‘Splish-splosh’ goes McIntosh

Posted on May 13, 2014 by


By Robert Whiston  FRSA   May 13th 2014


McIntosh must today cut something of a sad and lonely figure. After being catapulted into a deep fat fryer by the world’s best in her field, there’s nothing much left of her reputation as she floats there sizzling away.

The silence of her former allies is ominous and those like Pruett & Kelly who co-authored her latest in 2014 paper [1] did so unaware they risked infecting their own careers as the Typhoid Mary McIntosh blames everyone but herself.

Today’s Typhoid Mary, rather than blaming doctors for not knowing what they’re doing is claiming that empirical research and consensus by experts can be instantly dismissed. She fails to realise that she is deep “in denial” and her perceived persecution could be testament of her impending paranoia.

The opinion of those more knowledgeable than her can be shut out by claiming it is little more than a petition drawn up by ideologues who are misbehaving and are naughty, naughty children. Diddums ! ! How she must be wishing she was Mary Poppins and could make it all go away.

She is “Going, going, gone” – auctioned off to the For-Getty Museum of Condemnatory Art – there to be consigned to some obscure dark corner.


The ruction following the Warshak’s exposé of a paper must be giving all three (Pruett, McIntosh and Kelly – note how McIntosh’s name isn’t first on the list) cause for concern and more than a moment’s pause. Warshak’s paper had merely highlighted that:

  • “Sufficient evidence does not exist [emphasis added] to support postponing the introduction of regular and frequent involvement, including overnights, of both parents with their babies and toddlers.

McIntosh is a true product of her age and gender culture, where inconvenient facts can be brushed aside. In that vein she dismisses the opinion of 110 world experts as simply a “petition” organised by Warshak.

But what Warshak’s paper merely highlighted were that there were two central issues to be addressed:

  1. Was the extent to which young children’s time should be spent predominantly in the care of the same parent or divided more evenly between both parents and
  2. Whether children under the age of 4 should sleep in the same home every night or spend overnights in both parents’ homes.

Warshak’s paper referenced McIntosh’s work in what she claimed to be a unique study in that it divided the children with ‘overnight’ stay with the other parent into two groups a): occasional overnights for infants (labeled primary care in her study), and b). infants with frequent overnight stays (labeled shared care in her study). For this purpose frequent was interpreted as between 1–3 nights per monthly for babies and the very young to 5–9 nights per month for children aged from 2 year olds to 5-year-olds. [2]

The huge drawback to her study was that it involved such a small sample size and dividing into age groups served only to compound these shortcomings. The numbers were absurdly small, For example one element where the subjects were being rated by teachers and daycare attendants, the number fell to only 5. An analysis based on five respondents is unlikely to provide meaningful data or put more plainly, is a waste of time.

To fully appreciate all of the shortcomings in McIntosh’s study – shortcomings that many scholars have written about in the past 5 years – Nielsen’s “Woozles” paper has the most thorough summary.

Re-writing history

It’s said that only the victors get to write history, so it’s intriguing, if not faintly absurd, to see McIntosh trying to re-draw her past.

To use an American political idiom McIntosh has ‘flip-flopped.’ And one suspects that in keeping with political survival McIntosh has been forced into abjectly denounce her position to make herself electorally palatable.

McIntosh denies she ever made any statements against “all” overnighting stay (i.e. sleepovers), and she also claims that she said her study should not be used for policy making – but as we shall see in this critique this is not true.

Her discomfiture is only exacerbated by the 2011 Encyclopedia of early childhood development, which at page 4 (Implications for parents, services and policy) has McIntosh writing: [3]

  • “In early infancy overnight stays are contra-indicated, undertaken when necessary or helpful to the primary caregiver and when the second parent is already an established source of comfort and security for the infant”


After reeling under the demolition of her credibility by Arndt as a researcher McIntosh immediately posted her defence on the front page of her counselling centre’s website.[4] Salvaging what she could, she has had to accept that her ‘research’ did not find that “any” overnight care between separated parents was harmful for infant. In fact, quite the opposite – she now maintains:

  • “Our findings on emotional regulation risk for infants 0-3 years related to [only] high frequency of shared overnights, and to the prevailing circumstances in each case. We did not find the same for children aged 4-5 years.”

McIntosh will soon discover that the matter of ‘frequency’ will come back to bite her hard (as we shall see later in Appendix 1). But for the moment let’s stick with the insincerity aspect.

It was at the AFCC’s 49th Annual Conference, in Chicago (June 9th 2012), Plenary Paper that McIntosh described the current debate [surrounding shared parenting] as “inelegance.”  Her tone appears faintly (?) mocking as she depicts fathers as being in ‘the second ring’ of a stage where a “fathers matter too” drama is being played out (one suspect she’s got her analogies confused and she is really means “a 3 ring circus” in order to convey a confused state, not a 3 ring drama).

She goes on to portray fathers discussing in a loud and angry way “childhood delights” and the sociology of modern fatherhood. But in the background is the demonic shadow of father absence (her exact phrase, not mine), looming over a young child. Rather a too partisan posture for any professional or scientist to adopt. But perish the thought of anyone brave enough to suggest that numbers show mothers and women to be the actual ‘demonic shadow’ in a child’s life – in terms of neglect, abuse and child homicide. They are met with verbal abuse, ostracised and treated like a pariah by the feminist Commissariat.

Is it youth, pure insincerity or simply immaturity that drives her not to re-assess her work and regroup her position now that her work has been so comprehensively rejected ?

Making the personal political.

In a newly posted commentary on her website she has the temerity to claim that she has been misquoted and instead patronisingly suggests, while welcoming debate, that those opposed to her shoddy work should:

  • “Please review primary sources wherever possible.”

What reasonable academic will not already have done that before writing a critique of her work ? This she has the gall to suggest to her peers and betters – who together have 10,000 publications to their credit. [5] At another point she condescendingly states that her empirical paper, “ . . . . endorses the need for higher order thinking.

The fact that she is taking it all very personally is revealed in this sentence by her:

  • “Sadly, however, some advocates have tended to resort to reckless, inaccurate and untrue remarks about our work, or about me.”

Not a single academic writer in this debate (including Warshak and Nielsen), who she has personally attacked, has ever made any ugly or personal remarks about her in their articles or on their websites. Yet she repays this courtesy by stooping to call her critics (those who, according to her, have serious problems understanding her work), “advocates with political agendas” While claiming that her study is high quality “empirical” research, she demeans Warshak’s and Nielsen’s papers, published in a highly respected journal of the American Psychological Association, as only “academic looking” – which should be welcomed news to the journal’s editor and doyen, Dr. Michael Lamb at Cambridge. He has written more books in one year than McIntosh has ever written in her lifetime (unlike Lamb, she has written not one).

She also imputes ugly and personal motives to those who disagree with her, for example terming them “divisive” and “polarizing.” She engages in mud-slinging hoping some of it will stick somewhere. Even while she continues to lash out against them, none of her study’s critics have ever posted personally demeaning remarks on their websites which makes one ask, ‘Is this projection and paranoia ?’

Are we to believe her offer of ‘welcoming debate’ when she so aggressively attacks those who dare to criticise her study in a highly respected journal ? Should we tolerate her playing the innocent little-girl role when opinions of her work become unfavourable ? In an adult world is she entitled to dismiss all critiques as reckless, inaccurate and untrue ? Hiring a lawyer and probably threatening to sue a newspaper which might dare to write anything critical about her 2010 study, its critics and its impact throws a different light on her.

Having been caught in a lie, and having knowingly ‘put a spanner in the works’ of legal reforms she feels she can blithely says “Well, of course, my research always did support the importance of shared time custody arrangements.” The fatal flaw with that argument is that she was the only one who believed that – everyone else read the very opposite into it. Now she is trying to hide behind the threat of injunctions and in all likelihood threatened to sue for a libel. That’s not quite most people’s idea of open debate.

False presumption

We have to remind ourselves that this person was against shared parenting way back in 2006 , and said so publicly and emphatically. So emphatically, in fact, that she derailed law reform proposals in England when shared parenting was the governments preferred option.  She did the same in Israel. So for her to now say she was misunderstood by Australians is to forget that she also must have misled the British, the Americans and the Israelis about the findings and implications of her study.  How can we, indeed how can anyone, now trust her tautologies or ever take her words at face value? What gymnastics will she perform next ?

Justin Dowd, a leading family lawyer and past president of the Law Society of NSW and therefore someone not easily mislead by witness testimony summed up the Australian situation:

  • “The McIntosh study is one of the major reasons they [those in favour to shared parenting] have not been successful.
  • “It led to the belief, almost a presumption, that children under three should not spend overnight time with their non-resident parent. Faced with that research many fathers have been discouraged from even bringing applications for overnight time with very young children and the ones who have gone to court have often been disappointed to find that research being quoted against their application.”

McIntosh is not stupid; For the last 5 years, she knew exactly the impact that her study was having around the world. For instance, McIntosh’s opposition to increasing legislative support for shared-time parenting following separation can be seen even in her 2014 writings where she believes ‘very young children are developmental vulnerability and unique’:

  • “Presumptions are being proposed in various states, provinces, and countries for both legal decision-making and physical (parenting time) care of children, yet the merits of such presumptions remain unclear, especially for families with very young children.” [6]

But how can one person play such a pivotal role, is the feigned incomprehension from her co-author Bruce Smyth. He writes in defence of McIntosh: [7]

  • “The idea that our study has single-handedly shaped policy, unduly influenced judicial discretion, and changed the direction of mediation in Australia is far-fetched.

Oh, really ? Has Brucie Boy led such a sheltered life he read none of these headlines in the Australian newspapers or university websites, reporting on the study he co-authored: ? “Babies Struggle in Shared Care”, “Shared care babies at risk of anxiety”, “Shared custody a mistake for the under 2’s”.

Certain triggers can alter history and successive generations as in the case of the 1966 TV docu-drama “Cathy Come Home.

Smyth is being disingenuous when he claims that one study can’t have that much impact because he ignores Prof Nielsen’s point about the ‘woozling’ effect where at least two dozen organizations, legislative and policy making groups, and reviews of literature have relied almost exclusively on their one study. Any honest social scientist worth his salt knows one study can be so repeatedly cited over 5 years (and in the media), and that it can certainly have an impact and even pass into a modern mythology.

While Smyth is desperate to claim that their “little” study couldn’t possibly shape a nation’s course, McIntosh has always led people to believe that it was indeed a “big” study. For example, at her Chicago plenary speech (2012), to the Association of Family and Conciliatory Courts, she emphasized:

  • “This amounts to more than 5,000 children”

She thereby ensured imparting the importance her audience should attach to her study – and just to underscore it drops it out that she has ‘explored’ the LSAC dataset which has a sample size of 10,000 children aged 0 – 5 years old. How many people in that audience (or the public ?) were going to wade through 169 pages of a report or read her Chicago plenary speech to discover that she doesn’t actually use the large sample size she mentions ? Instead her sample sizes actually were tiny.

Confounding questions

What is truly staggering about McIntosh’s mis-behaviour is that it has taken her 5 long years to alert people worldwide that she is not, after all, opposed to children’s  ‘sleepovers’ with their father, i.e. frequent overnighting.

  • Why did it take the combined papers of Nielsen and Warshak to winkle this key concession out of her ?
  • And why would this correction have gone publicly unnoticed but for the efforts of Arndt and her newspaper article ?
  • Why, for the past 5 years, has she not been at all upset by people misusing her study as she now says she intended ?
  • Why, for the same 5 years, has she been happy to allow fathers to be deprived of ‘overnighting’ for infants and toddlers and was content to see her work severely limit if not eliminate it entirely ?
  • Why on her website, does she still admit that she is (and always has been) against “frequent” overnights.
  • Why does she define ‘frequent’ as once a week or less when even the basic minimalist contact award is for once a week at weekends. By no stretch of the imagination can that be called ‘frequent’ but it is in McIntosh world.

What McIntosh does approve of and support is one, two (or at a push) three ‘overnights’ per month. This is her ‘normal’. So when McIntosh speaks of overnight stays with Dad occurring monthly on a “frequent” basis, how many of us assume that she actually means only 4 out of 30 days a month ?

Prof. Patrick Parkinson, University of Sydney, applauds the consensus that has emerged in response to McIntosh’s wrong-headed paper. The world’s foremost authorities all agree that blanket statements to the effect that children under three should never stay overnight with their non-resident fathers (as McIntosh inferred), should now be treated as entirely incorrect.

Research psychologists carry a heavy burden of responsibility in our modern age for assuring the accuracy of their claims about their results. In turn, psychologists who cite or blithely apply the research findings of others are made to share in the original irresponsibility. In not attending to this cardinal rule McIntosh and chums tried ducking their professional responsibility.

In the long run the fierce and public battering surrounding the very notion of a “primary parent” or “primary attachment” may yet prove its death knell. [8]




Appendix 1


The question of “frequency”

It falls to Prof. Linda Nielsen to competently assess McIntosh’s research both in the present debacle and over both earlier papers and the subsequent ones that she now relies upon in an effort to salvage her reputation.

Better qualified and with more experience Nielsen is able to a re-analyse the results and shows that McIntosh came to the wrong conclusions. She finds – where McIntosh did not – that spending ‘frequent’ overnight time in their father’s care was beneficial to children – remember McIntosh cautioned against it, citing that it carried dubious ‘outcomes’ for children. For example:

  • Cautionary notes on the shared care of children in conflicted parental separations.” http://www.aifs.gov.au/afrc/pubs/newsletter/n8pdf/n8b.pdf . This was a revised and expanded version by the same authors of “Shared care and children’s best interests in conflicted separation: A cautionary tale from current research”  (2008). Australian Family Lawyer, 20(1), 3–16.

McIntosh also claimed this finding was in line with previous research – but is it ? Nielsen highlights a 1989 study by the respected Kline, Tschann, Johnston, & Wallerstein. They didn’t find that shared parenting and /or ‘frequent’ overnight time was dubious in any way. In fact they found that children who overnighted frequently at their father’s house were “better adjusted emotionally.” This is exactly what Warren Farrell also found in his extensive 2001 book “Father and Child Reunion.”

Nielsen uncovers study after study which all point in the same direction, e.g. Maccoby & Mnookin back in 1992 and one from Wisconsin by Melli & Brown (2008) drawn nearly 600 shared parenting and 600 primary care families. Nor was McIntosh’s study in any way unique or exceptionally empirical as she tries to claim. There are plenty of previous studies – see those cited in “Life with, or without, Father !” http://divorcechildren.wordpress.com/2013/08/03/19/. Nielsen also highlights inaccuracies and in one of her papers she summarises 28 studies with children of all ages. Indeed, one can go back to the pioneers of the 1930s and 1950s, in both the US and Europe, to find clear traits of studies into delinquency at its infant stage of sophistication which share key points.

Frequent becomes ‘routine’

McIntosh appears not to realise that ‘frequent’ interactions and exchanges between parents is normal, not only in the past when factory shift work was common but especially in today’s more fluid labour market when sudden redundancy can lead to irregular shift work or weekend working employment.

Children, where one parents works a day shift and the other an evening shift, regularly cope with frequent changes between the care administering parent with no ill effects. It is a pattern that has been with us for decades – one extreme form is the emergence of the  “Latch-key kids”, circa 1950s, in the UK.

The number of such parental interactions and exchanges can be doubled where grandparents are actively involved. Routine visits twice or three times a week are not uncommon and, equally, staying overnight at ‘granddads and grandmas’ are a joy for children and grandparents alike. Normal people would see these frequent changes as being routine, i.e. part and parcel of family life.

The interactions and exchanges can be commonplace, everyday tasks,  or duties that must be done regularly, or they can be ‘special treats’. They can be at specified intervals, either daily weekly or fortnightly or at random intervals. Thus the frequency of care change, of residence change etc, etc, can be high in weekly or monthly terms and still not detrimental. McIntosh must acknowledge that changes in any set of circumstances settles down into a routine and that all routines can have any frequency.

Very young children are always “unsettled” and “irritable” even without having a special day out or a change in circumstances – that’s their normal status. McIntosh must acknowledge in her heart of hearts that any frequent change in circumstances which may initially present as “unsettled” and “irritable” to the observer is normal.





  1. Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report” ,  by Prof. Richard A. Warshak
  2. “Warshak Paper May Influence Child Custody Decisions in Australia” by Robert Franklin, April 30, 2014 https://nationalparentsorganization.org/recent-articles?id=21691
To download the original Warshak and Nielsen studies as PDFs please link to:”
http://www.bettinaarndt.com.au/wp-content/uploads/Nielsen-Woozles-2014.pdf and
Or go to: https://sharedparenting.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/45/ for Warshak’s study and to https://sharedparenting.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/39/ for Nielsen’s study


[1] “Parental separation and overnight care of young children, Part I: Consensus through Theoretical and Empirical Integration” April 2014 http://www.familytransitions.com.au/Family_Transitions/Publications_files/Pruett

[2] McIntosh, J. E., Smyth, B., & Kelaher, M. (2010). “Parenting arrangements post-separation: Patterns and developmental outcomes, Part II.”

[3] 2011 Encyclopedia of early childhood development. http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/documents/McintoshANGxp1.pdf

[4] See http://www.familytransitions.com.au/Family_Transitions/Family_Transitions.html

[5] See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-warshak/lifting-blanket-co-parenting_b_5265072.html

[6] Parental separation and overnight care of young children, Part I: Consensus through Theoretical and Empirical Integration Marsha Kline Pruett 1 2 , Jennifer E. McIntosh & Joan B. Kelly (2014) http://www.familytransitions.com.au/Family_Transitions/Family_Transitions_files/Pruett_McIntosh_Kelly_Parental_Separation_and_Overnight_Care_2014.pdf

[7] See http://www.theage.com.au/comment/the-age-letters/rights-of-the-children-come-before-needs-of-parents-20140430-37hvy.html

[8] See http://www.theage.com.au/national/empty-days-lonely-nights-20140428-37e3e.html

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