Collateral damage

I remember it like it was yesterday.

Clear and distinct in my mind. My social worker during prep phase sat on my brand new sofa and said “And what happens – what will you do – when ‘Plus 1′ takes a knife to this lovely new sofa, and cuts a little slit in it”. She acted it out, coolly and calmly, with her fingernail.

And that was that. In the ten months between my first call to the agency, and approval panel, this was the one and only mention of the havoc about to rain down, and the closest anyone ever came to preparing me for CPV.

One hypothetical reference to collateral damage, that over the last 11 years has become a reality of:

- an eight foot stretch of 150 year old T&G wood paneling now split, splintered and bowed out; her all time favourite self harm kicking place.

- six doors that no longer hang right, or close properly, and one with kick holes all across the bottom at different levels that represent the passing years like a height chart.

- the ‘road map’ of our walls, criss crossed with skid marks from things hurled and whipped against them,

- the beautiful handmade bread crock, broken and cracked with a chunk of the lid missing from being slammed one to many times in attempt to pull me into her rages.

- my christening bracelet, a part of me for 40 years, gone forever, without a trace.

- the oak kitchen table that survived our family for three generations, scarred with dozens of deep, double pointed dents from a claw hammer attack.

- the bruises on my body that come, turn to rainbows, and then go.

- the toilet seat that like its predecessors, is cracked through repeated, angry slamming.

- the long series of phones, laptops, controllers, a hairdryer and a tv, all smashed to smithereens. With implements, and sometimes with her bare hands or feet; stamping or smacking them repeatedly until cuts bleed from the sharp edges.

- the bite scars on my arms, and the deep raised one on my thigh.

- the canine tooth missing from my beautiful dog’s mouth, broken by the rock hurled at her during an angry summer’s day walk.

- boxfuls of household necessities and equipment that go missing, thrown out in secret when she gets obsessed with me having ‘too much stuff’; tools, climbing gear, coats, tape cassettes, camping kit, cameras, kitchen utensils.

- the regular scratch marks to my face, arms, back, legs, belly from the times I misjudge how close I can get to calm her while she tries to smash her head against the wall.

- the dashboard of my land rover cracked and hanging off on the passenger side from full power kicks over the flavor of a packet of crisps.

- the burns from where she threw dinners or hot drinks over me.

- the two lonely bowls left intact from a full dinner set, and the cracks in the tiles where the missing ones landed.

- the stains on the oak floors that I’ve tried to sand off (because, you know, pee).

- the five sash window panes either cracked or studded with bullet style impact holes.

- the banisters that creak and wobble a third of the way down where I crashed into them when she pushed me down the stairs.

- the blinds from her room currently ‘hidden’ in a bin bag; stashed in the airing cupboard where she thinks I won’t notice, cut into pieces…

I’m not sure where to stop. These – and many more like them – are ‘peak events’. The visible and tangible expressions of trauma. They come as part of the wider package of less story worthy hours of this screaming, rejecting, unsoothable, unstoppable, fear based, self preservational trauma that rampages through our home on a daily, sometimes hourly basis.

Looking at this list I feel almost nothing except love for her, and empathy for this raging battle she wages with herself every day. Extraordinary as it may seem, this list has become just another part of my life; normal. This list is an ongoing, central part of who we are as a family. Though i may get ‘lost’ in the heat of it all, or give in to my own feelings of hurt, I know this is the part of her that needs me most. That needs me to be so much stronger than i ever thought i could be.

Should I post this? Probably not; i’m fearful of making her pain so visible. But I will, because hearing the real stories of others helps me, so I know other people need to hear mine.

First, the other adopters: so they know they are not alone.

Second, the prospectives: so they know to access realistic training long before it is needed.

Third, the lobbyists and change makers: so they can push harder for adequate and practical adoption support.

And fourth, the professionals: so they know this is a day in, day out 24/7 reality in adoptive homes. So they know the stories we tell them are just snapshots in the barrage of a bigger picture that requires us to figure out, contain and guide the most vulnerable of lives in our care, all by our untrained, under supported and often compassion fatigued selves. 

So they know we need more help.


NB: click here for the new report on Impact of Child on Parent Violence from Thorley and Coates (2017)



When CHT and I were brought together, I thought I knew what I was doing.


I knew it would be hard.  I knew it would ask more of me than I dared to imagine.  I knew she would be demanding, and intense, and oh so worth all the struggle.  And I knew there would be tears shed, blood spilled – and a whole world of laughing.  I even had an idea that my foresight showed only the tip of the challenge to come.

What I didn’t know is that I was effectively ‘adopting’ a whole bunch of challenging adults alongside her.

These kids come with an entourage fit for a Diva – foster carers, social workers, educational psychologists, teachers, post adoption support workers, reviewing officers, and more.  This unwieldy group of people are there to help.  Except, they don’t, not most of them, and certainly not in the long run.  Yes, I write this while totally torqued after yet another dead end meeting, but for all the support you get, it seems that you have to invest at triple the time, money and effort.

I experience their help as leaving me ‘minussed out’; worse off than I began.  Why do these people  - in principle there to help – me make me work so hard when I am already stretched to my limit coping with a distressed and torn up child?   I feel like I carry them all on my back.

Pleading for their understanding, pushing for action, chasing up progress; this ‘support’ leaves me exhausted, more stressed and burdened than I started, and frustrated at the plans and promises that come to nothing.

There is a gaping chasm between the knowledge of so many specialist adoption professionals, and the barefaced day to day reality of adoptive parents and adoptees.

Where is the unspoken recognition of our problems and dilemmas from the specialists whose job it is to understand these issues?  Why are we made to fight so hard to make our voices heard by the very people whose purpose it is to fight our family’s corner?  Why is it so unclear what support is available for us?  Why do the doors not willingly open when we ask for the help, respite, and the training we so dearly need?

Our words fall on deaf ears, and then worse still, there comes ‘that look’.

You must know the one.  It comes partway into explaining something about your family/situation/child.  It comes accompanied by a glance at a watch, and through slightly glazed eyes that judge you, and write you off as pushy, or annoying, or exaggerating.  It is the look that dismisses you in a heartbeat as suffering from some adoption version of Munchausen by proxy.

The whole process strips me bare.  It can also leave me riddled with self doubt, and with less of myself to give to the all important task I was trusted with; parenting my beloved and inspirational CHT.

Change must come.