Healing the Child When One Parent Kills the Other
Waterhouse, Rosie, The Independent (London, England)
THE RESULTS of a study into the effects on children when one parent kills the other are to be presented at a conference of child psychiatrists next month.
Every year in England and Wales the courts convict between 40 and 50 men and a handful of women of killing their partners, leaving any children effectively orphaned.
Until recently there was no specialist knowledge or service for such bereaved children. Academic papers had considered the possibility of psychological problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, but not how best to treat and counsel these children; how to assess where they should live in the short and long term; how to help them grieve; how to decide on contact with the surviving parent; and ultimately how to enable them to grow up without too many emotional and psychological scars.
Last year at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, north London, a special clinic opened for children who have suffered acute psychological trauma. And on 1 September at a conference of the Association of Child Psychologists and Psychiatrists in Winchester, Hampshire, Dr Dora Black, the child psychiatrist in charge of the clinic, will present the findings of the world's first study into the effects on children after one parent has killed the other. The research was conducted with other child psychiatrists involved with the clinic, Dr Jean Harris Hendricks and Dr Tony Kaplan.
Since 1986 they have seen 270 children from about 100 families; in about 12 cases the mother was the killer. The treatment tries to limit post- traumatic stress symptoms through "crisis intervention" thus preventing, they hope, long-term emotional and psychological problems.
The doctors help the children talk about what they saw and how they feel. The child is encouraged to draw a picture or tell a story about the traumatic experience. "Families" of dolls are also used to help re-enact the scene.
In their book When Father Kills Mother: Guiding Children through Trauma and Grief, the doctors draw up basic principles for dealing with the impact on children and the aftermath. …