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Helping the alienated; New area nonprofit ushers awareness of growing problem

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Brandy L. Johnson, president and founder of HALOS Foundation, Inc. seeks to end parental alienation on the Western Edge. Photo by Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press

Brandy L. Johnson, president and founder of HALOS Foundation, Inc., has been personally affected by parental alienation, a reality that set her on a path to see that such issues are eradicated legislatively. Her fight to bring awareness to the growing problem started small, but now her sights are set on North Dakota.

“This is not fair for children, for all children,” said Johnson.

According to the “Final Report; Collection of Marriage and Divorce Statistics by States” prepared by The Lewin Group, the three main challenges to collecting, storing and reporting marriage and divorce-related information, were proper systems not being in place; lack of interest or will at the state level, and costs.

There have been other arguments about privacy concerns, but ultimately it all boils down to insufficient research on both divorce and how it affects the families involved.

Demographic changes happen at a slow rate and can be overlooked if not studied carefully, according to statisticians. Among the large quantity of variables affecting the public's ability to gather credible information on divorce is that it often requires directly dealing with governmental entities, schools and organizations whose role it is to deal with families and their issues -- many of which are notoriously secretive with their information.

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Johnson says, although the community of those aware of parental alienation is expanding across the United States, there is limited information about alienation on the local level in Southwest North Dakota.

“It’s time to promote awareness and get educational materials into the hands of our communities and professionals because we need to stand for what really is the ‘best interests of children’ and that is for children to be able to love both parents without remorse or guilt,” she said.

What is Parent Alienation?

“A parent will sometimes target the other parent by manipulating or brainwashing the children to reject that parent and extended family members, and it is abuse to the children. Psychological abuse,” Johnson said. “ Children are sometimes just left as collateral damage, like in a war, for [the alienating parent's] own vindictive behaviors.”

According to Dr. Jennifer Harman, professor of psychology at Colorado State University, a little over 22 million adults are affected by parental alienation with approximately 44 million or more children are affected by parental alienation.

The affects could reach out to even grandparents, researchers suggest.

“Often times grandparents, extended family members and even friends of the targeted parent are denied all access to the child," Johnson said. "So ultimately these people, who are a very crucial influence in any child’s life, are erased by the alienating parent. They are in a sense 'guilty by association' for no good reason at all."

HALOS Foundation pamphlets outline some symptoms of parental alienation in children, which include a relentless hatred for the targeted parent, holding delusional or irrational beliefs, and parroting the alienating parent.

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According to Divorce Poison, written by Dr. Richard Warshak, a clinical and research psychologist, “Divorce does not always damage children, but when children are caught in the crossfire of their parents’ hostility, it usually does."

Warshak's study of the problem speaks to the systemic and systematic problems caused by alienation.

"It hurts just to stand on the sideline and watch parents trade shots, and it hurts even more when parents enlist children as allies in the battle," Warshak said. "It hurts most when one parent engages in a systematic campaign to turn the children against the other parent.”

HALOS Foundation, Inc.

Currently HALOS Foundation, Inc. is a young organization with a small footprint based out of Johnson’s home in Dickinson, but they believe that they are leading the way toward fostering a new mindset that could help families deal with divorce better, so that their children won't have to come from a broken home.

To achieve their goal, HALOS wants to make sure that resources and support are available to all parents regardless of "prestige."

A personal mantra of Johnson is that “there is not one naturally loving parent that should ever have to spend one red penny to have a relationship with their child.” -- a mantra her organization seeks to bring to a reality on the Western Edge.

The Goals

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HALOS Foundation, Inc. has some ambitious plans for their cause.

Johnson said that she would like to invite experts and speakers from the community to talk about the topics in an open forum, and to have experts in the field from across the country come to the area and speak on the subject. A favorite of Johnson is Wendy Perry, a co-parenting and parental alienation education and support consultant in Dallas/Fort Worth.

“Wendy Perry, supported by Dr. Craig Childress and Dr. Richard Warshak, has done the 'Bubbles of Love' march in Washington DC. She has been a great advocate for parent alienation and is just a great person to talk to,” she said.

HALOS Foundation, Inc. wants to bring parent alienation to legislation and make laws that can prevent these long-lasting emotional scars from occurring.

“These high conflict situations where children are affected should take precedence in our court system," Johnson said. "Lost time with children cannot ever be replaced or recovered.”

HALOS Foundation, Inc. wants to bring awareness for the better good of the community by connecting Dickinson with the outside world, which Johnson said is already leaps and bounds ahead on the topic.

“We would love to partner with professionals across North Dakota, legal and mental health professionals,” Johnson said. “To identify problems and provide solutions to parents, to be able to co-parent or in some cases parallel parent due to high conflict situations.”

Josiah C. Cuellar was born in San Angelo, Texas, a small rural community in the western part of the state known for its farming, ranching and beautiful Concho River. A Texas A&M San Antonio graduate specializing in multi-media reporting, Cuellar is an award winning photographer and reporter whose work focuses on community news and sports.
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