A typical scene from “Boys and Girls Alone” (Photo: Daily Mail)
By Alexandra Frean and Patrick Foster
Social services have demanded that Channel 4 axe a controversial series in which 20 primary school children are left without adult supervision for a fortnight.
Cornwall Children’s Services Authority said that it would have stopped Boys and Girls Alone being filmed in its area had it known about it. It is considering seeking an injunction to stop more episodes being shown.
Two out of four have been aired, leading to an outcry from child psychologists, who say the programme amounts to “abuse and neglect” of the children, aged 8-11. Left to their own devices in isolated cottages in Cornwall, the youngsters are shown fighting and tormenting each other and dissolving into tears.
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In a letter to Channel 4 and the regulator Ofcom, Ruby Parry, the authority’s assistant director for social care and family services, said that the programme raised serious child-protection issues. “Whilst it appears that parental consent was obtained for filming, such consent was, in our view … ill-advised and naive,” she said.
“Some of the children were greatly distressed and this in our view is abusive. This distress has now been publicly broadcast to all of these children’s peers and is therefore likely to have long-term consequences for some of them. In addition, given the current national concerns in relation to the safeguarding of children in this country, it is in our view highly irresponsible for Channel 4 to broadcast a programme which demeans and to some extent demonises children and thus reinforces negative public perceptions of children and their vulnerability.”
Ms Parry said programme-makers had breached laws requiring local authority approval for any child performance. “One of the children involved is from Cornwall but no licence has been sought from this authority. Given that any such application would have resulted in detailed inquiries from the authority about the nature of the programme and the safeguarding issues involved, we can only surmise that this was a deliberate omission.”
Ofcom is investigating after receiving more than 100 complaints. It is understood to have written to Channel 4 to ask why the show was considered appropriate for transmission.
Melanie Gill, a child forensic psychologist, who asked Cornwall social services to investigate, said the programme could cause psychological damage to the participants. “There is deliberate torment by adults of children in obvious distress,” she said. “By exposing these scenes to millions of viewers, the programme-makers are publicly humiliating these children (and their parents) for their failure to cope with what amounts to an abnormal, perverse and cruel money-making peep show.”
Michelle Elliott, a child psychologist and founder of the anti-bullying charity Kidscape, said: “If you put children together, unsupervised, as sure as day follows night, there will be bullying… How much worse will it be for them to know they have been bullied in front of the whole nation?”
Andrew Mackenzie, Channel 4’s head of factual entertainment, said the programme was a “stimulating and happy experience” for the children. It had conformed with Ofcom guidelines and the channel’s own strict production protocols, he said, adding that the children had been screened by a clinical psychologist. The children and parents had access to expert advice at all stages, there had been constant security and trained chaperones intervened when appropriate. The families had been paid only expenses, he said.