Martin, aged 13 years, is the youngest child in a family of three children. He was accommodated at the age of 18 months after his father was arrested for assaulting a neighbour and also the police who had been called to the incident. The family were known to the police who had visited the family home on at least 10 previous occasions as a result of incidents of domestic violence.
Martin had been present during some of these incidents but the police had felt that his age had protected him from the impact; he was usually in his cot apparently asleep when they visited. Social Services had also been involved and had, at times, taken the two older children to spend the night with an aunt because they had been felt to be at risk. Martin had been left at home, again because he was assessed as being less impacted.
After Martin’s father was arrested the home environment deteriorated. Previous concerns about poor hygiene standards and lack of food intensified and the children were accommodated in foster care; Martin was placed in a different foster family to his siblings. He moved to his adoptive family at the age of 3yrs.
Martin went happily to his adoptive family, calling them ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ from the beginning. He was a contented toddler, although his adoptive mother noted that he slept and ate more than she would have expected. After six months, Martin’s behaviour changed. He became increasingly demanding and struggled when his mother said no to him; he would throw himself on the floor, throw his toys around the room and hit out at her. His mother felt that these behaviours were more extreme than she would have expected for a toddler but her friends and Martin’s nursery reassured her by saying that she was experiencing the ‘terrible two’s’ and that ‘all children do that’.
As Martin progressed through primary school he presented challenges at home and increasingly at school. He challenged his parents’ authority and often continued to present as a ‘terrible two’, for example when asked to tidy his room or when his parents said no to unreasonable demands. He refused to do homework and his parents were often called to the school because he would shout out in class and struggled with peer relationships. Martin’s parents felt that they were being judged by teachers who claimed that every other child had produced their homework and by other parents who asked their children not to play with Martin.
Now at the age of 13yrs Martin’s parents are struggling to manage him. He is rude and aggressive at home, he steals and his parents have had to lock up their money and personal possessions. They describe their home as a ‘war zone’ where they are constantly on edge and they are unsure how to engage with Martin in a way that will not provoke an aggressive outburst. He sometimes refuses to attend school and his parents are worried that he might have experimented with cannabis.