The Impact of Parental Child Abduction


An abducting parent views the child’s needs as secondary to the parental agenda which is to provoke, agitate, control, attack or psychologically torture the other parent.

It is generally accepted that children are emotionally impacted by divorce. Children of troubled abductor parents bear an even greater burden. “The needs of the troubled parent override the developmental needs of the child, with the result that the child becomes psychologically depleted and their own emotional and social progress is crippled”

 

In custody disputes and abductions, the extended support systems of the parents can become part of the dispute scenario, — leading to a type of “tribal warfare” (Johnston & Campbell, 1988). Believing primarily one side of the abduction story, — family, friends, and professionals may lose their objectivity. As a result, protective concerns expressed by the abandoned parent may be viewed as undue criticism, interference, and histrionics. Thus, the abandoned parent may be ineffectual in relieving the trauma imposed on an innocent child by the parental abduction.

Generally the abductor does not even speak of the abandoned parent and waits patiently for time to erase probing questions, like “When can we see mom (dad) again?”. “These children become hostages … it remains beyond their comprehension that a parent who really cares and loves them cannot discover their whereabouts” (Clawar & Rivlin, p. 115).

Impact of Parental Child Abduction

Children who have been psychologically violated and maltreated through the act of abduction, are more likely to exhibit a variety of psychological and social handicaps. These handicaps make them vulnerable to detrimental outside influences (Rand, 1997). Huntington (1982) lists some of the deleterious effects of parental child abduction on the child victim:

  1. Depression;
  2. Loss of community;
  3. Loss of stability, security, and trust;
  4. Excessive fearfulness, even of ordinary occurrences;
  5. Loneliness;
  6. Anger;
  7. Helplessness;
  8. Disruption in identity formation; and
  9. Fear of abandonment.

Many of these untoward effects can be subsumed under the problems relevant to Reactive Attachment Disorder, the diagnostic categories in the following section, and the sections on fear, of abandonment, learned helplessness, and guilt, that follow.

Reactive Attachment Disorder.

Attachment is the deep and enduring connection established between a child and caregiver in the first few years of life. It profoundly influences every component of the human condition, — mind, body, emotions, relationships, and values. Children lacking secure attachments with caregivers often become angry, oppositional, antisocial, and may grow up to be parents who are incapable of establishing this crucial foundation with their own children (Levy & Orlans, 1999).

Children who lack permanence in their lives often develop a “one-day-at-a-time” perspective of life, which effects appropriate development of the cognitive-behavioral chain — thoughts, feelings, actions, choices, and outcomes. “They think, ‘I’ve been moved so many times, I’ll just be moved again. So why should I care?'” (ACE, 1999).

Stringer (1999) and other experts on attachment disorder concur that the highest risk occurs during the first few years of life. This disorder is classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) as Reactive Attachment Disorder. According to Stringer, common causes of attachment problems are:

  1. Sudden or traumatic separation from primary caretaker
    (through death, illness hospitalization of caretaker, or removal of child);
  2. Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse;
  3. Neglect (of physical or emotional needs);
  4. Frequent moves and/or placements;
  5. Inconsistent or inadequate care at home or in day care
    (care must include holding, talking, nurturing, as well as meeting basic physical needs); and
  6. Chronic depression of primary caretaker.

It is evident that these causality factors would place at high risk children who are subjected to similar conditions in the circumstances of parental kidnapping.

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