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Terms of reference: A systematic evidence review on the impact of family court proceedings on women and children’s health and well-being in the context of violence in the home; including the use and application of the concept of “parental alienation”

The international community has recognized violence against women (VAW) and violence against children (VAC) as global public health and human rights problems.

Estimates published by WHO indicate that globally about 1 in 3 of women worldwide have been subjected to either physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. Most of this violence is perpetrated by an intimate partner. Worldwide, 27% of women aged 15-49 years who have been in a relationship report that they have been subjected to some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner. Global estimates suggest that more than half (1 billion) of the world’s children aged 2–17 experienced physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse during the past year.

There is growing global recognition of the many connections between violence against women and violence against children and that further research on these intersections should be prioritized to strengthen effective prevention and response strategies.

While intimate partner violence is a highly gendered crime with well-documented health impacts on women and children, less has been said about the health impacts of the administrative and legal processes designed to support victims/survivors of this type of violence. There is however an emerging and growing body of research at the intersections between health, law and violence against women and children, going beyond criminal law and process to a focus on civil proceedings, such as family courts and custody hearings.

The peer reviewed and grey literature increasingly provide reports showing that violence does not cease during legal and administrative process; on the use of these processes by partners/fathers to continue abuse; and on the questionable use of health-related arguments such as the concepts of “parental alienation”, “parental alienation syndrome” or “alienating behaviours” as rationales for maintaining control and pathologizing mothers.

 “Parental alienation syndrome” and “parental alienation” are controversial concepts first proposed in 1995 by child psychiatrist Richard A. Gardner.  It is described by the American Psychological Association as “a child’s experience of being manipulated by one parent to turn against the other.” (APA, n.d.) Specifically, there is growing concern and evidence that the use of the “parental alienation” concept in family courts has resulted in children being removed from their mothers, despite women’s substantiated allegations of intimate partner violence and child abuse against, usually, the father (Meier et al., 2019). Further, solutions recommended by proponents of parental alienation in the form of “reunification therapy” with the alienated parent may lead to psychological and physical harm to children, especially among those already exposed to family violence (Dallam & Silberg, 2016).

There is a clear and undisputable human rights and public health rationale behind the proposition that any legal or administrative process designed to support victims/survivors of violence should be safe, evidence-based and prevent revictimization/traumatisation or pathologisation of victims/survivors. If this is not the case, there is a strong reason to make changes in how these processes are conducted.

As such, the Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI), World Bank Group, UNICEF-Innocenti and WHO are joining efforts to generate evidence that can inform ongoing debates and normative processes around the impacts of family court proceedings on women’s and children’s health and well-being in the context of violence in the home and on the use of the concept of “parental alienation” in these processes.  As part of this collaboration, the SVRI is seeking a consultant / consultants or organisation  to undertake a systematic review of the existing evidence in this field, in addition to a critical analysis from a scientific and human rights-based perspective.

Overall objective

 To undertake a systematic review of the state of the quantitative and qualitative evidence surrounding

  • the impact of family court proceedings on women and children’s health and well-being in the context of violence in the home;
  • the use and application of the concepts “parental alienation syndrome” and “parental alienation”, including an examination of the historical and theoretical antecedents of these concepts; their scientific evidence-base; along with the consequences of their use in family courts and legal processes and subsequent impact on children; including consequences of suggested “treatment” (such as reunification therapy); tension points in the field and any other relevant matters.

Proposal

 In your proposal we would like you to provide detail on the following:

  1. Expertise in undertaking systematic reviews using mixed methods approaches.
  2. Expertise in the topic of violence against women and children, legal and administrative processes related to violence against women and children, international human rights standards and accountability mechanisms and the concepts of parental alienation / parental alienation syndrome.
  3. Outline topics/issues you will address in the review and theoretical framework you will use to undertake this review.
  4. Outputs / products.

Please ensure your proposal and approach is accordance with current guidance for systematic reviews. Read: Guidance for best tools and practices for systematic reviews. Kolaski et al. Systematic Reviews (2023) 12:96 https://doi.org/10.1186/s13643-023-02255-9

 Application Process

Interested applicant/s / organisation/s must submit:

  • A technical proposal detailing methodology, timelines, and outputs, and demonstrate
    • Understanding/Interpretation of the ToR
    • Key resources and approaches that will inform all activities in this project
    • Expertise on the topic and systematic review.
  • A financial proposal specifying the daily rate of the consultant (s) and the total number of days proposed for the consultancy. The budget should be provided in USD. If the consultant is based in South Africa, the budget must be provided in South African Rand (ZAR).
  • Complete Resume, including writing sample.
  • 2-3 references.

The proposal and supporting documents must be submitted in English.

Currently, we have $15,000 USD available for this project. Please note, whilst the funding for this is from SVRI, the project is a partnership between SVRI, UNICEF, WHO and the World Bank.

Candidates will be invited to a virtual interview at the end of the technical evaluation process.

The proposal and required documents must be sent by email to elizabeth@svri.org no later than 31 May 2024 (midnight, South Africa time). Interviews with shortlisted applicants will be scheduled as soon as possible.

References

American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology (n.d.). “Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).” Available from https://dictionary.apa.org/parental-alienation-syndrome

Dallam, S., & Silberg, J. L. (2016). Recommended treatments for “parental alienation syndrome”(PAS) may cause children foreseeable and lasting psychological harm. Journal of child custody, 13(2-3), 134-143

Meier, Joan S. and Dickson, Sean and O’Sullivan, Chris and Rosen, Leora and Hayes, Jeffrey, Child Custody Outcomes in Cases Involving Parental Alienation and Abuse Allegations (2019). GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2019-56, GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2019-56. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3448062 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3448062

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