Family Bridges is an innovative educational and experiential program that helps unreasonably alienated children and adolescents adjust to living with a parent they claim to hate or fear. An increasing number of independent practitioners in the U. S., Canada, Australia, and South Africa are trained to lead the program. Family Bridges is the first non-office-based intervention for alienated children of which I am aware. In the past few years other programs have arisen that offer alternatives that may be considered. Dr. Warshak is available to discuss a wide range of interventions with interested parties. Rather than create a separate page for each new intervention that arises, this website describes Family Bridges because it is the intervention with which Dr. Warshak is most familiar and that he believes under certain circumstances has an excellent chance of helping to alleviate moderate-severe alienation. As indicated in this website’s Disclaimer, as with all material on this website, this page is for informational and educational purposes only. Nothing on the entire site should be construed as providing any professional or therapeutic recommendation.
In the past Dr. Warshak provided treatment for families with alienated children and conducted Family Bridges workshops. In order to devote more time to his research and writing Dr. Warshak does not currently provide such services. He continues to investigate the effectiveness of various interventions including outcomes of the Family Bridges workshop and has no business or legal affiliation with professionals who conduct any intervention for alienated children including Family Bridges.
In some cases the court has determined that a child’s best interests are served by placing the child in the custody of a rejected parent and suspending contact for a period of time with the other parent. In other cases, the favored parent is no longer available to care for the child. This may occur, for instance, if an abducted child is found and returned to the rejected parent, and the abducting parent is either in jail, prohibited from seeing the child, or remains underground or out of the country in order to avoid capture.
Children who reject a parent after divorce, who refuse or resist contact with a parent, or whose contact with a parent is characterized either by extreme withdrawal or gross contempt, represent one of the greatest challenges facing courts, divorced families, and the professionals who serve them. Family Bridges was designed to help families whom courts and therapists have traditionally viewed as beyond help.
Led by a team of two professionals, Family Bridges offers a safe and secure environment that gives participants, in four consecutive days, what they need to restore a normal relationship. Beyond reconnecting children with their parents, the program teaches children how to think critically and how to maintain balanced, realistic, and compassionate views of both parents. The program also helps children develop skills to resist outside pressures that can lead them to act against their judgment-a valuable lesson for teens. Parents learn how to sensitively manage their children's behavior, and the family learns tools to effectively communicate and manage conflicts.
The children and the rejected parent go through Family Bridges together as one family in a private workshop and not with a group of families. This allows the workshop leaders to schedule and tailor the program to meet the exact needs of each individual family. Usually Family Bridges takes place in a vacation setting, although in some cases the program has been conducted in the family home.
The Families Served
Family Bridges is one option to consider for a family in which a child's view of a parent and other relatives is unrealistic, the child refuses contact with a parent or shows extreme reluctance to spend time with that parent, and the family needs help adjusting to court orders that place the child in the sole custody of the rejected parent and suspend contact between the child and the other parent until specified conditions are met. Courts make such orders in cases where the evidence demonstrates that the rejected parent is better suited to meet the child's needs and that the child's contact with the favored parent will make it more difficult for the child to repair the damaged relationship.
Family Bridges may also be appropriate to consider in situations where a child’s relationship with a parent is damaged to a less severe degree, but the child’s negative attitudes and behavior toward the parent are not a reasonable and proportionate response to that parent’s behavior toward the child.
Families Not Served
Family Bridges is not for every family in which children reject a parent. It is not for:
- Children whose rejection is reasonable, proportionate to and warranted by the history of the child's relationship with the rejected parent
- Families in which the court finds that a child's relationship with a rejected parent is severely damaged but that overall it is in the child's best interests to remain with the favored parent, such as in a case where the rejected parent’s physical health renders her or him incapable of exercising custodial responsibilities
- Children whose alienation is not likely to become severe
- Families in which children who reject a parent will continue to spend most of their time away from that parent, or who will be with the rejected parent only for a short period of time before returning to the home of the favored parent. If, for instance, a rejected parent will see a child only during school vacation periods, Family Bridges is probably not the answer to the child’s alienation.
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