Rhode Island taxpayers have contributed an enormous sum to wage a war that most of us know nothing about. The systems our state established to protect children have instead subjected many to danger and trauma that will profoundly shape the rest of their lives. Who will help to build public awareness and political consensus to protect children from those who prey on them or who profit from their abuse? How should government respond in ways that are transparent and accountable?

Friday, May 9, 2008

Junk Science in Custody Courts

If there were an international child protection award for clinicians, I would nominate The Psychologists Board of Queensland, Australia. On March 3, 2008, the board disciplined prominent Brisbane clinical psychologist William Wrigley for unprofessional behavior when he reported "parental alienation syndrome" in a custody case.

Those investigating Dr. Wrigley unanimously ruled that his evidence three years ago, which led to a mother losing custody of her two children, constituted "professional conduct that demonstrates incompetence or a lack of adequate knowledge, skill, judgment or care."

Search the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) for "parental alienation syndrome" (PAS), and you will not find it recognized as a scientific diagnosis.

New Jersey psychiatrist Richard Gardner created PAS without peer review in 1985 and used it to build a lucrative career winning child custody for fathers until his suicide in 2003.

Gardner convinced judges that children who complain of physical and sexual abuse by their fathers have been merely "alienated" against those fathers by their mothers. This diverted the court: Instead of investigating potential criminal charges, courts began punishing those who reported the alleged crimes.

Meanwhile, Gardner lobbied against mandatory reporting of child sex abuse and wrote, "The child should be able to pity the father for the curse (in our society) of having pedophilic tendencies. In other times and other places, he would be considered normal."

In 2006, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges discredited Gardner’s "syndrome" for its failure to meet standards of evidence. The Council urges judges to strike references to "parental alienation" from any reports to the court.

Yet efforts to portray Gardner's junk science as valid and reliable continue to spread like a virus. Over the past three years, alienation activists persuaded Bermuda's minister of rehabilitation and an assortment of United States governors to announce a "Parental Alienation Awareness Day," affirming the jargon, while dropping claims to be a psychiatric "syndrome." They called for children's "right to be loved by both parents."

That notion may sound benign, but it has often proved deadly.

Some people might condemn pediatrician Amy Castillo, who admitted to hiding her children from their father when she saw alarming signs in his behavior. She warned a judge that her estranged husband, Mark Castillo, had threatened to punish her by killing their children. She pleaded for a permanent restraining order. But a psychologist reported that the father spoke of his love and commitment to his children, and evaluated him at low risk if he took his meds.

The judge ordered the mother to hand over the children, ages 2, 4, and 6, for unsupervised visits. On March 29th, they went with their father on a trip to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Instead of bringing them home, Mark Castillo ended their visit by drowning them in a hotel bathtub.

The Castillo deaths brought to seven the number of Maryland children killed by their fathers in custody-related murders in the four months since Thanksgiving. It has been a wakeup call for Maryland legislators and courts to the dangers facing children who are subjected to threats, humiliation, and terror during court-ordered visitation.

Instead of promoting the junk science of parental alienation, American clinicians who want to protect children should join their Australian colleagues in condemning this fraudulent theory. They could use their knowledge to help courts recognize signs of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) that clinicians diagnosed in Mark Castillo.

Narcissists' sense of personal entitlement and exploitive behavior often find expression in what we call the "Batterer’s ABCs." Rather than acknowledge problems in themselves, narcissists project their controlling behavior onto the protective parents, whom they accuse of alienating, brainwashing, and coaching children to disrespect them.

Clinicians who reinforce this narcissistic personality disorder, or who place any parent's rights above children's safety by conjuring up parental alienation in the courtroom, should be reported to their state board of licensure and discipline. State health department websites publish complaint forms.

The Australian Board advised Dr. Wrigley that "referring to an unrecognised syndrome in his reports" violated their code of ethics. Scores of Queensland custody cases may now be challenged because of similar violations by other clinicians. In addition to saving the lives of children, the Board's censure may help to restore the integrity of their own profession.

Confidential comments may be sent to Anne Grant at parentingproject@cox.net


Share |

About the Author & Purpose

Parenting Project is a volunteer community service provided since 1996 by Mathewson Street United Methodist Church, Providence, RI, to focus on the needs of children at risk in Family Court custody cases. The coordinator, Anne Grant, is a retired United Methodist minister and former executive director of Rhode Island's largest shelter and service agency for battered women and their children. We research and write about official actions that endanger children and the parents who are trying to protect them. Our goal is to reform this area of government and to establish an effective, transparent and accountable child protective system.

We first reported on this case at http://custodyscam.blogspot.com/

To read the blog more easily, please reduce the width of your column. Some of the pictures can be enlarged by clicking once on them.

Comments and corrections may be sent in an email with no attachments to parenting project @ verizon.net

About "Parental Alienation"

If you are not familiar with Richard Gardner's theory of "parental alienation" and how it is being used in custody courts, scroll down to the earliest posting, "Junk Science in Custody Courts." For more scholarly research, visit  http://www.leadershipcouncil.org/1/pas/1.html

For more on the scandal in custody courts, see: