Family blame is no game

Case study

Situation: Carole Evans, 29, has three children; two sons aged 10 and three, and a two-year-old daughter. The youngest two were fathered by her husband Danny, 32. The eldest, Charlie, was born following a rape. Danny has a long-standing alcohol problem and has a police record for three accounts of actual bodily harm, although these convictions were several years ago. The children, while healthy, have behavioural problems.

Problem: Danny has an uneasy relationship with Charlie. Both parents, although mainly Danny, use corporal punishment in attempts to control Charlie’s behaviour. However, both say that although they shout at times, they would not hit the youngest two because “they know no better”. On hearing that Charlie had been excluded from school, Danny, returning from an evening at the pub, physically assaulted Charlie. A case conference placed all three children on the child protection register. Following repeated threats to Carole and Charlie, mother and children were placed in a refuge. Carole is demanding to return home and blames Charlie for ruining her life. Danny has said that he will make efforts to control his drinking if they can come home but can’t promise to manage his anger at Charlie. For his part, Charlie says he wished Danny wasn’t around but clearly loves his mother – whose life he, too, believes he has ruined – and his two siblings.

Panel responses

Mark Houston
Although Danny’s convictions were several years ago, it is evident that Danny’s inability to control his temper is still a major problem.

While he continues with his violent behaviour, he is definitely unsuitable to bring up children. Very understandably, Charlie does not wish to be with Danny, and I do feel that it is Charlie’s right to have this view taken into consideration.

Being raped must have been horrific, and I would imagine that Charlie is, to a certain extent, a reminder to Carole of that terrible event. But while Carole is blaming Charlie for “ruining her life” it is making Charlie’s problems even worse. We are told that Charlie “clearly loves his Mum” but does genuinely believe that he has ruined her life. Charlie’s self-esteem is now extremely low, and needs boosting.

I do not feel that Charlie would benefit from living with Danny. Violence towards children only shows them that violence is the way to succeed in life. This will only worsen Charlie’s behaviour difficulties such as lead to exclusion from school.

But, although Danny does have all these problems, Carole does still love him. Danny has said that he will attempt to control his drinking but he has said that he can’t promise to control his anger towards Charlie.

Having Carole, Danny and Charlie living together is not a viable option. If Carole insists on coming home again, Charlie needs to be housed somewhere else. However, I would, of course, encourage regular contact with his mum.

I would then expect Danny to deal with his drinking and violence problems. If Danny can manage this, Charlie could then come back home to live with his family.

But what is offered Charlie must be considered very carefully. Ideally, he would benefit from living with a very experienced and patient foster family. They could give Charlie lots of attention, and work with him, his school, and social services in order to enhance his life chances. Charlie could then return home to his family and they could then give him the love and effort to enable him to grow up and succeed.

Emily Joslin
It is really hard to say the right thing sometimes isn’t it? You want to say to Carole “put your children first and leave Danny”, but you can’t. So here goes.

The family could benefit from family group therapy. There is a lot of pain that needs to be worked through and it seems that all the blame is being dumped onto Charlie. Carole is obviously someone who has been through a lot and probably has never had a chance to work through the hurt and issues surrounding the rape.

In her mind she is probably saying: “If Charlie had never been born I wouldn’t be having all these problems now with my husband”. But it goes much deeper than that. She needs to realise that Charlie is an innocent in this. He didn’t ask to be conceived in the manner he was. Carole needs counselling to be able to distinguish the difference between the person who hurt her in the past and Charlie upon whom she is transferring her resentment. Danny could do with attending an anger management group and an alcohol advisory service.
Charlie could benefit from becoming involved with the youth service that can provide many activities after school and during the holidays. This would help raise his self-esteem by taking part, having fun, relaxing and playing with other children. Also this would give him a break from the tense atmosphere at home and use up some of the boundless energy that 10-year-olds have. This would also enable Carole and Danny to have some space if Charlie’s behaviour is difficult at times. All three children should remain on the child protection register and kept a very close eye on.

If the situation does not improve, foster care should be considered for Charlie because he is getting damaged in the present situation. If this happens it needs to be explained to him that it is not his fault as he will already probably feel he is to blame for everything. Charlie’s self-esteem is a big issue here. His confidence must be so low and if he thinks his being moved away is also his fault this will only make things worse. It should be explained to him that this move is a positive one, that he can grow from it and that it will give everyone time and space to make things better. Also don’t put him in a children’s home, he needs to be with someone who can be loving parents to him rather than have staff who come on in shifts to look after him. 

User view

The best thing for any child is to be with their family, provided that it brings security, happiness and constructive ways of dealing with behavioural problems, writes Justin Dickson. When there is no balance in family life, situations often become uncontrollable – and it is mainly the children who end up being most affected.

Why does Danny have such an uneasy relationship with Charlie? Could it be that Charlie is a constant reminder of Carole’s rape or even just of her life before and without him and that he finds it easy to take out his anger on Charlie?

It also seems that Carole has become resentful towards her son and is not thinking about what is best for him. It is clear that Charlie does not want to be near Danny and this could be causing his behavioural problems and could be the reason for his exclusion from school.

Danny’s stated aim to control his drinking is not enough for mother and children to go back home with him. He has also said that he cannot promise to manage his anger towards Charlie in which case every effort should be made to stop him from harming Charlie. For Charlie to feel that he has ruined his mother and other siblings’ lives is a sure sign that something is wrong with this family. No child at the age of 10 should feel this way.

It is important to get Charlie and his siblings settled into a familiar routine and I don’t think that is best done at home. Danny should be getting help with anger management and alcohol abuse, while Carole should get some counselling to stop her blaming Charlie for ruining her life. Although the younger children are not hit by both parents they surely will have suffered mental damage and will more than likely suffer physical abuse when they get older if something is not done to prevent it.

Danny is not suitable to be looking after children as he is an unstable character and he should not be allowed to take these children back into his home. If Carole wants to keep her children safe she should stay at the refuge, but as she wants to go home she is not thinking about the children’s best interests and could lose them all together if she takes them back to live with Danny. His threats should not be taken lightly with children involved. Carole seems like she could do with some support not only with her emotional needs but also with her children in order to build a much better and healthier relationship for all of them.

Justin Dickson is a care leaver.

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