The Unofficial Guide to Therapeutic Parenting – The Teen Years

A kind of sequel to my last Unofficial Guide, equally if not more messy and rooted in real life, out in July 2019.

No Matter What

A fictionalised memoir about adopting and parenting care-experienced children in the UK.

‘For those who already know the author through her adoption blog the brilliance of this book will come as no surprise… Sally Donovan seems to write as naturally as the rest of us breathe, with an eloquence and honesty that makes “No Matter What” totally absorbing.’
Adoption Today

‘If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to adopt, this book holds the answer: it’s hard, sometimes traumatic, and far from “normal family life”. It’s also special, joyful, and utterly transformative – for parents as much as children. Yes our families are different; this book explains in both a moving and matter-of-fact way why we are proud to be so.’
Baroness Oona King, adoptive parent

‘Honest, refreshing, heart-breaking, thought-provoking and inspiring – this is a valuable insight into adoption and the devastating effects of trauma.’
Lorraine Pascale, television presenter, chef and former model, adoptee and TACT patron

‘This book is sheer therapy for an adopter and enlightenment for anyone who comes into contact with adoption in any way. A must read for parents, schools and authorities.’
Carrie Grant Vocal Coach/TV Presenter, adoptive mother and BAAF adoption champion

‘No Matter What is by a long way the best account ever written of the experience of being an adoptive parent and carer of children traumatised by maltreatment. …. This remarkable book is not only a major contribution to work on child welfare; such is the sheer power and brilliance of the writing that it triumphs as a work of literature, as art. Utterly compelling and humane, No Matter What is essential reading for all those who care for and about vulnerable children, adoption and fostering and who are open to being inspired by the healing power of love.’
Harry Ferguson, Professor of Social Work, University of Nottingham

‘I found this book almost unbearably moving and, ultimately, uniquely uplifting. I have never before read, in a single book, such a compelling portrait of the horrors of child neglect and its consequences, alongside a portrait of the historical inadequacies of adoption assessment and post adoption support. This is a staggeringly vivid account of a heroic struggle by heroic adopters to heal the deep scars of neglect and abuse. I cannot recommend it warmly enough.’
Sir Martin Narey, Government Advisor on Children’s Social Care and Visiting Professor, Durham and Sheffield Hallam Universities

The Unofficial Guide to Adoptive Parenting

A guidebook rooted in the messy and baffling realities of domestic life.

‘In this new book Sally Donovan communicates powerfully the messy lived experience of daily family life with her two adopted children. In her hopeful, intelligent, moving, witty and psychologically sound reflections adoptive parents will gain a lot of comfort. This book will be an invaluable resource for both parents, extended family and friends and professionals.’
From the foreword by Dr. Vivien Norris, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, DDP Practitioner, Certified Theraplay® Therapist and Trainer, The Family Place

‘The Unofficial Guide to Parenting Adopted Children is brilliant; it’s Sally at her best and a must-read for all those involved in adopting children from care. Any adopter reading this will know that they are not alone, that they can forgive themselves for not being the perfect “elite” parent, and that with love, knowledge, support and determination very damaged young lives can be transformed.’ Hugh Thornbery, former Chief Executive, Adoption UK

‘Sally Donovan gives us a book that is honest, real and down-to-earth. The satisfaction and the pain of parenting traumatized children is here along with many practical suggestions for therapeutic parenting. Writing from the perspective of an adoptive parent of two children this book has the compassion and reassurance that can only come from having been there. Thank you Sally for helping us to understand what it is like; for showing us that therapeutic parenting can work even though the journey is a long one and for the wisdom that says give it a go and if you don’t always follow the model that is okay too.’
Dr. Kim S. Golding, Clinical Psychologist

‘If we had had this book to refer to many years ago it would have helped us to parent our children more easily. It is not a text book and it is not prescriptive. It is a practical guide, easy to read, full of helpful advice and strategies to try for children where traditional parenting methods fail because our children have not had a traditional childhood experience. It is a must read for all adoptive parents.
Read from it, get ideas from it, but above all smile at it and use it to help you smile again with your family.’ From the foreword by Sue Clifford MBE and Jim Clifford OBE.

Billy Bramble and the Great Big Cook Off

An novel for children from 9-13 struggling with aggressive behaviours in school and at home, illustrated by Kara McHale.

‘Billy Bramble is a fantastic book. It gives you an insight into people who may struggle and how their surroundings can influence their behaviours and attitudes. Billy Bramble is a nice boy with an angry, imaginary dog. Together they battle with certain feelings. I believe everyone can learn something from this book, not least that through persisting, eventually, in spite of hardship, you can achieve.’
Coby, 12

‘Brilliant and thoughtful insight into the mind of an eleven year old and the wonderful power of cooking.’
Lorraine Pascale

‘This moving and psychologically sound story encapsulates many key themes expressed by vulnerable children and paints a vivid picture of the seeming impossible dilemmas they may be facing. Compelling for children, this book will also be of great value to adults as through Billy they gain insight into the risks children face when they begin to dare to trust.’ Dr Vivien Norris, Consultant Clinical Psychologist

‘I like the way Billy has an invisible dog. It is one of the best books I have read.’
Sophie, 13

‘I love Billy – he is funny and cool and awesome and I understand him. I think he was very brave for entering the competition. The story made me laugh a lot.’

‘The book shows even if you are different you can achieve.’
Jordan, 14

‘An inspiring read which will encourage children to get cooking in order to make delicious food and also gain confidence in their own abilities.’
Jo Ingleby, BBC Cook of the Year 2015 and Chef in Residence at Redcliffe Children’s Centre

For all book-related queries go to and for anything else contact me via my website or on Twitter.

53 thoughts on “Books

  1. aprilshowers

    its about time that others know what it is like to parent our poor traumatised children, I had thought of doing something like this, but my children would not like it. but it nneeds to be told.

    1. admin Post author

      I’m hoping that adopters will be able to read something that at last looks something like their lives and also that those who have passing association with or interest in the subject will enjoy the book as well.
      I have involved our children in the writing process, they have read bits of it and are excited about it. In a strange way it has helped us all. I have however had to create a very complicated alter-ego to get over the confidentiality issues. (Nothing is ever easy!)
      Thanks for reading, Sally

  2. Sami Holmes

    What a fantastic website!!!! It is so good to be able to read about the ups and downs involved when you have taken the huge step to adopt a child/children. This offers not only support but humour on those days when it is needed!! Keep up the good work….it is brilliant!!!! xxxx

  3. Louise

    My husband and I have just been allocated a social worker and begin our home study May 1st we are very excited but also cautious. Thank you for a honest reflection of real life. We have certainly found it reassuring in its truthfulness. Wish us luck as we head down the next path on our journey to adoption.

    1. admin Post author

      Thanks for your comment Louise and I’m glad that you found the site useful. I worry that I may put off adopters with my honest approach so I’m very happy that this has not been the case for you! I wish you the best of luck with your homestudy and the rest of the process. Adoption is certainly not the easy path but has been very rewarding for us.

    1. admin Post author

      I took a look at your site too. For any man and couple coping with male infertility it is a must read.
      Thanks for reading.

  4. redblogstick

    You are my hero! I started my own blog about 6 months ago and have only found your infinitely superior version today because of your article in Adoption UK. THANK YOU! Your experience is sooooo close to my own (although your son is I think a couple of years older) I feel truly blessed to have discovered a kindred spirit and look forward to your future inspiring posts. x

    1. admin Post author

      Thank you for your very kind words. I know from experience how useful it is to connect with other people going through the same trials. There are a number of adoption bloggers out there now, most of which I’ve linked to on my blog. There is also a lively and supportive twitter community, so if you ever feel like joining in then find me at @sallydwrites you’d be very welcome.

      1. Gwdihwsiw

        Dear Sally

        Thank you for your book An Unofficial Guide To Adoption. It was brilliant, a breath of fresh air. Reaffirming that I’m doing it right, and has been such a support to me this week at a time when I’ve been so down. I have a queue of family members waiting to be next with the book!

        It was easy to read, informative and left me thumping the air with whooping YES sounds when you wrote about the things I have been struggling to get people to understand. I could go on. But not publicly.

        I think everyone should read this. I’m currently struggling with people not understanding about the affects of early years trauma. (In the womb) and the effects of separation and loss on our children. I have never felt so isolated and alone and made to feel I don’t know what I’m on about. To read your book made me realise I’m not alone. And Rather smugly, I’m right. Until people have walked the day in an adoptive family’s life in times of trauma, then they will understand. (And never mutter the ghastly phrase to me again – they just needs some good old fashioned discipline).

        Thank you so much. This book is such a boost. You may never know how much!

  5. Pingback: Is there supply for post-adoption support budgets? | The Children's Services Blog

  6. Emily

    Thank you for writing this blog and for your book. I wish I had been able to read it three years ago when my husband and I started the journey to adopting my amazing children. It followed our story so closely I was in tears when reading it.

  7. Jo

    Sally, I started your book on 23rd December whilst waiting for my adoption medical at the doctor’s surgery. Despite all the Christmas festivities – I couldn’t put it down. I just finished it yesterday and it moved me so much I couldn’t really say anything for about an hour.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I hope my partner and I can find your strength, belief and honesty as we embark on our own journey…

    1. admin Post author

      Thank you Jo, firstly for reading my book and secondly for taking the time to write a comment. I’m glad you enjoyed it and I wish you well with your journey.

  8. Ed + Tania Carlisle

    Hi Sally, we’re in the midst of the adoption process, just read your book, and found it seriously invaluable. Many thanks for sharing your journey in such an honest, funny, page-turning, insightful way – very much appreciated.

    1. admin Post author

      Thanks for reading the book and taking the time to comment. It is great to hear that you found it invaluable. The best of luck with your adoption process.

  9. Christina

    I have just finished reading your book- read it in a day because I didn’t want to put it down. Thank you for being so honest and sharing the whole process. It’s incredibly useful as we’re currently thinking about adoption and I am in awe of your perseverance and the difference you made for Jamie and Rose. You’ve done such an amazing thing both in parenting and in sharing it with other people. Thank you.

  10. Rob

    I just wanted to drop you a line to thank you for writing your book. It is a warm, honest account of your journey through adoption. My wife and I have just gone through panel and reading your experiences of the process and your feelings is like holding a mirror up to our own lives. So much so that I am contemplating buying our parents copies so they can understand not only our feelings before the decision to adopt, but also the process and the difficulties we will face in the future. Adoption is a wonderful but daunting thing to do but your book has helped in not only highlighting the challenges but also putting to rest some of the fears we have. Thank you

  11. Becky Randall

    My husband and I are just starting our adoption journey and are hoping to adopt siblings. I came across a recommendation for your book and have just finished reading it. I want to thank you for being so brave in telling the world your family story. We have read so much about the difficulties our children would probably face but your book has shown us how this shows itself. I’m under no illusions now how hard this will be (although I’m sure it will still be a huge shock to the system), I feel confident in going forward. Not least of all because your book must surely have opened doorways for more help for adoptive families but most of all because you’ve laid yourself bare to the feelings we can anticipate feeling and know it’s normal. Best of all is the knowledge that throughout all of this your love of your children shines through and that’s ultimately what it’s all about. Thank you from an enlightened but definitely not deterred hopeful adopter.

    1. admin Post author

      It makes me happy (and relieved) to know that the book has not put you off adoption. Thanks for reading it and I wish you well x

  12. Lisa

    I just finished your book. I am also an adoptive mom of a 13 year old boy who has FAS and was also severely neglected. I have shared many of your experiences and emotions. I love my son but parenting him is challenging. Sometimes it is a very lonely experience. Thank you for reminding me that others are on the same journey.

  13. Davina

    Well said Sally. I can totally relate to your comments. It’s good to read an honest account of adoption for a change. x

  14. Sarah C


    Thank you for your book, I’ve just finished it in a day and a half!

    My husband and I are considering siblings and I really appreciate how candid you are about the challenges involved.

    The joy you feel at your children’s accomplishments shine through even as the sadness of the difficulties they face is highlighted.

    A lot of anxiety for us is also around biological family contact – we’re not particularly comfortable with any contact at all and it gives me some hope that we can come to the right solution for our potential children as you did.

    Thanks again!

  15. Emma

    I just wanted to say after finding your book on Amazon it was one of the best books I’ve ever read it was so refreshing to hear someone actually say they were sick of hearing the “birth” stories and feeling that sickly feeling of not being able to contribute and also if I’m honest a bit of boredom of it all!!

    I’m just waiting for my stage 2 confirmation letter as we speak but my social worker seems to think it will be no problem as I’m at the very emotional stage which is why I loved your book so much. It was great to read the highs and sometimes lows covering nearly all the issues I worry about, being a single adopter I know it’s going to be tough but your book gave me a wonderful insight into how you coped. Im sure I too will go through many of the same experiences as you have and yet to start my magical journey. Anyway enough of my meandering and just a massive thank you to you and your wonderful family for sharing your honesty (and often funny moments) with us all!! It’s been bought by no fewer than 6 of my family so far!!

  16. Pingback: Short Book Review (adoption) – ‘No Matter What’ by Sally Donovan | journey into social work

  17. Elspeth Mackay

    Dear Sally
    I’m reading your book. I love the bit about Bradley Wiggins. In fact, I love the book altogether. It is the ONLY book I have read about being an adoptive parent which actually mirrors my own experience. And your dialogues ring true, not like those hideous ones in lots of books where the dad calls the son, ‘son’. Thank you. I have recommended the book to our social worker and recommended to her that it becomes required reading for our council prep course.
    Thanks again.

    1. admin Post author

      That’s really kind of you. Thanks for reading my book and for recommending it to your LA. When I’m knackered I like to think of Bradley Wiggins and his Tour x

  18. Kate

    Hi Sally

    I came across this whilst looking for Father’s Day cards for my husband from our (adopted) children.

    I was very offended and complained. The reply from the seller said that she accepts that it doesn’t suit me but it does suit many people who share a different view and relationship to members of their family. I am disgusted that the concept of adoption is being used in such a flippant way to humour people.

    Do you find the card offensive? Or am I being over sensitive?


    1. admin Post author

      Ah, how tasteful. About this time last year we tweeted the same company about an equally offensive card and they withdrew it from sale. May be time for another mini-campaign.
      I find it offensive and my son will livid, so no, I don’t think you’re being over-sensitive.
      Thanks for letting me know, S

      1. Kate

        Hi sally

        Thanks for replying and I am pleased you agree with me. I am not on Twitter (I am happy to explain why as a private message) would it be cheeky to ask you to start the ball rolling on Twitter?

        Luckily my children haven’t seen it as I know my daughter in particular would be upset.


  19. James Farrell

    Hi Sally,
    My partner and I are about to start the adoption process and have enjoyed reading your blog. Is there any way of having sent to my email when you upload new ones?

  20. Linz

    Sally, a family member who has just been matched with a child for adoption asked us to read this book. I’m glad they did, it was really helpful to understand how well meaning comments can be so counterproductive and also to get more insight into how parent of adopted children can feel. Her local authority offered a training day for family which we also found interesting and helpful, but without the real “this is how it is” insight you provided which will help us support our family member and partner. I wish your family continued strength in your journey,and happiness, love and resilience. Linz.

  21. Esther Hughes

    Dear Sally,
    If only I could read my OU textbooks with the same speed and enthusiasm as I whipped through your unofficial guide to adoptive parenting I would be a genius! Thank you for your insightful and though-provoking book. I have to say lots of light bulb moments occurred for my husband and me. I’m also reading ‘Why can’t my children behave by Dr Amber Elliot and to say how disappointed I now feel about the advice we’ve been given would take a long time.
    After months of being beaten up by our wee one we asked to be referred to our local CAMHS. Their response was to send ME to parenting classes where I was told to naughty step, ignore and consequence our child. One year on and she’s not learned from any of this. We’re now using empathic behavioural management. It’s still early days but we’re hopeful that we’ll get some benefit from this. So many things you describe ring true. I’d love to speak to you about some of them.

    1. admin Post author

      Hi – thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment.
      In my unprofessional and unofficial opinion, advice to isolate and withdraw from a child who needs connection and understanding is dreadful, and leaves parents and children feeling like failures. Amber’s book is great and helped me to really think about what is really going on for our children, particularly their learnt and adaptive behaviours.
      I am so so glad that The Unofficial Guide rang true. It took me years to get to grips with all this (and I still am) and it is QUITE DEPRESSING that families are still being given such crappy advice. I really hope that you start to see some real healing taking place in your family.
      That’s me done!
      S x

      1. Esther Hughes

        Dear Sally,
        We really are going through a rough patch with our girl. The explosions of rage are scary and the violence towards me is physical and verbal. We’ve never hit our child so can’t see where it has all come from…Not TV or computer. She won’t talk to us about her feelings and I’ve tried the wondering aloud technique that just ends up with us getting yelled at. She’s nine and half and can flip to three at the drop of a hat, yet at school she’s got no discipline issues at all! Was there anything that you tried with your children that worked? It sounds like you had similar problems but I also note, in your most recent post, that empathy isn’t always the best thing. I’m reading Adoptive Parenting again as it’s comforting.

        1. admin Post author

          Dear Esther,
          Everything you describe will be very familiar to many parents. Much of this will be rooted in the past, and is not your fault. I advice that you get into contact with your post adoption support team and ask for an assessment of need. Many find that a really good therapeutic parenting course is a good place to start, also have a look at Non-Violent Resistance training. I would be considering as well whether your child is holding it together at school and then letting it all go at home. Again this is common. I would be thinking about what is adding strain at school, and how this could be reduced.
          If you live in England, then these types of support can be funded through the Adoption Support Fund. Your social worker would need to put in an application for you. Support at school can be funded through Pupil Premium.
          I hope that helps.
          Please get in contact again if you need/want to.
          Very best wishes, S x

  22. David m

    Just found your book on Amazon, we’re on a delayed process, one for another day, am getting so much from this book and the reality side and put it on my reading list I sent to SW! Thank you. Do you post blog or link on Twitter?

  23. Nikki

    I have just finished reading “No Matter What”. My partner and I are nearly finished stage 1 and have recently done our 4 day adoption training course. Your book really knocked me for six, I was an emotional wreck at the end of it. I could not stop thinking about it. You made me really dig deep into why we wanted to adopt. I am pleased to say, we aren’t put off, but am definitely terrified! I finally realise that “having” children and “adopting” children are not a means to the same end goal. Yes “Family” is the general word for “the goal” but there are so many different types of “family” and being part of an “adopted family” is completely unique in itself. I have sent a copy each to our immediate family members.
    Knowing this now, I feel that extra bit prepared. Thank you so much for your honesty.

    1. admin Post author

      Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I’ve tried to be honest throughout and to write what I needed way back in the early days of our adoption experience. I’m glad that the book didn’t put you off and I hope that you feel better prepared. Very best of luck with stage two x

  24. Josephine Scott

    Hi Sally

    I’m a clinical psychologist and have just started a post with camhs and looked after children so turned to Amazon to bolster my professional confidence (!) And bought your book ‘no matter what’ (as an aside, do you know the children’s book of the same title by debi gliori? Lovely book).

    I’ve been unable to put it down (sorry kids) and frequently was moved to tears by your honesty. I can only hope it will help me to better support the young people and families I come into contact with. No Dr Darling, I promise!
    Thank you

  25. Amanda

    Dear Sally

    I first read No Matter What in August 2013, during the first week our son was placed with us. I was in shock at the time (nothing compared to how he felt, of course) and your book helped me to emerge from the fog, adjust and carry on. I identified with your journey from infertility to adoption and reading about another family birthed out of grief and loss helped to normalise the craziness of those early days. I have just returned to the book for a second reading. Our adoption journey so far has been very difficult and seems to be getting more so. We are shedding friends along the way (or being shed by!) and the feeling of isolation can be crushing. Returning to No Matter What was like reconnecting with an old friend – one that ‘gets’ me and empathises and then hauls me off the sofa and tells me to crack on. Like you, we live with trauma. Big angry trauma. In the last three years we have learned a lot about therapeutic parenting and we’re getting better at it all the time. That said, some days I’m shit at it. On those days I have nothing left to give and I say and do everything I know that I shouldn’t and I go to bed convinced that I’ve made everything even worse. Your honesty and positivity have helped me to refuel, for now at least. Maybe I now need to revisit ‘The unofficial Guide’, first read last year… or maybe I just need to get out more if a book is a substitute for an actual friend!

    Anyway, thank you and keep writing.

    Amanda (a fellow trauma-traveller)

  26. Emily Cunningham

    Hi Sally,
    I love your blog and agree with you about carbs! Feeding them to the birds is obviously the answer…
    I wanted to let you know about a book that’s out today that will really chime with people hoping to adopt/foster – it’s called Being Bridie: The Diary of An Aspiring Mother, by Casey O’Connor. It’s a rollercoaster of a read about a woman who longs to become a mother – and takes an unflinching look at the challenges involved, from IVF to fostering and adoption. It’s published by a tiny publishing agency in Devon, local to Casey, called The Write Factor. I’d love to send you a review copy.
    Best wishes, Emily.

  27. A

    Hi Sally

    I have just finished reading ‘no’ matter what’ thank you for your honesty and humour, one minute I was crying the next laughing! We have just started on the adoption journey and I thank you for giving us a glimpse into the journey ahead of us.


    A x

  28. Mark

    No Matter What

    Wow, an incredible journey of absolute altruism. Your strength of mind from start to finish, added to the kinship with social services, bullishly highlights the characteristics needed to adopt, survive and thrive. Chapeau x

  29. L

    No matter what.

    Sally, The reality and detail of your whole adoption journey was refreshing to read. I could hardly put it down and I wish I had read it sooner. We have adopted twice and my son is now almost 20. His school years were (relatively) calm, but the last 4 or 5 have been a trauma for us all. Are you thinking of a book covering the teens? or maybe all of your early good work helped make this stage easier?

    1. admin Post author

      Hello L,
      I am sorry to read that the teen years have been so difficult. I have written a book about these years, The Unofficial Guide to Therapeutic Parenting – The Teen Years which will be published in July this year. Even with all the good work, this time can be a huge trial for everyone. Thanks you so much for making contact and for your kind words about No Matter What. I hope things are improving. S

  30. Pingback: Book review: The Unofficial Guide to Adoptive Parenting by Sally Donovan - We Made a Wish

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