PARENTS

DaddyOFive YouTube Channel Creator Temporarily Loses Custody Of Children

05/02/2017 03:46 EDT | Updated 05/02/2017 05:06 EDT

The controversy around one couple's popular YouTube videos featuring them and their children has led to some real-life consequences.

Michael Martin, who lives in Maryland, has temporarily lost custody of his two children, Cody and Emma, the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office told the Baltimore Sun.

The children, which ABC News said last week are nine and 11 years old, have been placed with their biological mother, Rose Hall, who requested emergency custody.

Michael, his wife Heather and their blended family are the stars of two YouTube channels called DaddyOFive and MommyOFive.

On DaddyOFive, they play a number of so-called pranks on the kids, but especially on Cody, Rachel Dunphy wrote for Select All.

The channel has gained more than 750,000 subscribers since it started in August 2015.

Most of the videos have disappeared from the channel, but another YouTube vlogger critical of the parents, Philip DeFranco, gathered clips of some of the most extreme pranks.

One involved Heather and Michael blaming Cody for spilling invisible ink on a carpet, the two screaming at him as he pleads that he had nothing to do with it.

In others, Cody is kicked between the legs, thrown off a chair or pushed into a bookshelf by his step-siblings or his dad.

"So you all made me go through all of this just for a stupid prank?" he says tearfully in one clip.

In response to the controversy, the Martins posted a video with their children standing in the background, claiming Child Protective Services had investigated them and found no evidence of abuse. They also shrugged off critics, with one of the boys saying "at least you're not beating us."

But as the questions around their behaviour grew, the couple became remorseful. Late last month, they posted an apology video, in which Heather Martin said they were going to family counselling.

"This has been the absolute worst week of our life,” she said, “and we realize that we have made some terrible parenting decisions."

She said the kids would get excited about the channel’s popularity, eager to see how many views the videos could get, and that she and Michael focused on making them as shocking as possible.

In an interview with Good Morning America, she said Cody knew he was being pranked when they blamed him for spilling ink on the carpet.

"I'm not saying that the things we were doing didn't bring on an emotional reaction, but the reaction was exaggerated,” she said.

But in the YouTube apology, Heather said she understood that strangers viewing their videos could get upset.

"If I didn’t know the people and I saw some of those things, I would be thinking the same thing, I would be like ‘oh my god those poor children.'"

Baltimore County police told ABC News last week when the Good Morning America interview aired that they had opened an investigation into the family and their videos.

Hall appeared in a YouTube video posted Monday with her lawyer, Tim Conlon.

"[It was] very heartbreaking and disturbing to see my kids being abused," Hall said.

She said that Cody had a hard time when he was first taken from the Martins' home and that she thinks it will take a lot of counselling for him to adjust.

“He said some things that were disturbing, that he hated me and that Mike and Heather told him I threw him away like he was garbage and I didn’t love him no more," she said.

She also thanked members of the YouTube community for bringing the videos to light.

But while the question of whether the children were abused is still up for debate, Rachel Dunphy pointed out in Select All that the videos raise issues beyond their potential victimization. She said that it's estimated the channel generates between US$200,000 and $350,000 a year, and that the children rely on their parents to get compensation for their apparent acting.

"...That financial coercion is important to consider when the Martin children making middling or even positive statements about their parents’ treatment, as they did in a since-privatized initial response."

Conlon told the Baltimore Sun that a hearing will be held Friday.