiteChild Abuse and Neglect 
Defining Child Abuse and Neglect

Laws and Policies 
Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect

Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect 


Unknown said...

Thanks for your post on parental alienation. This destructive family dynamic affects countless children, parents and extended family members every year.

If you get a second, please check out The site has lots of information and resources on parental alienation that people will find helpful.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for helping to educate the public about this horrific form of child abuse.