Our recent studies of adoptive family life, in circumstances where parenting was very challenging or where the adoption had disrupted, revealed new and interesting findings (Selwyn and Meakings, 2015; Selwyn, Meakings and Wijedasa, 2015). One of the most fascinating and unexpected discoveries was the role of smell in adoptive parents’ and children’s behaviours. For some parents, the child’s odour was a barrier to intimacy. Parents were also aware of how specific smells seemed to trigger children’s early memories and trauma. In this article, we review briefly the literature on odour and consider the implications for social work practice.