Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has backed a motion against “parental alienation” as a form of domestic abuse.
The motion acknowledges the council’s duty to support the protection of children affected by all forms of abuse, "to ensure a better future for children and family life”.
It also recognises the council acknowledges “more needs to be done to include training and education within the area of parental alienation so that professionals are trained to meet the ongoing needs of families in Mid and East Antrim and throughout Northern Ireland” with a letter to be sent to the Department of Justice.
The motion was proposed by Coast Road Alliance Alderman Gerardine Mulvenna and seconded by Coast Road DUP Councillor Andrew Clarke.
Parental alienation is the term used to describe the loss of contact between a parent and their children following a separation with one parent intentionally denying access to the other.
Cllr Clarke paid tribute to Charlie Magill, a Glenarm farmer, who undertook a 364-mile trek, 26 miles a day from Skibereen in Co Cork to Glenarm to raise awareness of the issue and has raised £13k for mental health charity Turning Point NI and La Dolce Vita, an early intervention support service.
Speaking at the start of the walk, Charlie said:
“I have witnessed somebody going through parental alienation, somebody close to me. I have seen how devastating mentally, physically, emotionally it affects somebody, even the extended family.
“It does not seem to be right that one parent, either man or woman, has the right to keep children from a biological, loving parent.
"I got involved with the La Dolce Vita Project to try to highlight the emotional impact and through the councils, the problem it is and the damage it does to the alienated parent plus the damage it does to the alienated children.
“In most cases, the father or mother is just taken out of their lives and the whole family circle and probably in most cases, they don’t know where they are or for what reason.”
Mr Magill has also been highlighting the need for more services to tackle the issue. He spoke of concern over an apparent lack of communication between different agencies and what he believes are failings in areas including courts or the legal system, which he says “does not seem to recognise it as problem”, suggesting that this “needs to change”.
“To watch somebody go through it, it is awful,” he commented.
“When I joined the La Dolce Vita Project, I wanted to do something to try and help and it meant a lot to me and I thought I need to try and do something big, even just to get the conversation started about parental alienation.
“Mental health is also a problem with it because you can understand when someone is going through it, the mental anguish of always wondering if they can’t get in touch with their child or children wondering where they are, what they are doing, how they are getting on at school, that has a mental impact on the parent never mind the child.
“I want to help in some way and to get it noticed and get the conversation started, I needed to do something big, so I thought walking the length of Ireland, a marathon a day, people would register a marathon a day is a big task.”
Charlie went on to say he can “just hardly believe the support” he has received from family, friends and well-wishers along the way.
“When you get the amount of support I am getting, it is surprising how it keeps pushing you on,” he said.