Compassion and responsibility

On Monday night the BBC aired Responsible Child, a drama, based on a true story, directed by Nick Holt. The programme had been heavily trailed, and so it is not offering too many spoilers to say that twelve year old Ray, the main character, is involved in the murder of his stepfather, and the story follows his trial in the adult court in the context of his early life. Children’s services and education do not come out of it particularly well. Rather the compassionate responses are those of the legal team and a particular member of staff at the secure unit where Ray finally ends up

What we are shown is a deeply empathetic young man, trying to care for his mother and young siblings and devoted to his elder brother, his thoughts and concerns always for someone other than himself. We are encouraged to consider how much his previous experiences should determine our responses to him. Should he be in an adult court at all? How much did he really understand what he was doing? And how does our growing understanding of brain development – particularly the parts that govern thinking and reasoning, forward planning and impulse control – affect our thinking about this issue?

Why am I writing about this here, when the drama is so clearly not about a young person’s violence and abuse towards their parent in the way we have come to think about CPV?

  • Firstly, the most important challenge of the drama is about how we construct a young person’s understanding and intent, and that is a theme that does come up again and again within child to parent violence.
  • Next there is a reminder of the harm caused to children and young people living with domestic violence and abuse.
  • As we are encouraged to question whether the age of criminal responsibility in Britain is too low, it’s worth thinking about both of these in terms of the debate about lowering the age at which young people come within the Domestic Abuse legislation.
  • And finally a challenge to us all in the way we see and care for children and young people.

It’s nearly the end of the year, we’re all tired, I’m not going to unpack it any more than that now; just to thank everyone for your amazing commitment to the cause, and your insights and work throughout 2019. Many people are profoundly grateful to you!


If you are interested in reading further, Kathleen Heide has written extensively about children who kill their parents (here and here ), and Amanda Holt has more recently examined the overlap with child to parent violence, and with adult-child to parent violence and parricide. (here and here )

Responsible Child is available to view on iPlayer until 15th January 2020.

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