The importance of attachment

What is Attachment and why is it relevant to Children in Care?

The way in which an individual relates to others is influenced by their early relationships and is called attachment.

Attachment theory provides a model of child development that focuses on how a child’s capacity to develop healthy relationships with others is significantly influenced by their own early relationships.

Sadly, many children in care have experienced disruption in their early relationships due to neglect, loss, abuse or separation from their biological families. Most of these young people will also have experienced inadequate parenting and a lack of permanence due to multiple placement moves.  These experiences will have an adverse effect on the child’s ability to form healthy attachments with both peers and adults.

How does the quality of Attachment affect Brain Development?

Research indicates that the brain develops rapidly during the first three years of life and experiences largely effect how this development occurs. Negative experiences such as early abuse, neglect, loss, and separation can result in an insecure attachment style which can lead to difficulties in the following domains:

  • Emotion regulation
  • Primary motor and sensory areas
  • Language development and comprehension
  • Social functioning
  • Abstract thought
  • Educational attainment
These difficulties affect the child’s internal working model – how they relate to themselves, others, and the world around them; this can perpetuate unhelpful cycles of negative beliefs, emotions, and behaviour.


Does poor Attachment impact on Mental Health and Academic Achievement?

Whilst research shows that children in care are significantly more likely to experience mental health difficulties and lower academic achievement, their mental health, and academic needs are frequently unnoticed and unmet by statutory services.

Factors that impede young people in care accessing the appropriate mental health support include:

  • A shortage of key staff in statutory services, due to deep funding cuts, which limits young people’s chances of getting appropriate and consistent help.
  • Difficulties in accessing statutory services; data from the NHS benchmarking network and recent audits reveal increases in referrals and waiting times, with providers reporting increased complexity and severity of presenting problems.
  • Children in care often have to wait weeks to months for an assessment and intervention due to lengthy waiting times or due to issues around funding; especially if the child is out of Borough.
  • The delay in the delivery of care can lead to a deterioration of the young person’s presentation, which can result in placement breakdown and the young person being moved to a different foster or residential placement, or even out of local authority care, by the time their appointment comes up.
  • Whilst children in care can wait a long time for therapeutic support from statutory services, they can access ‘immediate’ support from services if they present in crisis, e.g. after an incident of self-harm. The young person can then equate ‘getting help’ from services with presenting in crisis, as opposed to engaging in a therapeutic process, which can increase the cycle of risky behaviour.

Factors that impede young people in care accessing the appropriate educational support include:

  • The instability of care and school placements, inadequate levels of targeted support and low expectations and aspirations.
  • Relatively lower starting levels, poorly informed teachers and social workers, and carers not being sufficiently engaged in the child’s education.