Book review: Damaged by Cathy Glass

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I just finished rereading what I feel is one of Cathy Glas’s best books Damaged. I believe this is also the first book she published though I could be wrong on that. It so eloquently describes caring for an extremely abused c child and the effect it has on her and her family, as well as the process of PTSD in children.

Jodie is eight years old and has been through five foster parents in four months. When Jill Cathy’s link worker tells her this she is stunned. She is required to go to a preplacement meeting so that Jodie won’t be moved again once placed with her. By this point she’d been fostering for 15 years or so and was very experienced. Her approach was to provide a solid routine, patience, nurturing, firm bhoundaries and with these things she’s helped so many children let down their guard, and abandon the challenging behaviors that have kept them from connecting with themselves and others. She’s confident things will be the same with Jodie.

At the meeting she is told that Jodie has mild developmental delays, that she comes from a background of drug and alcohol abusing parents and that the circumstances regarding her nbeing moved so often don’t have anything to do with her. This by her current, soon to be leaving, social worker. She’s told by the other foster family that Jodie is extremely violent throws horrific tantrums and is basically a nightmare placement.

In spite of hearing all this Cathy and her family are still up for the challenge.

Cathy and her family get a taste of Jodie’s behavior right from the sytart. In her first full day there she soils herself and wiles it on her face, kicks everyone she meets yells at them, is unable to maintain conversation/ attention to anything, and that night most disturbingly self-harms. Cathy has seen the other things the tantrums and soiling but she’s only ever seen self-injury in a teenager and it’s this that disturbs her the most.

Her children obviously dislike her right away but know that the first few weeks of a placement can be extremely rough. As the days and weeks go by however, it becomes apparent how disturbed Jodie really is. Her developmental delays are more on the moderate side than mild, she isn’t physically coordinated, is at the educational and emotional level of a four year old, and most chilling doesn’t seem to warm to praise. It’s like she doesn’t seem to care whether she’s liked or not and has no empathy for others. She has no idea how to be in relationship with another person and only uses people to get her needs met. Not being motivated by praise makes it very hard for Cathy to rehabilitate Jodie as she’s never seen this in any of her other children.

Things take a turn for the worse one day when Cathy notices Jodie performing sexual play with her doll. This opens up a Pandora’s box of extremely graphie sexual abuse disclosueres. This sheds light on everything Jodie does: the tantrums, the poor hygene, the shut down aspect of her where she is unable to perceive sensory input from the outside world. The social services are stunned. They claim that in the four months that Jodie has been in care there has been no sign of this.

Cahty and her family are absolutely horrified at the level at which Jodie was abused. This cements their determination to be the few people in her life who will stick with her even though it gets really hard. Jodie starts experiencing terrible nightmares, flashbacks and night terrors which only get worse as the placement progresses despite Cathy’s constant reassurance of Jodie’s safety.

Due to the abuse, and developmental delays, Jodie is unable to separate past present and future. This makes it really hard for Jodie as with a distorted perception of time it’s hard for her to really grasp what will happen when, what’s already happening and what’s going on now. It makes the flashbacks more real but also sadly for those around her she inserts comments about the abuse in the most inappropriate conversations. This makes family conversation as in everyday mealtime chat imposible as the abuse would invade almost everything either through Jodie’s bringing it up or a tantrum.

Complicating things, Jodie’s current social worker is an extremely distant and ineffectual woman named Ilene. Ilene pays about three visits to Jodie in a year when she should be coming every months or so, and especially in this case providing even more support to Jodie as the disclosures come out and she becomes more ande more unstable. The social services are after all her legal guardian and ideally Ilene would be forming a relationship with Jodie so she could be another stable person to count on.

Unfortunately just the opposite takes place. Ilene is 99.9 percent of the time unreachable by phone. Or on vacation. When she is able to be gotten ahold of, she acts like everything about the case is just one more thing for her to do. As a result Ilene only makes things worse by being extreme;y insensitive to Jodie and driving Cathy crazy with just how inept she is.

Luckely Jodie does have some good people in her life along with Cathy and her family. Jill Cathy’s social worker/ advocate is a rock in this time. Though Jill clearly has also never seen a child this traumatized and therefore can’t provide any more insight into the increasing disturbances, she is always there to listen , vent to and try her best in her role. Jodie also has a really solid tutor Nicola. She eventually does go to actual school and has a good experience there in terms of fairly patient staff.

Still it seems that with each memory unclocked things get worse. By the winter of her year with Cathy she’s having flashbacks of physical pain, lying in obvious situations, and self-harming more. The most disturbing aspect of things for Cathy and her family becomes the appearance of three alters, Amy Reg and an unnamed housewife. It turns out that Jodie has Dissociative identity disorder, DID. Where due to severe abuse the personality splits into other identities to protect the core self. It is extremely rare for a child to be diagnosed. Once Cathy knows a bit more about it she learns what to expect from the different dieentities.

More worrying after a very severe flashback in the spring Jodie just seems to shut down. She doesn’t eat or talk or engage with the world. Cathy had been fighting for therapy the whole time but the way it works in the UK they don’t allow therapy to start until the final court hearing when a child is permanently placed. The situation hits a crisis point a choice has to be made in Jodie’s best interest about a living arrangement that best serves her needs.

Cathy feels terrible that Jodie has to leave in such a state and rather than getting better got worse. However it’s clear from an outside perspective that all the nurturing and love that Cathy and her family put into Jodie paid off in that it uncovered the emotional wounds enough so that it could be clear what the issues were and people were found who could help her. Cathy and her family were and perhaps are still, a central part of Jodie’s life.

I love this book. It’s told with raw emotion and compelling writing. Yo feel for Jodie on every page as well as Cathy.

And think about all the situations where a child isn’t as lucky to have as edicated a foster carer as Cathy was. I highly recommend this book!

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