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Ruby Franke, 42 years, was a YouTube star who quickly rose to fame for creating controversial advice to parents. 

Last august, a boy aged 12, with open lesions and duct tape around his ankles, was found knocking on neighbours doors asking for food and water, in the city of Ivins in Utah. It was discovered he had escaped the home of Jodi Hildebrandt. Franke’s business partner and counsellor. 

He had climbed out the window and run to a nearby house. After he was taken to the hospital, it was found he was suffering from malnourishment and “deep lacerations from being tied up with rope”. Franke’s 10-year-old daughter was found in a similar condition, in Hildebrandt’s home. In total, four children were taken into care in which they disclosed that Hildebrandt put cayenne pepper and honey on their wounds. Franke, mother of six, and Hildebrandt were both arrested.

During the sentencing on Tuesday, Franke appeared in court and gave the following, tearful apology, “I was so disorientated that I believed dark was light and right was wrong”. She continued “I would do anything in this world for you. I took from you all that was soft, and safe, and good. For the past four years, I was in a deep undercurrent that led us to danger. You’re so precious to me. I’m sorry”. 

In Hildebrant’s statement she stated she wished and prayed for the children to “heal physically and emotionally” and “one of the reasons I did not go to trial is because I did not want them to emotionally relive the experience which would have been detrimental to them.” Both pleaded guilty to second-degree, aggravated child abuse in December and received the same charge, four terms of one to fifteen years in prison. 

Many people have taken to social media reporting that they were not surprised to learn of the abuse inflicted by Franke due to her videos over the years, sparking criticism for her harsh and authoritarian parenting style. 

Back in 2015, Franke created the YouTube channel, 8 passengers. The channel had a whopping 2.3 million followers, with tens of thousands of views, creating a million-dollar income for Franke. Previously Franke had been interviewed regarding her channel and reported that creating the YouTube videos had helped her and her family “live in the present and enjoy the kids.”

The videos uploaded comprised of Franke showing her life as a Mormon suburban mum and activities that included homeschooling, cooking, eating and chatting with one another. However, in one video Franke was seen telling her sons that if they did not stop playfighting, they would “lose the privilege to eat dinner”. In another, Franke said that her six-year-old “needed” to go hungry after forgetting to take her lunch to school and hoped no one would provide her with food as she needed to learn. In a video uploaded in 2020, Franke’s son revealed that after playing pranks on his siblings, his bedroom had been taken away for seven months and he was sleeping on a bean bag. In the same video, Franke said her son had been unable to manage a bedroom and so was instead offered an alternative; a guest bed or inflatable mattress. A petition was started by a viewer, demanding an investigation. The petition gained thousands of signatures and protective services were called. Unfortunately, this didn’t amount to much. In response to the controversy, both Franke and her then husband reported that some accounts had “malicious” intentions and took the clip out of context, “seeking to throw hate”. Franke declared “a reasonable person would not have seen that video and thought she’s a child abuser.”

This was the beginning of the end of the 8 passengers YouTube channel. Videos became less and less, until no more were being uploaded and the channel was deleted. In 2022, Franke created a new channel, called ConneXions, with Hildebrant. The channel had a far smaller audience and Franke claimed she had left the lucrative world to save her children.

Although Franke’s channels often caused criticism, her following was substantial. Experts believe her success could be a result of many parents’ modern-day anxieties. These anxieties can lead parents to pursue radical and harmful solutions. Parenting psychologist, Dr Maryhan Bake explained “For parents who feel lost and desperate, particularly when it’s dealing with problematic behaviours, extreme techniques become appealing, particularly when they are seeing results”. Dr Siggie Cohen, a child development specialist, explained that the success of family vlogging channels like Franke’s can play on people’s fears about their own parenting skills.   

Franke’s now ex-husband, Kevin Franke, claimed he had no part in the abuse of their children, and that he had left the family home 13 months before the time of Franke’s arrest. When asked about the video’s uploaded to YouTube, he reported that they were trying to teach their children how to “live responsibly and master themselves”. 

Franke’s children are reported to now be safe but have a “long road ahead” to recovery. 

This is a truly disturbing case, for many reasons. The first is the suffering Franke’s children were subjected to. These children were not safeguarded, even when concerns were raised to the authorities and that is simply not ok. Which leads to the ongoing conversation that there are not the necessary safeguards on social media. Both children and adults are exposed to extremely harmful content on a daily basis, and the impact of this could be detrimental. This story once again highlights the dangers of social media and the need to do more.

What can you do: 

If you have a concern about a child, pursue it. You are within your rights to question professionals’ reasoning as to why decisions have been made, and what actions are being taken. For all the children you are working with, you must be their advocate. Unfortunately, you may be their only one.

If you are working with children that display challenging behaviours or have parents/carers that are having difficulties with their children’s behaviour, it is essential they know where to go for help. Signposting to different services as much as possible is key. 

Some schools are able to offer their own parenting courses whilst others link up with local services to host parenting programmes.

If nothing else, sharing key parenting tips and ideas that are age and stage-appropriate as well as up to date regarding online and contextual risks, is greatly needed by many parents/carers.

The following links will take you to some helpful resources (NB. The NSPCC resource comes in several language translations which can be helpful for many of our families for whom English is an additional language):

young-teen-12-14-w-npa.pdf (cdc.gov)

positive-parenting.pdf (nspcc.org.uk)

Parenting and Family Support – Family Lives (Parentline Plus) | Family Lives

Finally, we must ensure we are educating parents on the dangers of social media. We are all well aware of the dangers children face online – and the influence social media can have, but this story highlights that there are dangers and influences present for everyone.  Not just for children, but also parents/carers themselves.