Family Bridges: An evidence based educational alternative for alienated child- parent relationships

            The next 4 day training is scheduled for June 2019 – Get in touch to book your place.

Brian O Sullivan is delighted to be bringing the only evidence based intervention program for alienated children – the family bridges program to Ireland later this year. If you are interested in participating in this training designed to enable and empower participants with the evidence based interventions to intervene effectively with alienated families simply register your interest below or contact me at

Children who reject a parent after divorce, refuse or resist contact with a parent or whose contact is characterised by extreme withdrawal or gross contempt present significant challenges to social, legal and mental health professionals.

Where the estranged child – parent relationship is a result of poor or abusive parenting Courts and child protection agencies will rightly support a child’s avoidance of contact with that parent.

However, when the degree of a child’s estrangement and hostility is not warranted and is disproportionate to the rejected parent’s behaviour, Courts and informed practitioners will often conclude that the child’s best interests are served by having contact with the rejected parent and repairing the damaged relationship between the child and rejected parent.

Many Courts may refer the children to therapy (without making changes to the existing contact orders) where, the intended goal may be to transform the child’s polarised views of his or her parents into more balanced and realistic views of each parent with the hope that the child will reconnect with the rejected parent (Warshak, 2018).

This approach may be labelled “re-unification therapy”. It is likely, helpful in mild to moderate cases of alienation where the favoured parent genuinely supports the repairing of the relationship between the child and rejected parent.

However, where alienation has progressed to the severe end of the spectrum and where, the favoured parent does not genuinely support and foster the reunification with the rejected parent such re-unification therapy is likely to be unsuccessful. This dynamic simply allows children to continue with an expressed (rather than an ascertainable) wish to refuse contact with the rejected parent.

Children who have been permitted to regulate whether and under what circumstances they will spend time in each parent’s care develop a sense of empowerment in the re-unification space.

The children and their favoured parent will cooperate with the treatment once, the practitioner agrees that the child has valid reasons for rejecting a parent or never challenges the child’s negative views of the rejected parent. This cooperation quickly evaporates though when, the practitioner resolves that the status quo is untenable and believes the child should resume a positive relationship with the rejected parent.


Family bridges is an evidence based structured 4 day educational and experiential workshop in which the rejected parent and his / her child /ren participate together without the favoured parent whose contact with the child the Court will have suspended.

The program has two primary goals First, to prepare the children to cooperate with court orders that require them to live with a parent whom they have rejected while having no contact with the favoured parent for a period of time.

Secondly, to improve the quality of the parent child relationship with the rejected parent. This jump starts the recovery of a positive child parent relationship by teaching improved communication and conflict management skills, teaches children critical thinking skills, how they (children) can resist outside pressures that leads them to act against their judgement, fostering the maintenance of balanced, realistic and compassionate views of both parents.

Warshak (2018) study was based on 83 children, 40 boys and 43 girls where, more than half were older than 14 years and 19 were older than 16 years. There were 52 rejected parents in the study where, 37% were rejected mothers from 52 families in total. The children and adolescents had been rejecting the parent for an average of 3-4 years. Typically, the Judges and Guardians ad Litem had described each of the 83 cases as “the worst case of parental alienation” or “the most severely alienated child” they had seen in their careers.

The 83 severely alienated participants were enrolled on the program after the Courts had placed the children in the day to day control of the rejected parent. The children’s contact refusal dropped from 85% (pre family bridges) to 6% (post family bridges). Depending on the outcome measure used between 75% and 96% of the children overcame their alienation.


Warshak. R. (2018) Reclaiming Parent – Child Relationships: Outcomes of Family Bridges with Alienated Children, Journal of Divorce and Remarriage accessed 10/2/19

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