Application of the PAS to the myriad cases that include some rejection of a parent by a child involves the eye of the beholder" (Grief, 1997, p. 134). When the rejection of a parent by a child is taken to the extremes that are characteristic of parental alienation syndrome, though, the outcomes will inevitably be harmful for both the targeted parent as well as the children involved and these issues form the purpose of the study proposed herein which is discussed further below.
Purpose of Study
The overall purpose of the study proposed herein is to provide a systemic analysis of the current dynamics of divorces in South Africa and how these affect the children of these failed marriages. This social issues is especially well suited for analysis from a systemic perspective because this analytical approach is designed to examine the operational dynamics of the social and structural dimensions of society or group. According to one authority, "The analysis includes, but is not limited to, the dynamics of power, voice, inclusion or exclusion, and consequent benefit or profit, harm or loss. It articulates the starting points one uses in analysis, and clarifies the consequences of using any particular starting point" (Systemic analysis, 2009). Likewise, Keating, Kaufmann and Dryer (2001) note that the strengths of the systemic analysis approach "rests in the holistic analysis of structure, relationships, and emergent dynamics of problematic situations. The fundamental systems principles underpinning the approach are developed to provide an essential 'systems background' as a foundation for the framework" (p. 772). A secondary purpose of the proposed study will be to help develop a network between fields, social services, forensic, having the South African context link between psychologists, social workers and legal sector to assist across contexts.
Importance of Study
The importance of a meaningful relationship with a divorced parent cannot be overstated. Studies have shown time and again that although children who are raised in a two-parent home enjoy a wide range of benefits across the life span, studies have also shown that maintaining a close relationship with a parent following a divorce is an important factor in these same quality of life indicators as well. Although current estimates concerning the number of minor children who are affected by parental alienation syndrome in South Africa are sketchy, based on current statistics, it is reasonable to posit that at least 3,300 minor children each year become new victims of this serious syndrome -- and probably more given the lack of reliable statistics concerning total divorce rates among the rural population -- and there remains a glaring lack of initiatives in the country to address this problem. As a result, the field of psychology in South Africa has earned a poor reputation when it comes to formulating timely interventions for the problem of parental alienation syndrome, and given the lack of attention to the problem, it is little wonder that well-meaning therapists lack the requisite skills needed to deal with PAS due in part to both a scarcity of limited resources as well as a gap in the literature from a South African perspective. The findings from the study proposed herein, then, could help fill this gap and identify an interdisciplinary approach that could be used in a variety of settings to address this serious problem that has received little official attention over the years.
Scope of Study
Although the proposed study will consult the peer-reviewed and scholarly literature concerning parental alienation syndrome as it has been studied in other countries, there will be a specific focus on interpreting this information as it applies to a South African context.
Rationale of Study
Despite a growing body of evidence that suggests parental alienation syndrome is an increasingly serious issue and its impact on the alienated parent and the children of the marriage can have lifelong implications, there remains a dearth of timely and relevant studies concerning this phenomenon in general and as it applies to divorced parents in South Africa in particular. Therefore, the study proposed herein represents a useful starting point to establish benchmarks and identify opportunities for improving the manner in which divorcing parents manage their new relationship. This approach is congruent with Baker and Andre (2008) who emphasize that, "Sound practice in clinical work with alienated children and their targeted parents suggests that assessment and recognition of parental alienation and parental alienation syndrome is a critical starting point" (p. 10).
Likewise, a systemic analysis of how parental alienation syndrome affects both parents of a failed marriage can illuminate both sides of the issues involved in ways that may not be otherwise possible. In this regard, Carbone emphasizes that, "A clearer understanding of the terms of engagement, one that starts with a presumption of both parents' continuing involvement but also recognizes clear grounds for disqualification, would benefit everyone" (Carbone, 2000, p. 240). These are particularly important considerations because of a fundamental paucity of relevant work in this area from a South African perspective. For instance, to date, there have been at best just three books that even refer to PAS in the South African context briefly and none of these have been written or published thus far on PAS alone. Therefore, the study proposed herein represents a timely and valuable contribution to the area of family jurisprudence and counseling as it applies to South Africa and can provide useful insights and recommendations for practitioners and policymakers alike.
Overview of Study
This proposed study intends to use a five-chapter format to achieve the above-stated research purposes. Chapter one of the study will be used to introduce the topic and issues under consideration, provide a statement of the problem, the purpose and importance of the study, as well as its scope and rationale. Chapter two of the proposed study will provide a critical review of the relevant and peer-reviewed literature concerning parental alienation syndrome and an overview and analysis of salient South African family law considerations. Chapter three of the study proposed herein will be used to describe more fully methodology used, including a description of the study approach, the data-gathering method and the database of study to be consulted. Chapter four of the study will consist of an analysis of the qualitative data developed during the research process and chapter five will present the proposed study's conclusions, a summary of the research and salient recommendations for family counselors and policymakers alike.
The methodology to be used in the proposed study will be a mixed approach. The first part of the methodology will consist of a critical review of the relevant secondary peer-reviewed and scholarly literature concerning the impact of divorce on minor children in general and in South Africa in particular as well as the dynamics involved in situations that develop into parental alienation syndrome. This step is highly congruent with a number of social researchers who emphasize the need to analyze what is known about a topic before formulating conclusions and developing recommendations. In this regard, Fraenkel and Wallen (2001) note that, "Researchers usually dig into the literature to find out what has already been written about the topic they are interested in investigating. Both the opinions of experts in the field and other research studies are of interest. Such reading is referred to as a review of the literature" (p. 48). In addition, a well conducted literature review can help identify any gaps in the literature that can form the basis for recommendations for future research initiatives. For example, Gratton and Jones (2003) advise, "A literature review is the background to the research, where it is important to demonstrate a clear understanding of the relevant theories and concepts, the results of past research into the area, the types of methodologies and research designs employed in such research, and areas where the literature is deficient" (p. 51).
The second part of the proposed study will consist of a survey of divorced South African fathers to obtain primary information concerning their experiences following a divorce and what their perceptions of the legal process has been in terms of visitation rights with their minor children. Subjects for the survey will be recruited using both online forums for South African fathers as well as advertisements for subjects in South African male-oriented publications. The family advocate's office as well as the organization, Fathers for Justice, will also be approached to recruit subjects for the study proposed herein. This step of the methodology for the proposed study is also highly congruent with a number of social researchers who emphasize the need to incorporate primary research whenever possible. In this regard, Dennis and Harris (2002) emphasize that, "Primary data are information that is being collected for the first time in order to address a specific research problem. This means that it is likely to be directly relevant to the research, unlike…