My Violent Child: “everything revolves around him”

So this week saw the start of the return series of My Violent Child, the Channel 5 documentary made by Popkorn TV about children’s violence to parents, which first aired in Britain in June 2014. I was tempted to post something in the run up to the first episode (of 3) but decided to watch first before committing myself – always good practice I find!

This follow up series came about when the team making the original found they did not have time to tell the whole of what was a more complex situation than they had first anticipated. The original programme received a mixed response, with some parents appreciating the opportunity to find they were not alone and receive permission to talk about their experience; while many practitioners and academics were anxious about the effects on children in particular of being so publicly exposed.

The lead up to this new series has seen quite sensationalist promotional coverage in the tabloid press particularly (I have deliberately chosen not to link to it), as well as action on twitter, and a book published by one of the main therapists taking part in the programme. Along with many others I know, I began watching with some trepidation, but was almost immediately pleased to see a different tone to the earlier programme.

Subtitled Tearing us Apart, the first episode followed two new families in quite different situations. In one the boy was 14 and diagnosed with Aspergers; the other featured a young family of 4 children, only one of whom was demonstrating violence and abuse. Despite parents’ best efforts – and this is important to emphasise, because these were not families who had thrown in the towel or were generally dysfunctional – both had reached a point of hopelessness and despair, and a sense that only bad could befall their children for the future. Families were shown on the cusp of break up as the violence and abuse affected all members. Enter a group of therapists offering their own expertise in analysis, advice and intervention.

So we saw, Jane Evans, who works from a trauma and attachment base, gently offering mum a range of insights and strategies to help the child and herself regulate their anxiety better and to find connections they thought they lacked. The immediate feedback this brought will help to sustain the longer term work needed to bring about lasting change; and was very moving to watch.

Elaine Nicholson, CEO at Action for Aspergers, and Sarah Shearman, an equine assisted coach with Autism Angels, were both brought in to support the second family and helped to bring an understanding of the different way young people on the autistic spectrum interpret the world and our actions, as well as how they feel about themselves. Equine therapy seems to be very much in the ascendancy at the moment, and was shown to offer a range of benefits in the contact with animals.

My overall sense then was one of relief, that this was a more balanced presentation both in terms of the routes in to violence and abuse, and in the sorts of response that might be available and helpful. My concerns remain about the naming of the families and showing of the children’s faces. Young children cannot be expected to have given informed consent and will have to face their class mates and neighbours today and in the future. Some of the twitter coverage was vile in the extreme; not easy to brush off when your parenting skills, background or even appearance are themselves called in to question, as viewers launch in with a free for all that we have sadly come to expect. In fact there was also a lot of sympathetic, sensitive and supportive tweeting, but we know what it is that people remember.

The next two episodes will feature different families and different therapeutic responses around the country. I await them with great interest. I would like to say that the publicity the series brings can only be seen as positive in raising awareness among the general public, and in enabling families to come forward for help at an earlier stage. For that to be truly useful though there remains a need for the development of a range of resources spread evenly around the country so that they can be accessed at the point of need.

The parents who came forward for help have demonstrated a remarkable courage. To put themselves through what they will have endured with the tv cameras, and now the hostile comments, can only be understood in the context of the terrible situations they have lived with over the last 5 – 10 years. This sort of public exposure is not something you do lightly. We wish them hope for the future, and lasting restored healthy relationships within their families.

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