The Disturbing Truth about Reunification Therapy – A Warning to UK Family Courts

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In custody cases involving domestic violence, family courts in some countries mandate “reunification therapy” to repair the parent-child relationship, ordering reluctant children into contact with their abuser.

Very simply, forced reunification of this type teaches abused children their rights and feelings do not matter. It prioritises parental access over child safety, undermining rehabilitation. The UK family court system should closely examine these risks to avoid re-traumatising children already dealing with lasting trauma. Here’s why:

Court-Ordered Programs Retraumatise Abused Children

Children avoiding an abusive parent have valid reasons tied to real trauma. Perhaps they endured violence, witnessed assaults, or were victims of emotional cruelty. Court-mandated reunification therapy dismisses their fears, forcing them to spend time with their unrehabilitated abuser against their will.

Reunification orders teach children they must comply or face consequences, signalling they lack rights over their own bodies and feelings. The message is the abuser’s access takes priority over the child’s recovery. This reinforces power and control dynamics, disempowering already victimised children. However well-meaning, reunification programs breach trust and re-inflict trauma.

Abuser Compliance Proves Nothing

Additionally, any cooperation from abusers under court order is transient and superficial. Abusers will feign change long enough to gain access and influence custody outcomes, but this compliance proves nothing about meaningful rehabilitation. More often it is a ploy to manipulate the courts while abuse continues unabated.

Unless UK #FamilyCourts undertake major reforms to become less adversarial, and make child safety the priority, reunification programs will further damage abuse survivors and enable their abusers. Share on X

Once the scrutiny lifts, coercion and cruelty easily resurface outside supervised visits. Abusers know how to disguise abuse with short-term charm. So the charade of cooperation provides legal cover for ongoing abuse that drives the child’s resistance.

Biased Incentives for Social Workers

Well-meaning social workers also operate under biased incentives. Their role becomes facilitating compliance with court-ordered reunification, not advocating for the child’s needs. The forced timeline and contact mandate take priority regardless of consequences.

Under such narrow directives, workers naturally minimise signs of continued parental dysfunction or danger. No one wants to impede the court-ordered process so valid risks get overlooked or downplayed, skewing the lens through which workers assess child safety.

Why the UK Should Proceed with Caution

The UK family court system should be extremely wary of embracing forced reunification programs. Compelling engagement with unreformed abusers will serve only to further traumatise vulnerable children already dealing with lasting abuse-related trauma. It teaches helplessness not healing.

Unless the UK undertakes major reforms to become less adversarial, and makes child safety the priority, these programs will further damage abuse survivors and enable their abusers. No training or oversight can offset the power dynamics at play. The priority should be protecting abuse victims from further harm – not brokering coerced compliance. There are better ways to address family violence that empower victims’ voices and require abusers’ rehabilitation over time.


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