POV: Some PBS viewers expressed concern about scenes in which the staff of the Mulberry School physically restrain some of the students. Can you talk a little bit more about these scenes? What would you like to say to the viewers who were upset or outraged by these scenes? Do you think there are any cultural differences between the U.K. and the U.S. that partially account for some of these viewer reactions?
Kim Longinotto: I was at the school every day and I never saw a staff member holding a child in an angry or punishing way. It really did seem as if the staff were restraining the children to keep them safe. Sometimes it would start with the adult holding the child and end with the child hanging on to the adult.
Valerie asks: Are any of the students at the Mulberry Bush School on medication? How do you feel about the use of medication to treat emotionally disturbed kids (which is more common in the U.S.) vs. the approach at the Mulberry School?
Longinotto: Sometimes new children would come to the school and they would be on medication. The staff would gradually try to wean the children off the drugs. They would try and treat the causes of the violence without using drugs.
Jessica asks: Are you still in touch with the students and teachers at the Mulberry School?
Longinotto: I’m in touch with Georgina and Fiona, the two teachers. I also email all the staff who are in the film and keep them in touch with any news of the film. They probably get sick of me emailing them all the time.
Faith asks: Did any of the students ever act out at you?
Longinotto: No, they never did. I think it was because we weren’t responsible for them. When we first were at the school the children would sometimes ask me and Mary permission to do things. The staff would say, “Don’t ask Kim and Mary, ask an adult.” So we were seen as sort of half-adults. If we ever saw any of the children doing anything a bit dangerous, for example if Alex climbed a tree, we would always walk away. We didn’t want to encourage or affect anything where they could get hurt.
Ken asks: So many of the kids in the film wanted to spend time with their parents, but it was also clear that some of their visits with their families were very difficult. Did all of the children in the film have painful home lives? Do you think it was good or bad for them to visit with their families?
Longinotto: I think it was different for each child. Robert (the ginger-haired boy) seemed to always be upset by his family visits. I think that family visits were encouraged when the child seemed to benefit from them. The staff would discuss what was best for each child all the time. For example, Michael, the older, blonde boy at the beginning of the film, would spend a lot of time with his grandmother. I was surprised that when they had such lovely adults at the school, they seemed to still want their parents. That was a big realization for me. I went to boarding school and I don’t remember anyone missing their parents or wanting to be with them even though our school and the teachers were horrible.
Neil asks: What kinds of backgrounds did the teachers come from? What do you think compels them to keep working day after day at the Mulberry School?
Longinotto: I think many of them genuinely care about the children and get great satisfaction from seeing them develop. But it’s a hugely draining and grueling job. I don’t know how they manage it.