There has been a very mixed response to the documentary about child to parent violence screened on Channel 5 on Wednesday June 18th.
The programme followed three families from around the country, with boys ranging in age from 7 – 14 years. In each case the child had been physically and verbally abusive to his mother for many years and also, in some cases, to other members of the family or within school. The violence was extreme – and graphically depicted – including punching, kicking and hair pulling, strangling, property destruction and apparently an incident with a meat cleaver. While each family had found some form of assistance, it was made clear that this remains a problematic issue, with specialist support not easy to find, and at the end while some progress was being made, we were told that Brett’s mother risked losing the respite care that she had found so important.
The programme was not without moments of great poignancy, and phrases that stick with you as indicators of the desperateness of the situation.
I want to love him but sometimes I don’t like him.
You kind of become immune to it.
The unpredictability of a child who is prone to violence is often what’s most stressful to a parent.
I think Frank is my karma.
Parents do not need others to blame them. They often believe themselves to be at fault despite caring deeply and genuinely doing the best they believe they can do. Watching a one-off programme gives a poor sense of what it is like to live with this day in day out, including a lack of support in some cases from those you would most hope would understand.
While the comments on the programme website are largely sympathetic, from families who have personal experience of violence and abuse from children, twitter seems to have generated a more critical and blaming response. (Here for twitter storify.) Yes, there will be some families where there have been no discipline or boundaries put in place. But individuals who have known first hand the cruelty of being abused by their own child, point to the differential behaviour of siblings, the early trauma of adoptive children and the frustrations of a child with a mental health diagnosis or disability, rather than the parenting style as contributory to the uncontrollable and often unexplainable rages of some children; and the frustrations of being told to go on a parenting course or behaviour management when implementing everything they have learnt on such courses already. The lack of tailored support or real understanding by professionals is a constant theme.
It was a shame that there was not more focus on the support that is gradually developing in this country. The main focus was on the help from Southampton CAMHS but this was presented as one of the few centres in the country offering specialist help. The Respect programme got a single mention and there is a limited list of agencies on the website. While there is still a long way to go in making support accessible to families when and where it is needed, in Britain, there are more and more agencies undertaking training and starting to roll out groups for parents or families. It is noticeable from comments that the CAMHS service was considered to have been quite blaming of the parent. The three children featured were quite different and we need to acknowledge that one response will not be appropriate for all families. It is important that parents acknowledge their parenting responsibilities – which will continue – but this is very different to blaming them from all that has transpired. In this case, the mother herself identified some issues that she could change. As was said, “Both child and parent will have to work hard to change their behaviour together”.
Has the documentary helped to move things on?
Certainly more people will now be aware of the issue of child to parent violence. Comments online reflect what we already know – that amidst the general silence on the issue, it can be reassuring to discover that you are not the only person affected. For me though, the cases highlighted, and the discussion around them, have tended to reinforce rather than challenge the notion that parenting style is the problem; and I would have liked to have seen more about the types of help that are increasingly offered to families.
Please do watch the whole programme to make up your own mind!