Charleston, SC – Some say a program used to reconnect children with an estranged parent goes too far. And despite being ordered by SC judges, the program has virtually no oversight and results that aren’t proven.
The program is called Family Bridges. Through the program, children are ordered away from their custodial parent and placed in the home of an estranged parent in an effort to reconnect parent and child.
“All I know of him if what I see on other people’s Facebook pages or Instagrams, Jelena Novakov explained.
Two years ago via a court order, a judge removed her then 16-year old son from her home. The order forced him to live with his estranged father. The order stipulates the mother have no contact with her son and attend no sporting events. Her son was cut off from his brother and all other maternal relatives.
“It’s so painful. He was my baby,” she explained.
In October 2017 Jelena’s ex-husband took her to court for custody. He cited parent alienation as his argument. In simple terms, parental alienation happens when one parent’s relationship with the child is harmed by the other parent. Some describe the process as parental abuse. But according to court records, the teen cut ties with his father.
The reunification process through Family Bridges was to include a weekend workshop; a father son vacation; and 90 days of no contact with Jelena.
“It’s never 90 days,” Jelena told News 2 while sharing her experience with the program.
The process has dragged on for more than two years. The family is still in what’s called “aftercare” with therapist where the court requires supervised visits between Jelena and her son. According to court records, the teen now exhibits anxiety about being with his mother.
“Telling them legally, ‘you’re not allowed to speak with the other parent,’ in my book is parent alienation,” Jelena said of the experience that she believes wrecked her formally good relationship with her son.
She’s also concerned if the program works at all.
“Family Bridges is an educative and experiential program focused on allowing the child to have a healthy relationship with both parents,” according to SC Guardian ad Litem training from 2019. “Measuring the effectiveness of interventions is challenging”.
News 2 investigative reporter asked the court for the number of cases ordered through Family Bridges and the success of the program.
The court had no records.
“We do not have this type of information,” a spokesperson wrote via email. “It isn’t data that we track.” The court recommend “contacting the program directly.”
The program started 25 years ago. The records they sent News 2 cited a small study sample of 23 children with success in 18 cases.
Repeated attempts to reach the founder of the program, Dr. Randy Rand, have gone unanswered. His license is inactive in California following a case where he was cited for “extreme departure from the standard of practice.”
And the courts admit cases are not clear.
“For cases where allegations are made, they are not often substantiated with actual evidence, so there is not an easy way to determine their validity,” according to the training provided to guardians in South Carolina in 2019.
Leaving Jelena wondering why her family was ever ordered through the program.
“What they are doing is fighting alleged parent alienation with actual parent alienation,” Jelena said.
News 2 reached out the rest of the family. They didn’t want to share their experience.
From court records, it appears the father-son relationship is healed but now the relationship between mother son is strained in this case.