Parental Alienation deserves more recognition and awareness as it is truly a devastating and human tragedy in the lives of children, a member of an NGO, Pierre Galea told the Malta Independent on Sunday.
The non-governmental organisation Happy Parenting – Malta (for Happier Children) has been researching the issue of Parental Alienation for five years and it was officially registered in November 2019.
Galea explained that “its main purpose is to offer support and guidance to parents, both fathers and mothers, as well as grandparents, adult children and extended families.”
He remarked that the reason he joined this particular NGO was due to a personal experience, and he has successfully found immense support and guidance through the organisation during this devastating experience.
Galea also elaborated on the issue of parental alienation which “involves one parent trying to ensure that the child does not have a healthy relationship with the other parent. This usually is carried out by thwarting or blocking complete contact between the child and the other parent, encouraging the child to be hostile and many times come up with false allegations.”
“This was recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as being related to a number of mental health issues including psychological, emotional trauma and abuse,” Galea said.
The NGO “is a registered and compliant organisation which aims to provide moral support to its members, spread awareness as much as possible, pool knowledge about family/parent bond obstruction, and deal with alienation behaviours that ultimately lead to the act of where one parent together with their extended family are completely erased without justification.”
The organisation “consists of many programmes across the media in Malta to promote positive parenting as parental alienation is an emotional child abuse. It also shares numerous ideas with its members on how to find a way forward to tackle and resolve this difficult problem,” Galea said.
“Although several suggestions have been presented to the Maltese Authorities regarding this matter, the problem still presently remains an issue as it is not being clearly identified within our courts.”
He added that the “solution would be to recognize parental alienation as a form of individual child abuse that requires a child protection response which is no different than physical and sexual abuse. This may involve child removal from the abusive parent, or in most cases, family support services aimed at educating the parent about the effects and unacceptability of alienation, as well as affecting a reunification process between the child and the targeted parent.”
One of the many issues faced by the NGO is that although many people believe that parental alienation is a burning issue, it simply stops there as one would not know what to do and how to properly address or tackle such a situation.
Galea said that “although the issue of parental alienation has been identified a few years back, there is still very little awareness on the matter. Therefore, this leads many alienated and targeted parents who choose silence and eschew from speaking up.”
“Many people ask for help but there are no set laws in Malta which include the matter of parental alienation,” Galea said.
In addition, he highlighted that “although there are a few homes for homeless men such as Dar Guzeppa Debono in Gozo and YMCA Malta, there are no shelters in Malta or Gozo that accept men with children because of domestic violence or parental alienation abuse.”
Due to this reason, the NGO is trying to open the first shelter, mainly for fathers with their children, who become homeless after separation or divorce in cases of parental alienation. This shelter would also accept women.
The COVID-19 pandemic in our country gave rise to more parental issues within families. Galea remarked that “according to media reports, Malta experienced a rise in separation and domestic violence cases.”
In fact he said that “the number of calls that the NGO received from men, women and grandparents asking for help during the Coronavirus pandemic was shocking.”
Galea also made reference to Family Minister Michael Falzon who has “recognised the problem and opened the court register for court applications, but many parents are still waiting till today to have some kind of contact with their children, and the wait is too long and unjustified.”
“Many members within the NGO feel powerless to protect their children,” Galea remarked.
He added that “our family court system which involves a “winner-takes-all” approach is encouraging and producing alienating behaviour. Our family law system needs to prevent parental alienation from occurring in the first place and encourage separating parents to maintain a strong focus on the needs of their children for both parents in their lives.”
Another issue which arises from Parental alienation is the fact that the children who are involved in the matter are very much negatively impacted.
Galea explained that “this issue has a devastating long-term impact on the children as it is a psychological trauma which not only takes years to overcome but may also result in one never completely recovering.”
Furthermore, it could also lead to children developing low self-esteem, self-hatred, lack of trust, depression, fear, disrespect or hostility toward the distant parent.”
Speaking to Sharon Darmanin, another member forming part of the NGO, said that Happy Parenting – Malta (for Happier Children) “has provided a lot of moral support and courage which was needed to speak up against domestic violence and emotional abuse like parental alienation, as children should not be turned against the other parent.”
Darmanin is a mother of two teenagers and was diagnosed with Lupus which was deteriorating her kidneys. After an unsuccessful operation for a kidney transplant, she was put on dialysis and had to stop working during the COVID-19 months due to her health conditions.
She expressed that “since then, the father has completely alienated her from seeing her two teenagers until the agreement with the court was finalised. However, the contract is completely one-sided, and I solely wish that our children can equally spend the same amount of time with both parents.”
“With such a situation I fear the psychological effects and trauma that my children are going through. Although I’ve tried to seek support, even contacting the police, nothing helps.”
Darmanin expressed that “it currently feels as though the father has kidnapped both my daughters and no authority is willing to protect them from this emotional abuse.”
She added that “the process of waiting for a response or some kind of action from the family court is too long and with my medical condition, the situation is even worse as I do not have the strength to fight all these injustices.”
“Unfortunately, the court system in Malta does not seem to be protecting children from parental alienation, and the long unjustified court delays is only making matters worse.”
If anyone is interested, the NGO can offer professional support as well as a social club which takes place at the Mosta Local Council Building, every Friday between 16:00-19:00pm.