An Introduction to the Attachment Theory
Traditionally, it is believed that the family environment in which a child grows up in can have a powerful influence on a child’s future development and life chances. The "Attachment Theory" provides social workers with a sound knowledge base of human growth and personal development. Attachment theory involves the study of relationships, in particular the critical early relationships of infants and children. Theory based strategies help carers of Looked after Children to facilitate and rebuild secure attachments when they are supporting and working with children in care, or if they move placements for example, into an adoptive or foster family.
These strategies help the carers manage and understand challenging behaviour that is often caused as a consequence of an insecure attachment. Attachment can be defined as a long-lasting bond that is developed by infants towards their parents and is described as a positive emotional link between two people – a link of affection. (Lindon,1998,35,Cited in Crawford et al, 2005). Attachment disorders can impact on a child’s developmental wellbeing throughout childhood and into adolescence.
Evaluating the attachment theory can show different ways these disorders affect the relationship of the child and carer. British psychotherapist, John Bowlby (1907-1990) was recognized as the father of the attachment theory and advanced a multidisciplinary stance, which included psychoanalysis with ethnology and cognitive development. Bowlby (1969) wanted to understand more about the level of distress that occurred in infants when they were separated from their parents and how that experience impacted on their developmental wellbeing.
There are strong associations betwee...
n early insecure attachments and later negative vulnerabilities and problematical behaviour, which can influence the development of human personality later in life. Professions use the attachment theory in practice to provide a clear understanding of how the mechanisms of social experiences that begin in early infancy could impact and influence children throughout their life span. Mary Ainsworth (1978) provided experiential support for Bowlby’s attachment theory by designing the ‘Strange Situation’ test.
The "Strange Situation" test was designed to cause stress to the attachment behavioural system that could occur in everyday situations, to measure the quality of attachment. (Lamb et, al: 1985). Ainsworth’s (1978) strange situation test classified infants as being secure or insecure to their caregivers and different attachment types were identified. These will later be discussed in detail. Prior et al (2006) advocates that a newborn baby needs a carer to take care of them and this is when a bond would normally be formed. The carer would represent the infant’s secure base of exploration and trust, and a relationship would be built.
When a child wants to explore away from this base and encounters possible danger, the carer would be the child’s secure base for its protection. Bowlby (1969) stated that primary functions of attachment for the infant consisted of firstly, ’’the safe haven, secondly; a secure base to explore from and lastly; proximity maintenance to be in close proximity to the parent’’ (Bowlby 1969:42). The attachment relationship between the infant and the primary caregiver usually begins in the first year, with the infant seeking to maintain proximity.
Infants become securely attached when carers respond appropriatel
to protective responses. When the infant experiences hunger or pain this will trigger a protest attachment, for example, crying, and if the primary caregiver responds to the protest behaviour, comforting the infant, the protest behaviour will cease and a secure attachment will be maintained. Shaffer & Emerson (1964:91) proposed there were 3 stages of early attachment. The first stage at 0-6 weeks is the ‘asocial attachment’, whereby babies do not act in a social manner.
The second stage between 6 weeks and 6 months is the indiscriminate attachment, where babies do not have a preference for the caregiver. The last 7 months onwards is the ‘specific attachment, where there is a specific attachment to one person. My wish therefore is to further examine Attachments further, within the context of Looked after Children and demonstrate how valuable the application of the Attachment Theory is when applied in practice.
Aims of the Study
The aim of this paper is to evaluate and validate the Attachment Theory Walliman (2006:63) states that ’Evaluation is the main source of evidence through which social work agencies decide whether their programmes and practices are effective or not. The Attachment Theory is central to Child Practitioners and this paper will focus on the application of the theory within the context of working with Looked after Children, in residential care. This is important to me because I have worked with Looked after children in residential Care and believe that the quality of care given, can impact positively, on a child’s emotional wellbeing and developmental needs.
I hope this evaluation will contribute to my ongoing professional development, by deepening my knowledge base. Looked after Children in residential care are allocated a social worker to assess their needs whilst they are in care, and if they move placements, for example, into Foster care. Past traumas of a child can often have implications on the child’s emotional and developmental wellbeing, and can manifest in negative and challenging behaviour.
When a child initially moves into residential care they are frequently allocated a Key member of staff who will work with the child aiming to establish a secure and stable relationship (Crawford et al, 2005). A literature review, based on secondary research will show how theories of attachment, separation, loss and grief help key workers understand the needs of children coming into care. Key workers working partnership with social workers can plan strategies based on positive parenting, with the aim of helping a child to settle.
This work helps key workers to understand that a child’s negative and challenging behaviour, can often be, a possible consequence of their past experiences. The review will look at prominent theories regarding early attachments and highlight a range of criticisms. The Children’s Act (1989) states race, culture, language and religion of children must be addressed in the provision of services. Therefore, the main criticism will focus on cultural differences and include a brief content analysis of a current practice guideline.
Critical thinking within the context of cultural differences are explored in more detail than other criticisms, as Looked after Children come from a diverse range of backgrounds and this must be taken into account, as
it underpins social work values of equality and social justice and demonstrates a constant awareness of anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive practice (Thompson: 2001). Practice guidelines are central to practitioners work and the; Framework for the Assessment for Children in Need and their Families, is currently used to assess and understand a child’s physical and emotional needs.
Literature Review & Theoretical Considerations
Unlike many professional disciplines, social work practice is a relatively new profession. Therefore it cannot derive its knowledge from specific social work theories and research, as lack of direct social work research findings have not, as yet, been established, but draws on other disciplines within the social science field.
The Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families highlights that it is essential that practitioners ensure that practice is grounded in the most up to date knowledge and that good use is made of relevant research findings. It is a government requirement that social work practice is to be evidence based and applied with the combined use of knowledge from research and finely balanced professional judgement. (DoH 2000:16).
In order to put research into context a literature review is often used. Denscombe (2002:56) recognises a literature review as a way of demonstrating’ the relevance of research by showing how it addresses questions that arise from a careful and considered evaluation of what has been done so far, and how current research aims to fill the gaps or take things further’.
Furthermore, Hart (1998,cited in Blaxter et al 2005:120) states that ‘A literature review is important because without it you will not acquire an understanding of your topic, of what has already been done, how it has been researched and what the key issues are’. Therefore, the literature review will demonstrate an understanding of my chosen subject, the key theories, how they developed and any criticisms. Social work aims to promote the rights of, and protect the welfare of, some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Accordingly, the knowledge base of social work is drawn from social sciences, psychology, sociology and social policy. In addition, the literature review contains research into secure and insecure attachments and discusses implications these attachments bring to carers working with Looked after Children. It will look at prominent theories regarding early attachment, child development and the impact inadequate attachments can create for the emotional and behavioural development and wellbeing of children.
Bell (2005) suggests that the main point of a review is that it provides the reader with a picture, in brief, of the state of knowledge and key questions in the subject. Bowlby and Ainsworth were the two Key theorists in the early attachment field. Bowlby’s (1969) work formed the basis for the attachment theory and looked at why children developed close relationships with their caregiver, exploring why it could be detrimental to them when these close relationships were not formed securely. He provided the framework for understanding the significance of early childhood experiences of attachment through to later stages of human development.
Historically, post war, in 1949, the World Health Organisation was concerned about the number of children who were growing up in institutions, as a result
of loss, during the war years. Bowlby was commissioned by the Government to research this area of concern and produced a significant report stating; ‘’If a child had not experienced bonding in his/her first two years the effects would be irreversible and no subsequent amount of good mothering could undo the damage done’’ (Bowlby, 1951:49).
Ainsworth (1978) supported Bowlby’s work by designing the "Strange Situation" experiment to explore types of attachment and the actual quality and strength of the attachment relationship. Other key theorists in the attachment field were, Freud and Maslow (1954). Sigmund Freud thought that each phase of a child’s development commencing at their birth, could be directly correlated to the precise demands and needs , based on particular body parts and all ingrained in their unconscious mind.
His theories suggested that the unconscious defence mechanisms against anxiety, such as repression and projection, were often present within children with attachment disorders, as they were a way for children to deal with their anxieties and pain. (Bancoft et al, 1995). Also, Maslow’s (1954) Hierarchy of Need is relevant, as it outlines seven needs which humans require in order to be satisfied and be fulfilled (See Appendix 3). Those needs are’ physiological, safety, social, esteem, cognitive, aesthetic (the appreciation of beauty) and self-actualisation needs’.
Maslow argued that children might not move up the hierarchy unless each of these developmental levels was satisfied. This echoes elements of attachment disorders, if early stages of the hierarchy are not met because of insecure attachments and relationships with the parents/carers are unsatisfactory, it may explain behaviours and issues that can occur later in life (Maslow: 1954:62).
Secondary Research - qualitative or quantitative
There is conflict among social researchers about the pros and cons of qualitative and quantitative research methods. Walliman (2006:47) define qualitive as Qualitive methods produce detailed and non-quantities accounts of small groups – seeking to interpret the meanings people make of their lives in natural settings on the assumption that social interactions form as integrated set of relationships best understood by inductive process. Social research is concerned with investigating the social world, using different methods to describe, explore and understand social life. In the field of sociology two main approaches are recognised when considering how to carry out research.
Sociologists favouring a positivist approach look to carry out quantitative research. Quantitative research is presented as statistical data, based upon the idea that what is studied in society, should be considered as facts; therefore, each social fact is considered a single thing. Whereas, Quantitative research will look to find a correlation between facts, to enable them to record the strength of relationship between them, and therefore enabling them to produce numerical data based on their findings.
Sociologists favouring an interpretive approach would argue that quantitative methodology is inappropriate when dealing with human behaviour as statistical data does not explain why certain behaviours occur. They favour qualitative research that allows the researcher to record the meaning behind events (Walliman :2006). Additionally, Haralambos & Holborn (1995:815) state that: many interpretative sociologists argue that there is little chance of discovering meanings and motives from quantitative data and that only sociologist can hope to
interpret the meanings that lie behind social action.
Because the character of social work involves understanding complex issues within families, communities and the effects of wider social influences, it would seem natural to veer towards an interpretative methodology that allows for a greater understanding of the meaning behind the researched area. Therefore, for this reason social work is more concerned with qualitative research, and this is the method of research I will apply.
Information gathering and Data Analysis
In terms of research methods and gathering information, the importance of viability and ethical considerations, of both primary and secondary research, have to be considered. This has lead me to use secondary research in the form of a literature review for my search strategy, as primary research would not have been practical in terms of time, resources and ethical considerations. A literature review using secondary data ensures that I prevent any major ethical issues arising which may have occurred if I had conducted primary research. (Burns 2000)
Accordingly, my information will be from a secondary source gathered mainly books and academic texts, edited volumes, journal articles and current guidelines and legislation. Secondary research has been referred to as ‘unobtrusive research’ (Ely 1991:28), due to the fact that it does not involve participants within the study, unlike primary research and thus eradicates the potential ethical issues of; confidentiality or the need to seek consent. Ethical issues will be demonstrated by being continually aware throughout my evaluation of how the data I use reflects social justice and positive values adhering to the GSCC codes of Practice. www. gscc. org. uk).
Adhering to the General Care Council (GSCC) guidelines, alongside with social work values and the Ethics Check guidance form will ensure that I recognise my own moral responsibility as a researcher. Indeed, Dahlberg et al, (1999:31) states that we need to become our own moral agents and recognise that we bear responsibility for making moral choices for which there are no foolproof guidelines offering unambiguously good solutions. Brown & Rutter (2006:42) also highlight that research ethics are used as the guidelines that researchers follow to protect the rights of humans who participate in studies.
Ethical standards for research on secondary literature means that I must cite every theorist and author of every piece of information I use within my evaluation and avoid drawing unfound conclusions and generalising. Furthermore, Walliman (2006:71) states that ‘secondary sources of information may be subject to interpretation by others, and considering this I have based my ethical considerations on securing the validity and reliability of research, on the method of Triangulation.
O’Leary (2004) explains this method of Triangulation as Using more than one source of data to confirm the authenticity of each source and this can confirm findings and establish key themes in more depth (O’Leary 2004:116). This is beneficial for students using secondary research as it allows the use of a wide range of sources. Consequently, the main focus of the study will be a literature review using qualitative data as this allows me to present an awareness of differing arguments, theories and approaches together with identifying key points and themes related to the chosen topic,
in a greater depth.
The main criticism focusing on cultural differences will include a brief content analysis of a current practice guideline using quantitative research. Findings will be presented within a table format as this clearly illustrates a possible gap in "Cultural Differences" being represented within the document. Bell (2005) highlights that we should constantly look for similarities and differences when reporting findings. This critical overview on the representation of ‘other cultures’ is important as it reflects social justice and equality which are key values of the social work profession.
Developmentalist Boyd et al, (2006) believes that cross-cultural research is important to the study of human development, as it identifies not only universal changes, but also how not to generalize about human development.
Early attachment theories & criticisms & findings
Theories Social workers and residential carers have to tap deep into questions of human growth, behaviour and personality development as they are vital requirements for nurturing a child’s future developmental needs.
Carr et al (1991) claims an infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate and continuous relationship with his/her parent or Carer in order to develop a healthy personality (Carr et al, 1991:142). However, it is ‘widely held that the reason a child develops a close tie to his mother is that she feeds him, as food is thought of as primary, and the personal relationship, as secondary (Bowbly:1969:75). However, Lorenz (1935) ethological studies highlights that food may not be primary factor.
Lorenz (1935) studies into attachment were based on goslings and their mothers and demonstrated that food, was not the primary factor in attachment relationships. The study showed that newly hatched goslings followed their mother and displayed signs of distress when separated from her. This occurred despite the fact that in this instance the mother does not provide food since goslings feed off insects they catch themselves. Lorenz’s studies also suggest the concept of Imprinting which is that attachment behaviour occurs almost immediately and is directed to a particular object.
For example, his observations showed that the goslings would follow any moving object that they initially encountered after birth. He suggested that imprinting had four main properties: it occurs within a short period after birth, it s irreversible, there is a clear preference towards one fixed thing, it influences behaviour patterns. (Lorenz , 1935, Cited in Bowlby: 1951) He further developed this theory by suggesting that although imprinting is almost immediate the longer the bird was exposed to the object the stronger the attachment was likely to be.
He also felt that once an attachment was formed it would continue despite the absence of the attachment object, although he did feel that Lorenz may have over stressed the point that imprinting was irreversible. (Lorenz , 1935, Cited in Bowlby: 1951) Harlow and Zimmerman (1959:241) conducted a similar experiment using Rhesus monkeys in which, the monkeys were separated from their mother hours after birth and were subsequently raised by surrogate mothers. Two surrogate mothers were then used, one made from chicken wire and the other from wood which was also covered by soft terry cloth.
Both contained a heat lamp. The substitute mothers were enclosed with the
monkeys; some baby monkeys received food from the wire mothers while others were fed by the cloth one. In the situations where the monkeys were fed by the wire mother it was found that the babies accepted it for food but rejected it for warmth and comfort. However, it was observed that the monkeys who were fed by the cloth mother spent longer periods of time clinging to this model than they did to the wire one.
This led Harlow and Zimmerman(1959) to the conclusion that’ the need for comfort and closeness is more important than the need for food’. This theory was further supported when on being comforted by a threatening stimulus the monkeys ran towards the cloth monkeys for protection, regardless of which one was providing them with food. Harlow and Zimmerman (1959:241) also placed the baby monkeys in unfamiliar rooms with their cloth mothers which they would cling to for protection, eventually exploring when they felt safe. Once exploring they would from time to time return to their mothers for comfort.
When the monkeys were placed in unfamiliar settings without their mothers they would present distressed behaviours such as crying, crouching, sucking thumbs and running from place to place searching for the cloth mother. The monkeys exhibited the same behaviours when they were in the room with the wire mother. The behaviours presented by the monkeys could be described as attachment behaviours. When ascribed to children it could be demonstrated in two ways, a child with a developed attachment to the mother will display more confidence, a child who has been unable to form an attachment will display distressed and disturbing behaviours.
As mentioned earlier within the introduction, Ainsworth (1987) designed the "Strange Situation" test to measure the quality of attachments. She then went onto devise ways in which attachments were described and classified by their qualitative characteristics, this was known as the Attachment Classification System. These attachment patterns were classified in two ways. One was according to whether the pattern represented an organised strategy for gaining proximity of an attachment figure, when the attachment behavioural system was activated, or the lack of such a strategy, termed as disorganised.
Children who have an attachment figure who is also the source of fear, which activated the attachment system, are often caught in irresolvable conflict. This renders them at a loss as to how they ‘deactivate their attachment needs and restore a sense of comfort’. Secondly, attachment patterns were also classified according to whether the individual feels secure or insecure/anxious, and regarding the availability and responsiveness of the attachment figure (Ainsworth: 1978:84).
This classification (secure, insecure-avoidant, and insecure-resistant) of different types of organised attachment resulted from the ground breaking work of Ainsworth (Ainsworth et al, 1978). It was based on extensive observation of infant attachment behaviour both in the laboratory based strange situation procedure, carried out between 9 and 18 months of age, and at home. Not wishing to assign descriptive labels, the three groups were called A, B and C. Criticisms and Findings However, there is much criticism of the attachment Classification System, a major criticism being that it does not address cultural
The vast majority of the Strange Situation studies were carried out in North America with most of the children being classed as secure, however the validity of Strange Situation studies has been questioned in respect of cross cultural variations (Van IJzendoorn & Kroomenberg,1988,) who suggest there are variations across, and within cultures. For example, as demonstrated in the table below, they found Type A to be more prevalent in Western Europe and Type C to be more prevalent in Israel and Japan.
This means that the separation in the "Strange Situation" is much more traumatic for the child and therefore provokes stronger emotions which, according to the attachment classification place them in the resistant attachment category. This suggests that the system of classification does not take into account any differences in child rearing styles.
Commenting on parent styles, Kagan (1989,Cited in IJzendoorn et al,1988) explain that in Germany for example, parents tend to encourage independence and resilience in their children in contrast to American child rearing patterns, which do not generally encourage the same levels of independence and resilience. German children may show less signs of stress and anxiety when separated from their parents. Kagan highlights a good point when he suggests that this may not be because the children have insecure attachments but they have been brought up to trust their parents and may feel secure in the belief that they will return.
It is difficult to identify insecure attachments as they can manifest in many ways, all of which can be psychological or physically damaging. Often the move into residential care is carried out on an emergency basis with little time and attention being paid to the importance of racial and cultural issues. Fahlberg (2006:257) suggests that children are ’’ probably at their point of highest risk of long-term psychological damage at the time of removal from their birth families’’.
Most workers involved in child care have strong opinions on the importance of family ties and sibling relationships and having children grow up with thers of the same race and cultural background is an important area that should always be identified. Professionals must strive not to let their personal values influence the way in which they judge families, but be able to balance what is acceptable and unacceptable treatment of a child, whilst still taking into account consideration of the family’s social group culture. ‘’the range of cross cultural variability in child-rearing beliefs and behaviours makes it clear that there is no universal standard of optimal child care’’ (Munro, 2002. : 312, Cited in IJzendoorn et al, 1988).
Adams et al (2002:84) reinforces how the secondary evidence should clearly state that, culturally diverse backgrounds are used when evidencing a sample of children and families. Indeed, such criticisms of this have been found in other disciplines; for example, The Black Report (Townsend & Davidson 1992, Cited in Whitehead,1992) which provided considerable evidence on health and social class and ‘The Health Divide’ which are major studies in Social Trends and draw on existing secondary evidence to bring together the findings of statistics and other research.
Various measures of inequality were related to the data on deaths
and illness. However, the issue of social class and health reminds all professionals that we need to ask questions about the availability of evidence. Adams at el (2002:82) suggests that problems with the data collection for the "Black Report", which provided evidence on social issues. One of these being that they should include ‘more data on social and cultural backgrounds if they were to address social inequality more effectively.
Emotional and Behavioural difficulties
Attachment behaviours are in place to try and gain closeness to the attachment figure. Children in Care often develop attachment behaviours that are sometimes adapted to the relationship circumstances they find themselves in. When this closeness is not achieved, perhaps due to parental rejection, the child must devise different strategies to achieve proximity or protect themselves from the emotional anxiety that the rejection may cause them.
It has been suggested that not meeting a child’s attachment needs could be similar to emotional abuse and defined as being when, ’’Meaningful adults are unable to provide necessary nurturance, stimulation, encouragement and protection to a child at various stages of their development, which inhibits their optimal functioning’’. Children, who have experienced insecure attachments, may develop ways to limit the anxiety and stress that occurs from an unresponsive and negative mother or prime carer.
They can develop behaviours as a defence strategy to either protect them from the stress or to gain the affection and comfort they yearn for, but have not received. Beckett (2002) examines the differences in the way securely attached "children in care" deal with stress and anxiety, compared with insecurely attached children. Securely attached children can deal with anxiety they have experienced, if their needs are not being met by their carer. They have coping strategies already in place to deal with these emotions and feel secure because their carer does not consistently fail to meet their needs.
In contrast, insecurely attached children whose carer has frequently failed to meet their needs do not have the emotional ability to deal with the distress that this raises so they must develop adaptive behaviours to avoid these distressing feelings from overwhelming them. Behaviours displayed by children in care who have often already experienced insecure attachments differ significantly, depending on the type of attachment they formed in early years.
Insecure attachments may have implications for all subsequent relationships and therefore it is important for residential carers to instigate the development of secure attachments. Understanding and identifying emotional and behavioural difficulties attributed to insecurely attached children, can improve care giving relationships. Indeed, carers can provide a child in care with the security and consistency that has thus far been lacking in their past upbringing and have a constructive impact on their development in the future. Howe 1995 A practically significant attachment behaviour that Bowlby (1969) discusses is ‘detachment behaviour. His studies showed that a child being reunited with its mother (or prime carer) after a length of separation, the child would initially respond to the mother like a stranger, until after a few days when their behaviour would change. Furthermore, the child could become clingy or display signs of anger to show their dread of the parent
By treating the parent as a stranger initially, the child does not exhibit behaviours that would normally be expected as pleasure at the parent returning. Bowlby (1969) referred to this as ‘detachment’ and a ‘defence processes, used by a child to protect themselves from the anxiety and stress caused by being separated from the parent. Bowlby concluded that a child’s behaviour system must in some way, be blocking these feelings from being activated, to protect the child from anxiety and stress that the parent has caused them by their departure.
Bowlby refers to this as "defensive exclusions". This suggests that the child has deactivated the attachment behaviours that allow them both to love and be loved. When a child’s ‘attachment behaviour’ fails to generate a response from a parent/carer, the child can suffer feelings of anxiety and stress. Cocker et al (2008) explains that this may lead to the child using detachment to cut off their feelings of hurt and in this way, the negative response that the caregiver subjects the child to, can no longer hurt or upset them.
When a child enters the care system they often implement a defence process, such as ‘detachment’, as a result of previous attachment relations and this can immediately present a barrier between the new carers and the children, preventing the carers from developing trusting relationships with the child. Due to their past experiences, the child will be prepared for inconsistence and unresponsiveness and possible rejection. The child will be hesitant to let their guard down and risk allowing those distressing emotions they associate with attachment figures from hurting them again.
Residential carers must be skilled and understand that this detachment may last for a sustained period of time and will not just disappear after a few days. In order to begin to de-construct these behavioural barriers, residential carers must demonstrate that they are reliable and consistent in their actions and behaviours to prove to the child that they are not going to reject them and hurt them as others may have done in the past. Children in the care system have experienced the separation and loss from their attachment figure.
Belsky & Nezworski (1988, Cited in: Greenberg et al, 1988) emphasizes the importance of separation and loss on a child’s behaviour and development, and suggests that in ‘attachment terms’, the loss of the attachment figure, is arguably the greatest loss a child can suffer. Furthermore, Robertson & Bowlby (1952) studies highlighted the effects of temporary separation on young children, who were admitted to hospital or residential nurseries. They recognized three phases in a child’s reaction to the separation: ‘’protest, withdrawal, and then detachment’’.
The children would firstly show great distress and inconsolable crying, followed by withdrawal which saw the children showing no interest in anyone or anything. The final stage would manifest itself after days or weeks and would involve the child becoming more settled, they would start to play again and respond to others. However, their relationship with other adults would remain shallow, not taking comfort in their presence when distressed. On being reunited with the parent, found that the child displayed a number
of extreme emotions; crying, clinginess, anger or the rejection of the parent.
Depending on the length of separation and the quality of the child’s attachment with the mother, these behaviours would settle after a short time. According to Erikson at el (1989) this explains the impact this could have on a child’s behaviour and the difficult emotions they may be experiencing. A child’s feelings of anxiety could be comforted by a close proximity to their attachment figure, however, should this figure should be un- obtainable, and it is possible that the child would feel anxious and insecure.
Furthermore, the anxiety the hild experiences could be heightened because their ‘secure base’ is no longer available . They have had constant changes in their attachment figures and sometimes have nowhere to go for the comfort they seek. Brisch (2002) attributes changes in a child’s behaviour to constant changes in an attachment figure. Children in care often display a range of undifferentiated behaviour that can present risk to themselves, for example, injuring themselves or others. The nature of this behaviour could affect some children as they often lack social skills and find it hard to conform to the rules of play.
Highlights another behaviour, aggression as being a way for children to express their need for proximity to their attachment figure, Hockey (2003) suggests that if past experiences have taught them that they are rejected by those they love, children may try and protect themselves from this happening. Bowlby (2007) relates the use of aggression to situations where the parents have threatened leaving the children. Children in Care will often use anger and aggression as a way of preventing the carer from carrying out this threat.
It is widely recognised that other factors in parental behaviour can impact and affect the levels of aggressiveness in children. Aggression is a common behaviour in Looked after Children, and is connected with insecure attachments. Rutter (1972:92) states that boys in particular, are likely to externalize their stress through aggression, whereas girls tend to internalize their anxiety. Schafer (1994) attributes aggression to five parental characteristics; parental rejection, parental permissiveness, parental aggression, parental reward of aggression and parental physical punishment.
The first, parental rejection is thought to be a large contributing factor in aggressiveness in children. Schaffer (1994) continues to explain that in rejecting their child, the parent is showing little interest in controlling the child’s behaviour, and is unlikely to challenge aggressive behaviour towards either themselves or others. Parental aggression is thought to be a major factor in children’s behaviour. Children who have been raised in violent and aggressive homes are more likely to be aggressive themselves.
Indeed, if we look at Banduras & Nezworski (1977) "Social Learning Theory"whereby children acquire behaviours through observing others, a link could be highlighted. In watching their parent’s acts of violence, the child learns these behaviours as being the way people behave, and they reproduce them. Furthermore, children can imitate the way they have been treated. If parents use physical punishment as a regular and consistent form of discipline it is likely to increase the levels of aggression in the children.
This sends confusing messages to the child,
and key workers need to show consistent responses to aggressive behaviour when working with children in residential care.
Effects on Child Development
Identity is a key aspect of adolescence and a secure base is required in order for adolescent people to settle on their own identity. Nearly all current work on the formation of adolescent identity has been based on James Marcia’s account of ‘identity status, which are rooted in Erikson’s general conceptions of adolescent identity process (Marcia, 1966, Cited in Boyd & Bee2006:148).
Identity is when children develop self consciousness, having moved from imitating the actions of others as small children to understanding how we see them and being able to look at themselves from the outside (Fox et al, 1997:81). Children in Care have often lacked suitable role models on which to base the formation of their identity and have a difficult time exploring their own identity into adulthood. Identity is further defined by Boyd et al (2006:319) as, an understanding of one’s unique characteristics and how they have been, are, and will be manifested across ages, situations, and social roles.
Characteristics and Individual differences look at the ways in which people can differ from one another, in particular personality and intelligence. Personality can be thought of, as’ the enduring aspects of an individual which distinguishes them from others, making them unique’. Boyd et al (2006:321). There are several theoretical approaches including the ‘humanistic approach’ by Maslow and Rogers. (Maslow: 1954) Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of need’ , as mentioned earlier, identified levels of need that he believed every human must satisfy before they reached their individuals potential for personal growth.
This was referred to as "self-actualization" and suggested that if physiological needs were deficient and not adequately met, they could cause anxiety and ill health in some individuals. Maslow emphasises the importance of moving up the hierarchy within child development so each level could be met and satisfied. Looked after Children who may have experienced past negative emotional deficiencies would particularly need to complete the process of Maslow’s hierarchy of need to ensure gaps in their developmental wellbeing were met. Bowlby 2007) Moreover, Davis (2000) highlights the importance of how the ‘hierarchy of need’ on the first four levels (physiological, safety needs social needs, love and belonging and self-esteem needs) impacts on traumatized children.
Children in Care may have experienced past traumas, where their physiological needs may not have been met adequately, within the context of limited food and emotional warmth provided. Consequences of these needs not being met, might be disturbed behaviours manifesting themselves in the form of bizarre eating patterns or behaviour, or physiological in the context of their senses of belonging.
Recently , researchers such as Gerhardt (2004) a Child psychotherapist, have suggested that this lack of love can be detrimental, since it can make forming relationships difficult for children as they are distrustful due to their past needs for love not being met. This demonstrates the fourth level of the Maslow hierarchy, esteem; whereby children who have not received consistent, unconditional love lack self respect and self esteem and see themselves as unlovable.
Furthermore, Gerhardt (2004:41) states that these physiological foundations are laid
during the first two years of a child’s life, and this is when the ‘social brain is shaped and when an individual’s emotional recourses are established. Gerhardt (2004:53) similarly, developmental psychology has refined its tools for understanding early emotional life, partly through technology. In the early 1970’s psychiatrist David Stern (cited in Gerhardt, 2004) explored the world of mothers and infants using video footage. He filmed the interactions of mothers and babies and analysed them in order to understand more about early development.
His work was informed by the framework of the attachment theory established by Bowlby, and led the way in attempting to integrate recent scientific development with psychoanalytic thinking, to understand emotional life in its biological context. Indeed, since Stern’s major contribution, further pioneers such as, Schore, (2000, cited in Gerhardt: 2004) have begun to collect a huge amount of information from different disciplines, that open up the possibility of understanding emotionally life in both its biological and its social aspects which may influence the commitment and study of future childcare practice.
Returning to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need, it could be said that a child who has been raised without all of these levels being adequately met, could potentially have gaps in their development. A key issue for children in care may be this sense in their lack of self esteem, due to past experiences of rejection. (Maslow: 1954) Children who have low esteem often struggle to progress up the hierarchy to self-actualization. Therefore, residential carers play a significant role in facilitating the child to develop a positive view of them.
Childcare workers can help develop strategies for ensuring a child receives positive encouragement and acknowledgement of their achievements. Because the development of close interpersonal relationships is so critical to a child’s continued development and sense of wellbeing, attachments should always be encouraged between the care and child. Often a Looked after Child may benefit from help identifying the positive aspects of their personality and their skills, which can counteract past negative views they may have developed through past experiences and relationships. Davis: 2004).
Further influential theories and studies relating to the mother child relationship and attachment were explored by Winnicott (1958:71, Cited in Santrock: 2006) who believed that if a child did not obtain ‘good enough mothering’ their development of personality and identity could be effected. Winnicot (1958) describes this concept as the ‘good enough mother’ and believed that babies could not develop a personality without adequate maternal care, as the mother is accustomed to her baby’s physiological and psychological needs, and thus responds accordingly.
It is in mirroring their relationships with their caregivers that they develop their own internal view of themselves and other relationships. He was convinced that establishing a secure mother and baby relationship had a positive impact on the personality and emotional wellbeing of a child. Winnicott (1958) further explains a model of a holding environment, whereby he believed the mother could create a suitable physiological and psychological environment for the child to thrive in and responds appropriately to the child’s signals of hunger, thirst, tiredness or any feelings of anxiety.
This would allow the mother to use the
"holding environment" to "hold" their child’s negative or stressful emotions in order for them not to engulf the child. This safe environment creates an emotional haven for the child to be free from stress and anxiety. Gradually reducing this ‘holding’ area the mother allows the child freedom to discover and learn with independence. Using this period of reduction in the closeness of interactions between a mother and child, Winnicott additionally, introduces the concept of the transitional object ( Winnicot 1958:162, Cited in Santrock, 2006).
The "transitional object" is an object such as a blanket or soft toy which the child tends to clings to. These objects, Winnicott (1958) proposed, served to represent the mother when a child was separated from them, both emotionally and physically. If the ‘holding’ relationship between mother and child began to distance the object would act as a bridge for the child, between the closeness they had with their mother, to the independence they are now experiencing. Carers in residential children’s need to be aware of transitional objects s often a child in care will have been through some sort of separation . For example, if they move placements and come into a new residential home with an object that they cling to, it may be acting as a transitional object to help them hold on to a feeling of closeness and security, to the one they have lost.
This object may provide great comfort to the child and act as a temporary secure base for them. In time, through developing a positive and trusting relationship with a new key worker, the child in care may feel comfortable and secure enough to release the object. Winnicot: 1958, Cited in Santrock: 2006). Not responding to a child’s need for affection by actively ignoring the needs of the child for a sustained period of time, is a form of emotional abuse and can be very damaging to a child’s psychological and emotional development. O’Hagan (1993:44) defines emotional abuse as the sustained, repetitive, inappropriate emotional responses to the child’s expression of emotion and its accompanying behaviour. Erikson et al (1989) conducted a study which looked at the effect of different types of abuse on children over the first six years of their lives.
These groups were: those who were physically abused those whose parents were verbally abusive, those who were neglected and those who were emotionally abused. Erikson et al (1989:75) All children from each group had low self esteem and confidence but by the age of four it was the emotionally abused and neglected children who were the cause for most concern. Erik Eikison (1982) was another key theorist whose approach explored the ‘life cycle’ from a psychosocial approach. (Crawford: 2005)
Furthmore, Steele (1986:67) believes that inappropriate responses and emotional unresponsiveness are very damaging to a child and that the damage comes when the injuries are inflicted by those to whom one looks to for love and protection. He suggests that this form of mistreatment will lead to low self esteem, an inability to cope with life, depression and social deviance. Calam & Franchi (1987) suggest that emotionally abused children will display
a maturity in their behaviour inappropriate to their age and may behave in ways which they believe will keep their parents or arers content, and often they will not be inclined to play at all.
They also state that children will display a frozen watchfulness whereby they will shy away from human contact and lack normal emotional reactions. They concluded that the detrimental effects on a child’s psychological development is due to the inadequate way in which a parent relates to a child’s emotional needs for a sustained period of time. However, Main (1991) suggests that some children will construct a range of multiple models of that person, covering each aspect of their conflicting behaviours.
Occasionally, a mother may respond affectionately and at other times, the mother may appear cold and unresponsive. This can be extremely confusing for a young child and if they mirror their attachment relationship this distorted view will make it complicated for the child to understand themselves. The significance of the quality of attachment within a relationship can impact on how a child sees themselves; for example, rejection can lead to the child seeing themselves as unlovable.
Looked after Children who have experienced separation and loss from their families when being taken into care often find it difficult to relate and form new relationships in residential care. Robinson et al (2002) explains that children in care have often learnt to be self reliant and not to expect to be loved and supported. They often come into residential care with the expectations that they will be rejected, and with this in mind, the child will avoid making any emotional commitment to the relationship in order to protect themselves.
They test the commitment of their careers and key workers by often displaying negative behaviour and pushing the boundaries to see the responses of their new carers. Responding with anger and a lack of patience and understanding will just confirm to them that they will always suffer rejection and let downs. Finally, summarizing this chapter, the attachment theory can clearly be used by practitioners to look for signs of inadequate attachment behaviours and focus on Identifying factors that may create secure bonds in the future.
Critical overview As previously highlighted, the main critical focus examined how the Attachment Theory’s Western origins assumes other cultures have the same childrearing ideals. Boyd et al (2006:47) suggests term culture as is essentially contested, but defines it in essence as some framework of customs and values, attitudes, beliefs and moral guidelines that are shared collectively and passed down from one generation to another. Other limitations of the attachment theory include the suggestion that an infant should have only one single attachment, and this should be, to the mother.
Shaffer & Emerson’s (1964) challenge this in their research which found that although by 6 months, most children they had observed had a primary attachment to their mother, by 18 months most children had multiple attachments to other people, either in their families or with another Carer, and not just the mother. Indeed, it was found that a child was more likely to form a primary attachment to the person who
was most responsive and stimulating around them. Shaffer et al (1964) found that children living on a kibbutz (a small commune) where children had multiple carers, did not damage their developmental well-being.
This supports criticisms that the Western origins of the attachment theory can limit and ignore differences in other cultures that have different values and beliefs about childrearing. This does not mean that children from diverse cultures, such as the kibbutz culture, have insecure attachments only that child rearing practices vary from culture to culture. Indeed, Bremmer (1973) concluded that there is no single correct style of parenting or even that an insecure attachment is poorer than a secure attachment.
Finally, there are other factors that influence us as we grow up and studies in Human Development have changed considerably over the past centuries . Bowlby’s ( 1951:49) attachment theory stating that If a child had not experienced bonding in his/her first two years the effects would be irreversible, is still highly influential today, however, other ideas form a wider variety have been presented over the last twenty five years. Howe (1995) states that children in care have often learnt to be self reliant and not to expect to be loved and supported.
Indeed, past studies of children who have been maltreated and neglected in childhood have shown that they can develop resilience. Prior et al (2006) whose research on resilience and personality growth suggests that some children, who have not experienced early secure attachments can build up their own resilience and confidence in them because they are determined to do so regardless of poor role models and negative childhood experiences. An interesting example of ‘resilience’ is presented by Boris Cyrulnik, who grew up in residential care.
Now psychoanalysis, he believes that childhood trauma need not be a burden, and argues that it can be the making of us. Acquiring resilience from childhood experiences, however appalling, Cyrulnik believes, can be the making of someone, as opposed to their destruction. Cyrulnik describes himself as a disciple of John Bowlby, who as previously stated, pioneered the attachment theory. Cyrulnik believes that; resilience is not a character trait: people are not born more, or less, resilient than others. Resilience, he suggests, is a process that requires the right conditions.
If children are securely ‘attached’ the process is easier. Cyrulnik suggests that although this probably applies to 70 % of children, it is also possible that the 30% of children, who are insecurely attached, can find a new secure base".
All social workers should have a sound knowledge of human growth and development’ and the Attachment Theory as it enable practitioners to effectively highlight areas of concern when working with children in residential care. Recommendations rom Beverly Hughes (a former social work lecturer) state that ‘the social work degree could be strengthened to give child and family social workers better preparation for dealing with Looked after Children.
Subsequent, following the publication of the, Looked after Children White paper, Hughes raised concerns that training had moved away from important subjects such as child development over the past two decades. Hughes advocates that ‘social workers would not understand the impact on
Looked after Children’ of being moved between placements, if they did not have training in ‘attachment theory. There is a question of how far the current social work degree is teaching people about child development, attachment and resilience theory that are crucial for working with children in care This issue is being evaluated by the Social Work Task Force, who have had reports of inadequate initial training by authorities stating that social workers are not prepared for the work place. Last year, just one-third of 500 newly qualified social workers surveyed by the Children’s Workforce Development Council (CWDC) thought themselves fully prepared for their job.
This issue has become critically important in light of the recent Baby P case, which identified significant failings in basic child protection practice. The Social Work Taskforce will aim to identify deficiencies in skills and the issue has not gone unnoticed by the General Social Care Council. Gordon Brown (Prime Minister) recently published a plan for Building Britain’s Future. Within this, Labours current Early Years policies gravitate clearly towards Child Welfare. Labour wants to make this country the best place for children and young people to grow up in.
We are committed to supporting all families, whatever their shape or size, and giving every child the chance to unlock their talent. Labour has radically transformed Early Year’s provision and in 1997 there were 3,000 Sure Start Children’s centres providing childcare, healthcare, early education and family support t
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