Child of Rage is a CBS Television movie made in 1992 starring Ashley Peldon and Mel Harris. The film is based on the true story by Beth Thomas, who suffered from reactive attachment disorder as a result of being sexually abused as a child.
The film was shot in Vancouver, British Columbia, with classroom scenes being filmed at Mary Hill Elementary School.
Minister Rob Tyler and his wife Jill Tyler adopt two children, Catherine and Eric. Eric is a sweet and timid child, whereas Catherine seems to come across as being the same. However, Catherine soon displays outbursts of violent rage for no apparent reason, affecting her behavior and interaction with others. At first, some of her violent acts (such as killing a flock of baby birds and attacking Eric while he sleeps) go unnoticed, but when it progresses to tearing her room apart and stabbing the family dog with a needle, Rob and Jill sense something is wrong. They attempt to ask Doris, the children's caseworker, about anything in Catherine's past that might explain it, but Doris hides behind confidentiality laws and only suggests that Rob and Jill bring the children back if they're unable to handle them.
Following an equally disturbing incident in which Catherine fondles her grandfather, Rob and Jill take her to a psychologist, but she puts on a good show while there, convincing him that there's nothing wrong. A short time later, Jill notices fresh bruises on Eric, and though he's initially scared to say anything, she gets him to admit that it was Catherine who inflicted them, though these are relatively minute compared to her next episode, where she smashes Eric's head on the concrete basement floor, landing him in the emergency room.
At this point, Doris finally admits the truth about the children's past: after receiving a concerned phone call, she rescued the children from an abusive and neglectful home, which was one of the worst she'd seen. Although Eric was in bad shape, it was nothing compared to the condition Catherine was found in, and no adults were present at the time (their mother was hospitalized with pneumonia, while their father was presumably off on a drunken bender).
Doris then reveals that the children have an older biological sister named Stephanie, whom she and Jill track down at a topless bar. After sitting down with them, Stephanie has a harrowing story of her own to tell: she was sexually abused by her father as a child, and after she began fighting back, he turned his attention over to Catherine, thus explaining the root of her violent behavior.
After yet another violent incident in which Catherine cuts a classmate with a shard of glass, Rob and Jill pay another visit to Doris, who reveals that she had previously moved the children from foster home to foster home, hoping that something would work for them. She then gives the couple a book called Kids Who Kill, and after reading it, Jill describes it as "chilling" and feeling like it was a perfect description of Catherine. It is at this point that Doris suggests a controversial treatment method for Catherine: holding therapy, which is practiced by the book's author, Dr. Rosemary Myers. Rob feels as though Catherine is a lost cause and suggests they just keep Eric, but Jill reminds him that "God gave us these children for a reason" and that they have to do whatever they can to help Catherine.
After traveling to the clinic, Dr. Myers examines Catherine, and though she initially tries to put on the same act that she did for the last therapist, Dr. Myers uses reverse psychology to get Catherine to admit her past acts of violence. Afterward, she tells Rob and Jill that they have "a very sick little girl", and the lack of an opportunity for bonding after Catherine was born left her with an inability to attach. She offers to try and help Catherine, but acknowledges it can go either way.
During their first holding therapy session (which involves Rob, Jill and Dr. Myers holding Catherine down while Dr. Myers deliberately provokes her rage), things start out well, but Jill senses it's going too far. However, Dr. Myers reminds Jill that she needs to trust her, and the session resumes, ending successfully after an enraged Catherine admits a desire to re-enact her past acts of violence with the three of them, giving them a glimpse of the pain underneath her rage. While the procedure normally takes place over a 6-week period, Dr. Myers realizes that Rob and Jill need to get home to Eric (who is in the care of Rob's parents while they're away) and believes the couple can successfully conduct the sessions at home, so she gives them permission to do so.
However, shortly before their return home, another disturbed child named Justin starts a fire at the hotel, and when Catherine is inadvertently left alone in the room during the evacuation, it sets off an apparent feeling of panic in her, culminating in an incident where she tries to stab Rob with a knife concealed inside her teddy bear as he sleeps, but is caught in the nick of time.
Returning home, the couple discusses the prospect of being separated from one another to give Catherine individual bonding time with each parent, and though initially uncertain, they agree it's best in order to allow her a chance to heal. As the two have another holding therapy session with Catherine, a breakthrough occurs: when Catherine starts to cry afterward, Jill does the same, and Catherine attempts to comfort her. The film ends with Catherine telling Jill and Rob that she loves them as the three tearfully embrace.