Dr Childress Analysis – Notes 6: AFCC & NCJFCJ Joint Statement on Parent-Child Contact Problems

This is my sixth post of my line-by-line notes for the AFCC & NCJFCJ Joint Statement on Parent-Child Contact Problems.

Notes 6 is in response to the content of the first recommendation from the AFCC and JCJFCJ for a “Child Centered Approach”.


Line-by-Line Notes 6

From the AFCC & NCJFCJ:

1.  Adopt a child-centered approach

Children’s behavior should be considered in the context of what is normal for a child’s age, developmental stage, and the family socio-cultural-religious norms. This behavior may also be an expectable, adaptive reaction to stress, change, or an adverse childhood experience. The paramount focus of practitioners working with parent-child contact problems should be to promote the safety, interests, rights, and wellbeing of children and their parents/caregivers at all socioeconomic levels. Children should have the opportunity to express their views in family justice matters that concern them. The stated views of children are not necessarily determinative of their best interests.There are multiple factors that may contribute to children expressing views that do not reflect their best interests. Family justice practitioners should understand the basis for the contact child’s expressed wishes and acknowledge their rights.

Dr Childress Notes 6:

Sentence 1:

From the AFCC & NCJFCJ: “Children’s behavior should be considered in the context of what is normal for a child’s age, developmental stage, and the family socio-cultural-religious norms.”

Child Development Knowledge:

That is a broad set of child development knowledge set forth as required in application. I agree. There is no excuse for professional ignorance. I have that knowledge from a lifetime in child and family therapy, including early childhood and the neuro-development of the brain. Based on my 10 years of experience in the family courts, I seriously doubt that any forensic psychologist has the required competence based on their education, training, and experience in child development across childhood.

The required domains for professional competence required for application in the family courts are:

      • Attachment – Bowlby and others
      • Family systems – Minuchin and others
      • Personality pathology – Beck and others
      • Complex trauma – van der Kolk and others
      • Child development – Tronick and others
      • Self psychology – Kohut and others
      • DSM-5 delusional thought disorders and FDIA.

While I have this knowledge, I am fairly confident that no forensic psychologist possesses this knowledge because none of this knowledge is seen in application.

Start with Tronick in the domain of child development, and the “breach-and-repair” sequence. The worst thing we can possibly do is leave a breached attachment bond un-repaired. Child development knowledge requires an understanding for the attachment system in childhood, the importance and impact of the breach-and-repair sequence, and the role of intersubjectivity in the child’s emotional and psychological development. This child development knowledge should also include Kohut and parental self-object functions (Mirroring, Idealization, Twinship), and the role of optimal frustration for transmuting internalizations of self-object functions served by the parent into the child’s own self-structure.

I doubt the authors of this Joint Statement mean to suggest that child development knowledge (Tronick, Bowlby, Kohut) is actually a requirement since the domain of knowledge necessary is so extensive, and I suspect they meant something more superficial – but knowledge of child development needs to be required for application. There is no excuse for ignorance, the issues are too important for the child.

When possible child abuse is a considered diagnosis, our diagnosis must be accurate 100% of the time. The differential diagnosis for court-involved attachment pathology displayed by the child is possible child abuse, either 1) by the targeted-rejected parent creating the child’s attachment pathology toward this parent (a two-person attribution of causality), or 2) psychological child abuse by the allied parent creating a shared persecutory delusion in the child (a three-person triangle attribution of causality) – i.e., a false attachment pathology imposed on the child by a narcissistic-borderline-dark personality parent for the secondary gain of manipulating the court’s decisions regarding child custody (DSM-5 FDIA 300.19).

If a wrong decision is made surrounding child abuse, the court could potentially become a participant in the child abuse. To the extent that the court relies on the guidance of professional of psychology regarding the possible child abuse involved in the family, the court needs to receive accurate information.

When child abuse is a considered diagnosis, as is it in court-involved child custody conflict, the diagnosis returned from professional psychology that will guide the court’s decisions must be accurate 100% of the time.

There is no excuse for professional ignorance with such importance to the outcome of the diagnoses. Child development knowledge for all phases of childhood (Tronick, Bowlby, Kohut) is essential professional knowledge.

Cultural Considerations

Cultural considerations are prominent in all families. There are always two cultures involved, one from each parent, even in one-ethnicity families (like two White parents), there are still family cultural factors from each parent’s family of origin history. Each parent provides a family heritage, a family lineage, and a family culture to the child that is the birthright of the child. The child unites two cultures, two family lineages, two family heritages into their very self-identity. For a child to reject either parent is for the child to reject half of themselves. We need to fix the attachment pathology in the family.

We need to repair breached attachment bonds in childhood. We never leave a breached attachment bond un-repaired. That is the worst possible thing we can  do.

If there is child abuse by the targeted-rejected parent, diagnose it and protect the child. Then place it on a treatment plan and fix it. Then repair the child’s normal-range and healthy attachment bond to this parent. We always repair a breached attachment bond. The worst thing we could possibly do is leave a beached attachment bond un-repaired (Tronick: “the ugly”).

In the absence of child abuse, parents have the right to parent according to their cultural values, their personal values, and their religious values. The only relevant issue is whether there is child abuse.

In all cases of court-involved custody conflict surrounding child attachment pathology, a proper risk assessment for possible child abuse needs to be conducted to the differential diagnosis of:

      • Possible child abuse by the targeted parent creating the child’s attachment pathology toward that parent (a two-person attribution of causality),
      • Possible Child Psychological Abuse (DSM-5 V995.51) by the allied narcissistic-borderline-dark personality parent creating a shared persecutory delusion in the child (a three-person triangle attribution of causality).

The recommendation contained in this first sentence requires a substantial knowledge of child development. In the absence of child abuse, parents have the right to parent according to their cultural values, their personal values, and their religious values.

Sentence 2:

From the AFCC & NCJFCJ: “This behavior may also be an expectable, adaptive reaction to stress, change, or an adverse childhood experience.”

Kohut, optimal frustration.

In the absence of child abuse, parents have the right to parent according to their cultural values, their personal values, and their religious values. In the absence of child abuse, to restrict either parent’s time and involvement with their child would damage the child’s attachment bond to that parent, thereby harming the child and harming that parent.

Sentence 3:

From the AFCC & NCJFCJ: “The paramount focus of practitioners working with parent-child contact problems should be to promote the safety, interests, rights, and wellbeing of children and their parents/caregivers at all socioeconomic levels.”

Safety

Safety is the lead issue in the list of paramount importance. Safety of children surrounding nearly all divorced families is seldom an issue. The “safety” of children is a child abuse risk, i.e, an abusive parent. All child abuse concerns should receive a proper risk assessment.

When possible child abuse is a considered diagnosis (i.e., “safety”), a proper risk assessment should always be conducted.

The differential diagnoses with court-involved custody conflict are:

      1. Targeted Parent: possible child abuse by the targeted parent resulting in the child’s attachment pathology to that parent (a two-person attribution of causality).

If the targeted parent is abusive of the child, diagnose the child abuse and protect the child. Place the abusive parenting on a treatment plan and fix it, then restore the child’s healthy attachment bond to their parent.

      1. Allied Parent: possible Child Psychological Abuse (DSM-5 V995.51) by the allied parent who has created a shared persecutory delusion and false attachment pathology in the child for the secondary gain of nullifying the court’s orders for child custody and manipulating the court’s custody decisions (a three-person triangle attribution of causality).

If the allied parent is psychologically abusing the child, diagnose the child abuse and protect the child. Recover the child’s healthy and normal-range development. Once the child’s recovery is stabilized, restore contact with the abusive parent with enough safeguards in place to ensure that the abuse does not resume when contact with the abusive parent is restored.

All mental health professionals have duty to protect obligations. When possible child abuse (“safety”) is a considered diagnosis, as it is surrounding court-involved child custody conflict, a proper risk assessment should be always conducted. Failure to conduct a proper risk assessment for possible child abuse when possible child abuse is a considered diagnosis would represent a negligent failure in the mental health professional’s duty to protect obligations.

Cornell Law School Negligence Definition: “A failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.  The behavior usually consists of actions, but can also consist of omissions when there is some duty to act (e.g., a duty to help victims of one’s previous conduct).

https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/negligence

When child “safety” concerns are a consideration (as is indicated by the “paramount focus” recommendation from the AFCC and NCJFCJ), a proper risk assessment for possible child abuse needs to be conducted.

The potential diagnostic concern is 1) possible child abuse by the targeted parent, or 2) possible psychological child abuse by the allied narcissistic-borderline-dark personality parent who is creating a Factitious Disorder Imposed in Another (DSM-5 300.19), i.e., a false attachment pathology and shared persecutory delusion in the child, for the secondary gain of manipulating the court’s decisions on child custody through the induced child pathology.

Socioeconomic Levels

From AFCC & NCJFCJ: “…socioeconomic levels”

Equal access and equal quality of mental health services is guaranteed by Principle D Justice of the American Psychological Association.

Principle D: Justice
Psychologists recognize that fairness and justice entitle all persons to access to and benefit from the contributions of psychology and to equal quality in the processes, procedures, and services being conducted by psychologists. Psychologists exercise reasonable judgment and take precautions to ensure that their potential biases, the boundaries of their competence, and the limitations of their expertise do not lead to or condone unjust practices.

Forensic custody evaluations typically cost between $20,000 to $40,000 and take between six to nine months to complete. This denies access to mental health involvement to parents and children from lower socioeconomic levels who cannot afford the high cost of a forensic custody evaluation.

Clinical psychology can return a clinical diagnostic risk assessment of possible child abuse with second-opinion consultation for around $5,000 in four to six weeks.

Attorneys and litigation are immensely expensive, damaging the child’s future by draining parental financial resources into litigation, money that should be focused on raising the child and family. Court involvement needs to be structured to anticipate the likely presence of narcissistic, borderline, and dark personalities in the family courts, and the legal system should have a structured approach to responding to predictable pathology, i.e., for obtaining a proper diagnostic risk assessment for possible child abuse.

A structured legal approach to responding to child custody conflict in the family courts would reduce financial costs, making reasonable court-involvement available all socioeconomic levels and to pro se parents.

Research indicates that approximately 90% of all divorcing families resolve the child’s custody schedule without court involvement, and that only 10% become “high-conflict” custody cases in the courts.

From Saini & Birnbaum (2007): “Hetherington, Stanley-Hagan and Anderson (1989) note that 90 percent of custody matters are settled before the parents even reach the courts.” (p. 19)

Saini & Birnbaum (2007): “The term ‘high conflict’ has been used as an umbrella term to describe parents who experience high rates of litigation and relitigation, high degrees of anger and distrust, verbal, physical and emotional abuse, and ongoing difficulty in communicating and cooperating about the needs of their children (Johnston 1994). In fact, most estimates of high conflict families are based on ongoing litigation rates post separation/divorce. Mnookin and Kornhauser (1979) note that less than 10 per cent of parents remain in high conflict as evidenced by on-going litigation.

Research indicates that approximately 6% of the population has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), and that about 6% of the population have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).  Both are known to be high-conflict personalities.

From Stinson, et al: “Prevalence of lifetime NPD was 6.2%”

Stinson, et al., (2008). Prevalence, correlates, disability, and comorbidity of DSM-IV narcissistic personality disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 1033-1045.

From Grant, el al: “Prevalence of lifetime BPD was 5.9%”

Grant, et al., (2008). Prevalence, correlates, disability and comorbidity of DSM-IV borderline personality disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 533—545

The legal system should anticipate that approximately 10% of divorces will be high-conflict surrounding child custody, and that approximately 10% of cases will involved a narcissistic, borderline, or dark personality parent (a high-conflict parent).

Greenham & Childress (in submission):

The courts should anticipate and prepare for parental narcissistic, borderline, and dark personality pathology that will seek to manipulate the court’s decisions on child custody by making false allegations and inducing false pathology in the child.

A proper clinical diagnostic risk assessment for possible child abuse should be conducted in all cases of court-involved child custody conflict. At an estimated cost of around $5,000, a clinical diagnostic risk assessment is affordable to all socio-economic levels. The clinical diagnostic risk assessment should be to the differential diagnosis of:

      1. Targeted Parent: possible child abuse by the targeted parent resulting in the child’s attachment pathology to that parent (a two-person attribution of causality).

If the targeted parent is abusive of the child, diagnose the child abuse and protect the child. Place the abusive parenting on a treatment plan and fix it, then restore the child’s healthy attachment bond to their parent.

      1. Allied Parent: possible Child Psychological Abuse (DSM-5 V995.51) by the allied parent who has created a shared persecutory delusion and false attachment pathology in the child for the secondary gain of nullifying the court’s orders for child custody and manipulating the court’s custody decisions (a three-person triangle attribution of causality).

If the allied parent is psychologically abusing the child, diagnose the child abuse and protect the child. Recover the child’s healthy and normal-range development. Once the child’s recovery is stabilized, restore contact with the abusive parent with enough safeguards in place to ensure that the abuse does not resume when contact with the abusive parent is restored.

Sentence 4:

From the AFCC & NCJFCJ: “Children should have the opportunity to express their views in family justice matters that concern them.”

The child’s views and symptoms should be assessed within the context of a proper clinical diagnostic risk assessment for possible child abuse.

If there is no child abuse, then parents have the right to parent according to their cultural values, their personal values, and their religious values. In the absence of child abuse, to restrict either parent’s time and involvement with their child would damage the child’s attachment bond to that parent, thereby harming the child and harming that parent.

Seeking the child’s views on custody (i.e., a spousal conflict), will directly “triangulate” the child into the middle of the spousal conflict by asking the child to side with one parent’s side against the other parent’s side in the conflict. Triangulating the child into the spousal conflict is pathology and is exactly the WRONG thing to do.

When there is a “cross-generational coalition” of the child with an allied parent against the targeted parent, seeking the child’s views on any issue of spousal contention will be triggering the child’s coalition with one parent against the other – this is pathology.

The treatment for a “cross-generational coalition” is to de-triangulate the child by dis-empowering the child from issues of spousal conflict. To seek the child’s input on issues of spousal conflict will turn the child into a “custody prize” to be won by whichever parent better convinces the child to join that parent’s side in the spousal conflict issue. This is exactly the WRONG think to do, it is pathology to place the child in the middle of the spousal conflict.

The child’s views and symptoms should be assessed within the context of a proper clinical diagnostic risk assessment for possible child abuse.

If there is no child abuse, then parents have the right to parent according to their cultural values, their personal values, and their religious values, and psychologists and the courts should not be deciding which parent is the ‘better’ parent who ‘deserves’ to have the child based on arbitrary and ill-conceived criteria.

Children should NEVER testify against a parent. Children should never be made to betray either parent in testimony to a judge. The child’s views and symptoms should be collected during a proper risk assessment for possible child abuse, and the diagnostic and treatment information for the child and family should be presented to the court by the assessing clinical psychologist.

Sentence 5:

From the AFCC & NCJFCJ: “The stated views of children are not necessarily determinative of their best interests.”

The “stated views of children” are often symptoms of severe attachment pathology, possible child abuse, possible persecutory delusions shared with the allied parent, and a possible Factious Disorder Imposed on Another, i.e., a false attachment pathology imposed on the child by a narcissistic, borderline, or dark personality parent for the secondary gain of manipulating the court’s decisions on child custody by producing pathology in the child.

In all cases of court-involved child custody conflict, a proper risk assessment needs to be conducted to both sides of the differential diagnosis:

      • Targeted Parent: possible child abuse by the targeted parent resulting in the child’s attachment pathology to that parent (a two-person attribution of causality).
      • Allied Parent: possible Child Psychological Abuse (DSM-5 V995.51) by the allied parent who has created a shared persecutory delusion and false attachment pathology in the child for the secondary gain of nullifying the court’s orders for child custody and manipulating the court’s custody decisions (a three-person triangle attribution of causality).

Sentence 6:

From the AFCC & NCJFCJ: “There are multiple factors that may contribute to children expressing views that do not reflect their best interests.”

The “multiple factors” are called a “differential diagnoses” for the possible causes of the child’s symptoms.

From Wikipedia: “In healthcare, a differential diagnosis (abbreviated DDx) is a method of analysis of a patient’s history and physical examination to arrive at the correct diagnosis. It involves distinguishing a particular disease or condition from others that present with similar clinical features.”

The differential diagnoses (“multiple factors”) for court-involved child custody conflict are:

      • Targeted Parent: possible child abuse by the targeted parent resulting in the child’s attachment pathology to that parent (a two-person attribution of causality).
      • Allied Parent: possible Child Psychological Abuse (DSM-5 V995.51) by the allied parent who has created a shared persecutory delusion and false attachment pathology in the child for the secondary gain of nullifying the court’s orders for child custody and manipulating the court’s custody decisions (a three-person triangle attribution of causality).

In all cases of court-involved child custody conflict, a proper clinical diagnostic risk assessment for possible child abuse needs to be conducted.

Sentence 7:

From the AFCC & NCJFCJ: “Family justice practitioners should understand the basis for the contact child’s expressed wishes and acknowledge their rights.”

What child “rights” should be acknowledged by the judges and psychologists? Is this a legitimate recommendation for “rights”? Or is this an “inverted hierarchy” of empowering the child to an elevated position above the authority of the “family justice practitioners”? What child rights need to be acknowledged? Identify them.

In the absence of child abuse, parents have the right to parent according to their cultural values, their personal values, and their religious values. If there is a concern for possible child abuse (i.e., “safety”), then a proper clinical diagnostic risk assessment for possible child abuse needs to be conducted.

There are four DSM-5 diagnoses of child abuse, Child Physical Abuse (V995.54), Child Sexual Abuse (V995.53), Child Neglect (V995.52), Child Psychological Abuse (V995.51). In all cases of court-involved child custody conflict, a proper clinical diagnostic risk assessment for possible child abuse needs to be conducted to the differential diagnosis of:

      • Targeted Parent: possible child abuse by the targeted parent resulting in the child’s attachment pathology to that parent (a two-person attribution of causality.
      • Allied Parent: possible Child Psychological Abuse (DSM-5 V995.51) by the allied parent who has created a shared persecutory delusion and false attachment pathology in the child for the secondary gain of nullifying the court’s orders for child custody and manipulating the court’s custody decisions (a three-person triangle attribution of causality).

Dr. Childress Notes 6.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, CA PSY 18857

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