A parent of a teenager who was eventually diagnosed with psychopathic traits has spoken out in favour of labelling young children after social services attributed her son’s behaviour to ‘poor parenting’.
The woman, known only as Kerry, has decided to speak out after 16-year-old Aaron Campbell was sentenced to a minimum of 27 years behind bars for the abduction, rape and murder of six-year-old Alesha MacPhail on the Isle of Bute last July.
Kerry who wrote an article for the Scotsman, fears the boy who she adopted at the age of three, may at some time in the future commit a similar crime after he told her he would make a “great assassin” and showed a strong interest in violence, guns, and killing people.
She says repeated requests for support fell on deaf ears with both social services and local Child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) acknowledging the boy was challenging.
However they attributed his behaviour to her ‘poor parenting’ and failure to address the adverse childhood expereinces (ACEs) he had experienced as a toddler.
Her opinion mirrors that of Clinical and Forensic Consultant Dr John J Marshall who assessed Campbell and believes children as young as four who exhibit challenging behaviour should be screened for psychopathic traits.
This has been challenged by among others David Wilson, a former prison governor and criminologist, quoted in a recent Guardian article as saying “people who exhibit psychopathic traits can lead highly successful lives and never pose a risk to anyone, hence the problem with early labelling.”
Kerry says this fails to define why labelling is a problem and says her son has benefited from having knowledge of his problems. The teenager was formally identified with callous, unemotional traits - a component of psychopathic traits in children, around one year ago when he was 15 years of age.
She said: “My son was adopted after being in care from three years of age. From almost the moment he moved in, I had concerns about his behaviour.
“Social Services believed that all he needed was a loving family and his problems would disappear.
“Sadly, this was not the case, and his behaviour deteriorated and continued to be of concern to me, my family and friends.
“My repeated requests for support were rejected.”
She said the extent of her son’s behavioural problems included lying about biting another child on the back and having an “extremely inflated” opinion of himself. He also stole thousands of pounds from her bank account, damaged property and set fires.
Kerry added: “My son presented, and still does, as a charming and grandiose child. Everybody who met him found him very likeable.
“In the past, he had thrown a child downstairs on several occasions and showed no remorse – even when the child was badly injured.
“Social work looked into this, yet no practical parenting support was offered. He would deliberately hurt his sister, leading to numerous trips to A&E.
“He had no empathy, feeling for example people on benefits or homeless people on the streets deserved all they got and nobody should help them out.
“He could not see the point of pets and showed no interest in his grandparents’ dog.
“He could never understand or bother about why people became upset and was not able to connect his behaviour to the reactions of others.”
Dr John J Marshall, Consultant Clinical and Forensic Psychologist said that Kerry highlights the “lived reality” of someone caring for a child with emerging psychopathic traits.
He added: “The identification of these problems seems to allow her to change her approach to parenting and shape his future. Identifying Psychopathic traits maybe helped them externalise the difficulties in their attachment relationship.
“This means it was easier to focus on these temperamental traits than take things to heart, thereby improving their relationship.
“Having the support from a range of professionals who grasp what they are dealing with can help switch the focus away from blaming Kerry and her son.”
Kerry says the diagnosis of callous-unemotional traits helped define the problems her son faced and research and discussion with experts has allowed her to develop a way to work with him to help address some of these issues.
She says although diagnosis came late the boy was aware to a certain extent that he had different views to his peers. He has now investigated his difficulties and gained an insight into how his mind works.
However, Kerry said she still has concerns he could react badly in extreme anger and is “very open” that he could kill someone if provoked.
She added: “He is learning about love and the joy of doing something for someone else just because you can.
“He still feels he could kill someone for money without any qualms, although he is now not as sure about this.
“He still takes what he wants, but this is happening less and less, and he does now admit it when challenged and will apologise and seems to know the behaviours of remorse, even if he does not feel this, which is a start.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “This moving article is a reminder to us all that these issues are extremely sensitive and the Scottish Government must do everything it can to support vulnerable young people and their families.”