Parenting expert Jo Frost is perhaps best known to audiences from the reality-TV hit Supernanny, which originally launched in the U.K. in the early 2000s. She has gone on to front several other successful reality shows, including in the U.S. and the Netherlands, and pen a number of books, all of which focus on parental and familial issues. Her latest endeavor is Jo Frost on Killer Kids, a documentary series that follows Frost on a journey to find out why children commit murder. Produced for Crime + Investigation in the U.K. by true-crime specialists Woodcut Media, with co-producer Krempelwood Entertainment and Frost (Nanny Jo Productions) executive producing, the series is being taken out to the global market by Keshet International.
WS: How did Jo Frost on Killer Kids come about?
FROST: I had been sitting with this idea in my mind for over eight years. I was curious [about the topic of children who commit murder], and I wanted to explore it and ask questions. I toyed with the idea, sat it down and left it for another year before picking it back up again. The idea kept nagging at me, to the point that I knew I needed to do this. The idea was to be able to answer that question that we’ve all spoken about, that always creates controversial conversations: do children who kill come from a space of nature or nurture?
When we think about children, we think of playgrounds and innocence, and everything that’s marshmallowy and gooey. Fundamentally, children and family are such a huge part of my life. In addition to what people know me for [with my previous TV shows], which is being a parental expert and helping families, I study human behavior—I look at how we as human beings interact on a social level. [The idea of] children who kill just didn’t sit well with me; I wanted to go a lot deeper and be able to understand and explore it.
With Woodcut Media and Nanny Jo Productions producing the show, we were able to realize that vision to bring some riveting, compelling and insightful information [to viewers], yet at the same time give [the topic] what it deserves, which is the humanity of being able to speak to those families and to always have compassion and authenticity.
WS: Do viewers get to see a different side of you in this series than what they have come to know from Supernanny?
FROST: Viewers are surprised that I’m exploring this topic. Most people are used to watching me help families fix their dilemmas and issues. This is not about fixing anything. This is about exploring and understanding. It is an extension of what I do but is something a lot of people haven’t seen [from me].
WS: What was it like to sit down with families in a situation where you’re not able to offer a solution or “fix” their issues?
FROST: I am there to give them a voice. I’m there to ask questions that I believe the audience would ask too. From my perspective as a producer, as somebody who is a sister and a daughter, it’s about being able to ask those questions to another human being who is in such a position that you can’t even fathom what that must have been like for them. You want to try to understand [their experience] and be able to give them a voice to express what their take may be, what they felt or to ask questions that lead to provoking thoughts in some way or another. It most definitely was challenging. You’re talking about their loved ones that they’ve lost, and that’s incredibly sensitive. As a very compassionate, empathetic and sympathetic person, those conversations weren’t easy to have. You have to put to the side the part of you that wants to burst into tears when you’re hearing a story about a moment in their life even though you feel absolutely dreadful for them. At the same time, you have to carry on professionally and be able to ask [the right] questions so that you can hear their side.
WS: What was the most surprising thing you learned from doing this series?
FROST: It was interesting for me to be able to crack open the importance of understanding more about justice reform. Are we giving these children who commit murder the help that they need should they come out at an age that is still so young? Are we going to be safe as a society from these children? Are they going to get the medical help that they require?
In every part, it was a moment of learning, from talking to reporters and journalists working on cases to talking to professional criminologists and neuroscientists to learn about how the brain develops and what possibly could have gone wrong in those circumstances. I also learned a lot from talking to families about the importance of nurture and how the early years have such a detrimental impact on a child if there isn’t fundamentally the nurture that they need and instead there’s neglect and childhood trauma. It was very insightful for me to have had those conversations.