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PART TWO: Australian Family Law: The contribution of Dr Jennifer McIntosh and Dr John Bowlby

Family Law

Dr McIntosh's view is that because the concept of 'monotropy' is not sexist on its own, it is legitimate to argue that treating one parent as the primary attachment figure for 'comfort and security' and treating the other as primary attachment figure but for a different purpose, is justified.

 The problem occurs because both concepts of 'maternal deprivation' and 'monotropy' are interdependent, most people would consider them to mean the same. For example, the guidelines for the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health, are predicated on the principle that there can only be a single 'primary carer' responsible for 'comfort and security'. However this was again reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, as 'Welfare group recommends daddy day care only' (Michelle Griffin, December 15, 2011) suggesting that mothers should be treated as the 'psychological parent'.

 It is Dr John Bowlby's view of 'maternal deprivation' that has proved popular with the family courts, in the UK as well as Australia, although it is not generally appreciated that even at the time there was a great deal of professional disquiet about his claims, so much so, that in 1962 the World Health Organisation published the 'Deprivation of Maternal Care: A Reassessment of its Effects'. (Public Health Papers, No. 14. Geneva: World Health Organisation).

 Given the opportunity children can form multiple attachments without any harm and because research has also established that children are not damaged by deprivation and respond to the person who is most sensitive to their needs, regardless of gender, that makes Dr McIntosh's attempt to justify Dr John Bowlby's theory of attachment, risible.

 What Dr McIntosh is seeking to achieve is to re-introduce the concept of 'maternal deprivation' into Australian family law, by the 'back-door'.

 The same concern applies with the involvement of Dr McIntosh as lead author for the research project, 'Post-separation Parenting Arrangements: Patterns and Developmental Outcomes - Studies of Two Risk Groups. Collected Reports', which was funded by the Attorney-Generals Department, with the assistance of the Family Law Branch. This, too, relies heavily on Dr John Bowlby's view of child development and includes the following statements citing his work;

 Attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969/1982) is essentially an ethological framework for understanding the psycho-emotional survival and well-being of the human being. The theory originally postulated a complex, innate biological system in infants that ensures they seek proximity with and attentive care from a specific person, and that they attempt to signal for and engage in the repeated, predictable interactive and responsive presence of that person (Bowlby, 1969/1982). Page 93

 Detail on all variables other than Visual monitoring are outlined in the LSAC data dictionary. The visual monitoring variable was derived for the purposes of this study. Following observations made originally by Bowlby (1969/1982) about babies efforts through gaze and gesture to monitor and retain the proximity of their attachment figure, Ainsworth et al., (1978) described heightened visual monitoring by infants when anxious about their caregivers emotional or physical availability. It is important to note that LSAC does not contain attachment-specific parent report data or observer ratings. To approximate the extent to which the infant monitored and attempted to retain proximity with their primary carer, this variable was formed from the mean of three items from the Communication and Symbolic Behaviour Scales (CSBS): When this child plays with toys, does he/she look at you to see if you are watching? When you are not paying attention to this child, does he/she try to get your attention? and Does this child try to get you to notice interesting objects just to get you to look at the objects, not to get you to do anything with them? Page 115

 Theoretical explanations from the attachment field for these findings are similar to those considered for the younger infants. Normal development for the 2-3 year old infant is marked by budding autonomy and exploration, growing representational and communication skills. Simultaneously, however, the development of skills necessary for self-soothing and self-protection remains rudimentary. Bowlby (1969/1982) regarded attachment needs and behaviours at 2 - 3 years to be no less intense than for the younger infant. From his extensive studies of this age group, Marvin found that attachment behaviours at this age remained easily activated, and that this was adaptive rather than regressive, with monitoring of proximity to the caregiver still a critical component in the young childs behavioural organization and well-being (Marvin & Greenberg, 1982). Separations from the primary caregiver not within the control of the 3 year old continue to disturb or disequilibrate the attachment system, as they do for the younger infant (Marvin & Britner, 2008). Thus in attachment terms, repeated overnight separation of the 2 - 3 year old from the primary carer, here at the rate of five nights per fortnight, would predictably affect emotional regulation. Page 149

 In attachment terms, the caregiving system of the primary parent during the 2-3 year old stage of development is still highly primed or geared to read and respond to attachment related signals of the child. Bowlby (1969/1982) postulated the presence of a caregiving behavioural system that operates instinctively within the parent, as the attachment system operates within the child. George and Solomon (2008) describe the primary goal of the caregiving behavioural system as providing protection for the child. Activation of the caregiving system occurs via the parents perception of dangerous, stressful or fear-inducing situations for the child, including separation, endangerment and the childs signals of discomfort or distress. Page 150

 From extensive research Marvin and Greenberg (1982) and Marvin and Britner (2008) suggest the organization of the attachment system changes significantly around ages 4 - 5 years. Children were less distressed by brief separation from the primary caregiver (in this case the mother), provided they were left in the care of friendly adults and provided they had formed a clear plan with the mother about the separation and the reunion, before she left. However, at age three, children were not able to make such a shared plan. In keeping with Bowlbys (1969/1982) description of attachment becoming goal corrected partnership around this age, rather than a co-regulatory one, children at age four years are less dependent on physical proximity to and contact with the primary caregiver in order to maintain a sense of security, provided they are in the care of responsive, caring adults (Marvin & Greenberg, 1982; Marvin & Britner, 2008). Page 152

 In a research method similar to that adopted by Dr John Bowlby to establish a correlation between mother care and mental health in children, Dr McIntosh has collected these separate and independent reports together and conflated the findings to justify a number of spurious suppositions. For example, that (1) stress is always bad for children and therefore necessarily an indication of the failure of the Shared Parenting arrangements, which is not so. (2) The research study regards the proximity or distance from the primary caregiver as an indicator of the failure or success of the Shared Parenting arrangements, which does not follow. These associations are adapted from a 'Bowlby - Ainsworth attachment paradigm' and have no more evidence to link them together than the decision to put them in the same collection. Further there is no recognition of the crucial importance of 'resilience' or an appreciation that experiences at 'all ages' have an impact on child development. Instead the authors adopt Dr John Bowlby's discredited idea of a 'critical period'. These are fundamental issues that should be addressed.

 The leading authority in this area of child and adolescent psychology is Professor Sir Michael Rutter who is described as, 'the father of modern child psychiatry'.

 According to his view, on occasion, children actually benefit from stressful situations which are safe because it helps 'inoculate' them against future harmful experiences that perhaps cannot be controlled so easily. Moreover they are not harmed by more than one primary caregiver and benefit from a network of family members that invest in the child. In these circumstances Shared Parenting of the very young is a positive advantage. This is not to ignore the problem of family conflict but it was Professor Sir Michael Rutter's own seminal work, 'Parent‐child separation: Psychological effects on the children' from 1971 (Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry) which showed that it is high levels of discord that harms children.

 The University College London UCL biography for Professor Sir Michael Rutter, states that as well as being appointed the first consultant of child psychiatry in the UK, he was also Head of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry and Honorary Director of the Medical Research Council Child Psychiatry Unit.

 Again, according to the UCL biography, Professor Sir Michael Rutter is recognised as contributing to the establishment of child psychiatry as a medical and biopsychosocial speciality with a strong scientific base. In 1994 he set up the Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Unit at the Institute of Psychiatry. He is an honorary member of the British Academy, a Fellow of the Royal Society and was knighted in 1992. The Michael Rutter Centre for Children and Adolescents at the Maudsley Hospital, is named after him.

 Significantly the biography refers to one of his most influential publications 'Maternal Deprivation Reassessed' (1972) in which he argued, against Dr John Bowlby, that it is the, 'norm for children to form multiple attachments rather than a selective attachment with just one person'.

 Professor Sir Michael Rutter described my own work, 'even Toddlers Need Fathers', which is a critique of the principle of 'maternal deprivation' as applied in family courts, as an 'interesting and informative guide' and the Vice President of the Family Division, Lord Justice Thorpe, said that I have a, 'history of responsible campaigning and writing on issues relating to family relationships'.

 It is impossible to be sure about the reason for excluding relevant research from the Australian studies. The discussion in the UK is dominated by female researchers who claim they only see family law from the child's perspective. These individuals include Joan Hunt, Ceridwen Roberts, Judith Masson and Liz Trinder. Much of their work is sponsored by the Nuffield Foundation through the Oxford Centre for Family Law and Family Policy. Joint Director is Mavis Maclean CBE who in September 2004 for a BBC debate on, 'Whether parenthood should be regarded as a right?' stated,

 A right to parenthood in my view is unhelpful because it focuses on the rights of adults rather than the needs of children. If we look ahead in the life of the child this kind of rights based approach has become associated with the kinds of arguments which have been raging over the rights of fathers to equal rights to their childs time after separation or divorce. A concentration on parental rights, in my view, leads us towards the danger of regarding a child as a piece of property to be divided, towards the excesses of the extreme fathers groups, and away from the sanity of the Children Act 1989 with its focus on the child.

 If Dr McIntosh is truly concerned for the welfare of children then there should be no excuse for restricting her academic endeavour to the, 'Bowlby - Ainsworth attachment paradigm'.

 As a mother I do not know whether you feel that you are a more sensitive and caring parent than a father? Or that it should be the father's role to 'play' with children? But, with the greatest respect, notwithstanding your own opinion, I do not believe family structure should be determined by sexist stereotypes.

 I have taken this opportunity to inform you about this concern because I believe Dr McIntosh's work will undermine a child's right to a meaningful relationship with both parents post separation and bring family law into disrepute. Therefore it must concern yourself as Attorney-General. Also, in the UK, recent attempts to introduce Shared Parenting legislation have floundered because it is argued that research from Australia shows that it is not in the child's best interests.

 Therefore I should be grateful if you could reaffirm the Attorney-General's commitment to a child's right to a meaningful relationship with both parents post separation and confirm that the Australian government does not intend to adopt any policies that will undermine the family.

 Yours Sincerely,

 Kingsley Miller

Cc. Sir Richard Bowlby, The Bowlby Centre, 147 Commercial St, London, E1 6BJ, UK; Dr Jennifer McIntosh, FAMILY TRANSITIONS: PO Box 5130, Alphington, Victoria, 3078, Australia; Professor Sir Michael Rutter, PO 80, Institute of Psychiatry at the Maudsley, De Crespigny Park, Denmark Hill, London, SE5 8AF, UK

Kingsley Miller is the author of 'even Toddlers Need Fathers', a critique of the principle of 'Maternal Deprivation' as applied in family courts, which Professor Sir Michael Rutter described as an, 'interesting and informative guide'. He has also received a letter from Buckingham Palace stating, 'It was thoughtful of you to enclose a copy of your book 'even Toddlers Need Fathers' and Her Majesty has noted your concerns'.
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