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Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?

Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?
Alternative Psychotherapies: Evaluating Unconventional Mental Health Treatments

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Kafka Again: More on Capture of Child Custody Proceedings by Attachment Therapists

I have more to tell about “Eve Innocenti”, the mother whose struggles for contact with her children I discussed at and elsewhere. I think now I should have named her “Josefine K.”, because her situation is becoming more and more reminiscent of The Trial, with its unstated accusations, empty courtroom, and efforts to make the protagonist punish himself.

As some readers will remember, Eve had two sons while living in Colorado. The boys had different fathers, but only one of the fathers was in the picture, and he and a new partner offered occasional care to both boys. Several years ago, Eve left the children with that couple while traveling--  and when she returned found that they refused to let her take the boys home. (Note, by the way, that while the older boy was the son of the man caring for him, the  younger boy was not biologically related to either of the caregivers.) Eve remained in the state of Colorado for some time, during which period she sought legal and judicial help that would allow her contact with her children, and preferably physical custody--  but without much success.

Eve married and moved out of the state with her new husband. She continued to try to work with Colorado authorities and found that she was being accused of having neglected and abused the boys earlier. She was assigned an attorney to represent her interests, but found and still finds that this person does not return calls nor apprise her of court dates. Meanwhile, the children’s “stepmother” (not legally, but for all practical purposes) enlisted the help of a local practitioner of Attachment Therapy, who began to serve not only as the children’s therapist but as an evaluator communicating with the court—an ethically questionable combination.

In Attachment Therapy, a stated goal is to remove attachment to a previous caregiver, and to establish attachment to a new adult. The tenets of AT suggest that this is to be accomplished in part by requiring a child to agree with and repeat statements about the abusive or neglectful treatment of the early caregiver, and to express rage against that person as instructed. Through this procedure, any child cooperating with AT will say that a caregiver was abusive. Statements made in this way by Eve’s children were the apparent source of abuse accusations against her—the accusations that are being used as an argument in favor of preventing her from having contact with the children, and eventually of terminating her parental rights. (Eve has never been told what the accusations against her actually are, so she cannot defend herself; instead of telling her, Colorado authorities suggested that she make a list of all the bad things she had done, and they would check those against what the boys were reported to have said.)

Paradoxically, when AT practitioners wish to foster an attachment between a child and a new caregiver, one of their tools is to separate an uncooperative child from the current caregiver and to send him or her to “respite care”, where treatment is austere and minimally enjoyable. This treatment has been used with Eve’s older son, in contradiction to the conventional view that attachment is encouraged by increased pleasurable social interaction with an adult caregiver. He apparently disliked this treatment very much.

A month or so ago, Eve came to the conclusion that for her own sake and that of the children, since the termination of her parental rights seemed to be unavoidable,  she might do well to relinquish her rights. This action would make the children both adoptable by their stepmother, and enable the father of the older boy able to adopt the younger one. Eve and her husband have spent all their savings, but their income is too large to make them eligible for legal aid, and without counsel they have no idea how to pursue the matter any farther.  Relinquishment could reduce the difficulties the children are presently going through, Eve thought.

But no! A telephone call from the Colorado authorities has advised Eve that she cannot relinquish. To do so, she would have to be available for counseling about relinquishment, and as she lives in a different state, this is not possible. The children’s caseworker has said that it is only a matter of time until her parental rights are terminated, in any case. In addition to its Kafkaesque features, this makes the case take on aspects of the judgment of Solomon--  if Solomon had said, “All right, this mother gives up, but let’s cut the child in half anyway”, but instead of cutting, subjected the child to abusive practices labeled as psychotherapy.   

What does the law actually say about this situation? According to S.N. Katz’s book Family Law in America (Oxford University Press, 2011), “Federal guidelines [the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997] mandate that a state make reasonable efforts to prevent the removal of children from their families except in the most aggravated circumstances of abuse. The goal is to insure that parental rights are respected, on the one hand, and the best interest of the child is served, on the other.”

The law [Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, amended 1996] also requires that in child protection proceedings the child must have independent counsel. An attorney representing the child is not the same as a guardian ad litem (GAL). As Katz notes, “The difference between an attorney for the child and a GAL is… that the attorney represents the child whereas the GAL represents the GAL’s opinion as to the child’s best interests.”

Neither of these two legal requirements has been met in Eve’s children’s case. Of course, it is an awkward case because of the different relationships of the two children to their present caregivers. In the case of the older boy, he is living with one biological parent, and the only question about the situation is how his relationship with his birth mother is to be handled. In the case of the younger boy, neither of the present caregivers is biological kin, so the roles of both of them, in addition to the connection with the birth mother, require legal examination.  

Eve and her children need legal counsel, but they appear to be captives of the Attachment Therapy belief system as it has taken over a county’s practices. They will not get the counsel they are entitled to from the county, nor will they get any explanations or opportunities to deal with accusations.  I have suggested that Eve contact the American Civil Liberties Union for help in a situation where government is interfering with citizens’ rights.


    Just came across this article today. Compliant adoptees are actually in the most pain. Adopted children just cannot win.

    1. The man who wrote that article says himself that he has no idea what babies are perceptually or cognitively capable of. Once again, we see claims about adoption that are based on guesswork rather than systematic evidence.

      As a matter of fact, adopted children can win, and most of them do. See for a description of research on children adopted from some of the worst possible institutions. Most of them did very well, and the most common problem was delayed language development.

  2. Delayed language development is indeed a problem.