Parental Alienation Syndrome and Confidentiality of Address

Last updated May 2010

Parental alienation syndrome

Legislation should state that “parental alienation syndrome” is not admissible as evidence in hearings on child custody or visitation. “Parental alienation syndrome” is a term for a situation in which one parent is accused of alienating a child from the other parent.  In situations of domestic abuse, behavior that is reasonable to protect a child from abuse may be misinterpreted as a sign of instability.  See: What is Parental Alienation Syndrome, The Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence last acc. 2/9/10.

Confidentiality of address

Legislation should state that the court, whether or not visitation is allowed, may order the address of the child and the complainant/survivor to be kept confidential. Laws should also require that advocates, protection officers and police maintain the confidentiality of the address of the child and the complainant/survivor.

Also, legislation should provide money and guidelines on infrastructure to protect victim privacy. For example, the Lawyers Collective found that Protection Officers lacked a separate office space, thus compromising victims’ privacy.  Staying Alive: Second Monitoring & Evaluation Report 2008 on the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, 2008, p. 22.

See: Family Violence:  A Model State Code (1994), Sec. 405.

CASE STUDY:  Guidelines for Domestic Violence Cases with Child Witnesses

Many incidents of domestic violence occur with children as witnesses. This exposure is a matter of continuing concern to child protection and child welfare professionals, as well as domestic violence service providers and domestic violence complainant/survivors. While children exposed to domestic violence may be negatively impacted by such exposure, there are many steps that can be taken which can ameliorate these possible impacts.

Beginning in 2000, in the Canadian province of British Columbia, a collaborative inter-agency group developed and began to implement Best Practice Approaches: Child Protection and Violence against Women (2004) (hereinafter “Best Practices”).  The group included practitioners and administrators from governmental agencies, medical centers, and non-governmental organizations.  These guidelines draw upon research and expert documents developed in the Canada, the UK, and the US from 1995 to 2000, with the aim of helping those working in child protection and child welfare services to better understand the impact that exposure to domestic violence was having on children, and to train child protection service providers in the dynamics of intimate partner violence.

“Best Practices” is based upon the core assumption that, in situations of domestic violence, the child’s safety is interconnected with the safety of the complainant/survivor, who is most often the child’s mother.  To protect the child, steps must be taken to protect the mother, by providing safe and supportive services in a non-punitive, non-judgmental manner.  

The report provides advocates with detailed practice options for different situations of domestic violence.  For example, it prompts the advocate to ask about the level of danger in the home, if firearms are present, the nature of any threats, and if the mother is fearful for her own or her children’s safety.

The response of the child protection system must be based upon a well-trained child protection worker’s assessment of the circumstances of the totality of the case.  If an investigation or intervention is required, the report offers practice tips for child protection service providers that support the safety of the mother, such as safe methods of contacting her, or the best way to arrange a meeting. (p. 13)

If there is an immediate concern for the safety of the children, “Best Practices” offers a series of steps for child protection service providers to take that reflect concern for the children, and at the same time, reflect respect for the person/caregiver who has been keeping the children safe to date. It suggests that caseworkers:

  • Explain reasons for the concern to the woman in a direct, non-blaming manner.
  • Elicit the woman’s and the service provider’s suggestions for a safety plan for the children.
  • Develop a safety plan that tries to keep the child with the mother if possible by focusing on her safety, her strengths, and supportive resources.
  • Explore how finances, threats and other issues might impact her options. (p. 14)

Effective intervention depends upon multi-agency, collaborative and integrated efforts that include battered women’s programs, child protection workers, law enforcement and the court system working together with the safety of the child and the mother at the forefront.  “Best practices” concludes that the child and mother benefit the most when the violent offender is removed from the home and held accountable for the violence, not by separating the child from the mother.

For assessment guidelines on evaluating the risks from batterers who profess to have changed, see Assessing Risk to Children from Batterers (2002).


UK: Tackling Domestic Violence: Providing Support for Children who have Witnessed Domestic Violence

USA: Effective Intervention in Domestic Violence and Child Maltreatment Cases:  Guidelines for Policy and Practice ; Child Custody and Visitation Decisions When the Father Has Perpetrated Violence Against the Mother (2005).