Family Court Review Article

Overcoming Barriers Family Camp: A Program for High-Conflict Divorced Families where a Child is Resisting Contact with a Parent

The following are excerpts from Deutsch, R., Sullivan, M., & Ward, P. (2010). The Family Court Review, Vol. 48 No. 1, January 2010, 116-135.

See entire article here OBFC.FCR.2010


“Overcoming Barriers Family Camp (OBFC) is a 5-day, 4-overnight family camp program designed to deliver intensive treatment to high-conflict families.  The program is a combination of psycho-education, clinical intervention, and milieu therapy, delivered to families stuck in the impasse of the divorce transition who present a child who is resisting or refusing contact with a parent.”

“The camp concept initially began with one of the author’s attempt to reunify a father with his children at Camp Common Ground in Vermont.  After careful screening for issues of abuse and safety and initial work with the entire family, the father-son intervention was to be the culmination of the family work.  This intervention was unsuccessful as the aligned parent did not follow court orders, went to the camp with the children, and the children would not leave the car.  Following this initial attempt to use an intensive camp model, a group of forensic psychologists, court personnel, a judge, and attorneys met over several months and developed the current model. This intervention model includes all members of the restructured family system (parents, spouses, and stepsiblings).  The program was piloted in 2008 with five families for 3 days.  Inclusion of all family members added to the challenge, but proved crucial to the camp’s success.  Surprisingly, all parents in exit interviews requested a longer camp, more co-parent interventions, and more parent-child interventions.  The 2009 OBFC was 5 days and build on the experience of the pilot program, adding daily co-parent meetings, parent-child or family meetings as often as possible, and psychologist interventions with all camp participants throughout the camp experience.”

“The goals of OBFC are to provide intensive psycho-education to all members of the family, including co-parenting work (meeting multiple times with the parent dyads) and creating safe “connections” between the rejected parent and the child in a carefully constructed camp milieu.  The work with the co-parents has the goal of them leaving the camp with an agreement about a sharing of parenting time or, when that is not possible, at least a process for how they can continue to work collaboratively on this agreement after the camp.  Regardless of whether this goal is accomplished, all parents receive a detailed aftercare program that is focused on supporting the parenting plan that is focused on supporting the parenting plan they leave with or will still need to finalize after the program.  We provide a written aftercare plan to each set of parents when they exit the program (see example in Appendix A). Finally, we have parents sign releases of information for professionals working with the family in aftercare to enhance the likelihood that the clinical information gained about the family in the program can be communicated to the providers and, if necessary, the court.”

“OBFC holds promise for helping those families on the continuum of alienation and/or estrangement, where questions of safety, poor parenting, and enmeshment exist, but where sever mental illness, acute and ongoing domestic violence, or substance abuse is not a factor.  The camp provides a “holding environment” where both parents (the rejected parent who sought a court order and the favored parent who resisted a court order) on exit interviews and follow-up view the camp as an overwhelmingly positive experience.”