What is Attachment Theory? Why is it important?

Attachment is a theory about danger and how we organize in the face of it

Crittenden and Clausson 2000

We hear a lot about ‘attachment’ and its important in care proceedings.

Basically ‘attachment’ is a theory developed by psychologists to explain how a child interacts with the adults looking after him or her. If a child has a healthy attachment, this means the child can be confident that the adults will respond to the child’s needs, for example if he is hungry, tired or frightened, the adult caregiver will respond to meet his needs or reassure and comfort him.

This gives the child confidence to explore his environment and develop a good sense of self-esteem. This will help the child grow up to be a happy and functioning adult.

If a child can’t rely on his carers to look after him and respond consistently, this has been noted to have potentially very serious and damaging consequences for the adult that child will become. If adults are seriously inconsistent or unresponsive in their behaviour to the child, he may become very anxious as he is not able to predict how the adults around him will act; the child may even give up trying to get his needs met.

Therefore, identifying how a child responds to the adults trying to look after him, can be very important information when you are trying to work out what is the best thing to do for that child. If the attachment relationship is very poor and there are worries it won’t improve quickly enough for the child then this may have a significant influence on any decision to remove the child from those adult carers.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) described ‘attachment’ in this way in their November 2015 guidelines regarding children’s attachment:

Children whose caregivers respond sensitively to the child’s needs at times of distress and fear in infancy and early childhood develop secure attachments to their primary caregivers. These children can also use their caregivers as a secure base from which to explore their environment. They have better outcomes than non-securely attached children in social and emotional development, educational achievement and mental health. Early attachment relations are thought to be crucial for later social relationships and for the development of capacities for emotional and stress regulation, self-control and metallisation…

Where did attachment theory come from?

John Bowlby

The psychoanalyst John Bowlby (1907 – 1990) investigated how what happened to us as children could contribute to later problems as adults  – in the way we behave and interact with other people.

He developed the concept of a ‘theory of attachment’, suggesting that we are born pre-programmed to form attachments to others, as without this babies could not survive. This followed on from the work of Lorenz in 1935 where he investigated ‘imprinting’ in ducklings and geese and showed that the birds would attach to the first large moving object they met in the first few hours of life.

Mary Ainsworth

Attachment theory was further developed by Mary Ainsworth (1913 – 1999) and her assessment technique called the Strange Situation Classification (SSC). Babies and toddlers can’t use words to tell us how they feel so Mary Ainsworth needed to find a way to allow them to show her.

Children were observed through a one-way mirror and the researchers noted the children’s reactions in a range of different circumstances.

  • Parent and infant alone.
  • Stranger joins parent and infant.
  • Parent leaves infant and stranger alone.
  • Parent returns and stranger leaves.
  • Parent leaves; infant left completely alone.
  • Stranger returns.
  • Parent returns and stranger leaves.
This allowed four different categories of behaviour to be investigated:
  • Separation anxiety – what does the child do when the caregiver leaves?
  • Willingness to explore – was the child confident to explore his environment?
  • Stranger anxiety – how did the child react to the stranger?
  • Reunion behaviour – how did the child react when the carer/parent came back?
Results of the experiment.

See further this article from Simply Psychology

She identified three main attachment styles

  • Secure
  • Insecure avoidant
  • Insecure ambivalent.

A fourth attachment style has since been identified as ‘disorganized’.

The majority of the children were ‘secure’.

  Secure Attachment Ambivalent Attachment Avoidant Attachment
Separation Anxiety Distressed when mother leaves. Infant shows signs of intense distress when mother leaves. Infant shows no sign of distress when mother leaves.
Stranger Anxiety Avoidant of stranger when alone but friendly when mother present. Infant avoids the stranger – shows fear of stranger. Infant is okay with the stranger and plays normally when stranger is present.
Reunion behavior Positive and happy when mother returns. Child approaches mother but resists contact, may even push her away. Infant shows little interest when mother returns.
Other Will use the mother as a safe base to explore their environment. Infant cries more and explores less than the other 2 types. Mother and stranger are able to comfort infant equally well.
% of infants 70 15 15

Why is attachment theory so important in some court proceedings?

There is clearly room for debate about how attachment should be measured and what implications this has for trying to support families in crisis.

However, attachment theory will remain significant in care proceedings because of the large degree of expert consensus about why it is important. This is primarily because good attachment allows us to develop a well functioning internal working model. This is:

a cognitive framework comprising mental representations for understanding the world, self and others.  A person’s interaction with others is guided by memories and expectations from their internal model which influence and help evaluate their contact with others (Bretherton, & Munholland, 1999).

Having a healthy ‘internal working model’ is thus important for three main reasons

  • Your sense of self
  • Your sense of others
  • Your relationships with yourself and others

Research shows that attachment problems can have a big impact on later life. Attachment difficulties account for a significant percentage of reasons why adoptions break down for e.g.

Children who are securely attached can develop increasing independence, exploring their environment with confidence that they can return to a carer who will respond to their needs. Therefore securely attached children will develop good self esteem and know that they are considered worth looking after.

However, children who don’t get the chance to form good attachments run the risk of developing poor internal working models which can have very negative impacts on their view of themselves and their ability to form relationships with other people. John Bowlby was worried that the long-term impacts included increased aggression and even ‘affectionless psychopathy’ where a person cannot show affection or concern for others.

Some concerns about attachment theory

The Sutton Trust have estimated that 40% of the general population do NOT have secure attachments (see ‘Baby bonds: parenting, attachment and a secure base for children’). This claim, and the evidence cited to support it,  has caused some disquiet amongst academics.

There are criticisms of Mary Ainsworth’s experiments, not least the fact that her work is based on the assumption that  brief separations and reunions have the same meaning for all children, which may not give proper consideration to cultures where it is accepted that children will experience everyday  maternal separation.  See further ‘Clinical Implications of Attachment Concepts: Retrospect and Prospect’ Michael Rutter 2005.

Nicola Horsley, the research fellow of the Brain Science and Early Intervention Project at Southampton University comments:

Bandying about this figure of forty percent of the population not being securely attached, with the original source so deeply buried, is disingenuous enough. The Brain Science and Early Intervention study, funded by the Faraday Institute and conducted by researchers at the Weeks Centre and the University of Southampton is particularly concerned with how claims like these are being beefed up by ‘evidence’ from neuroscience, as in the Baby Bonds report’s section on ‘neurological pathways’ to developing secure attachment.

You might expect a claim like ‘there is a burst of brain development when attachment bonds are made’ to cite a neuroscientist but the reference supporting this quote is the work of Sue Gerhardt, a psychotherapist who is one of the founders of the OXPIP parenting programme; and her book Why Love Matters: how affection builds a baby’s brain, is core reading for practitioners delivering the programme. The Baby Bonds report features only one neuroscientist in its bibliography and that is Jack Shonkoff, director of the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, which is a partner of the UK’s Early Intervention Foundation. Increasingly, third sector organisations like the Early Intervention Foundation and ‘strategic philanthropists’ like the Sutton Trust, and not rigorous up-to-date studies or neuroscientific thinking, are providing the ‘evidence’ on which policy is based.

In selecting the research that is presented to policy makers, reports like Baby Bonds have the power to privilege certain agendas. It is crucial that their key messages are not based on distortions or misrepresentations of social life. If family policy is to deny the fundamental opposition to attachment theory feminists have articulated for at least twenty years, it should at least be cognisant of critiques of the highly questionable measurements of attachment.

From the conflation of a dyadic relationship with an individual characteristic to the cherry-picking of psychological or biological terms depending on which makes the most compelling case, attempts to measure the quality of human relationships in this way are profoundly flawed.

Through the Brain Science and Early Intervention project, I have witnessed the effects of this discourse on practitioners who work with parents in need of support and these sloppy attributions of good and bad models of parenting have the potential to do real harm with their individualisation of risk factors for a panoply of social ills.

If the UK government is serious about investing in policy and practice that encourages children to flourish, its focus on deprivation should not be narrowed to the prefix of the maternal. When nurses tell us that they are under pressure for their delivery of a parenting programme to be seen to have a direct effect on future prison populations, it is clear that family life has become atomised beyond all recognition. We are left with a science of parenting where family support used to be and this can only serve to further isolate those who are consigned to the 40%.

GM v Carmarthenshire County Council & Anor [2018] EWFC 36 (06 June 2018) – now no longer good law!

This case makes for interesting reading regarding the judge’s comments about attachment. The case involved an 8 year old boy who had been in foster care for 2 years and his mother wanted to discharge the care order and have him return home. The court approved a report by an Independent Social Worker to report on the child’s attachment. The Judge made the following comments.

  1. A number of points may be made about this description of the theory. First, the theory, which I suppose is an aspect of psychology, is not stated in the report to be the subject of any specific recognised body of expertise governed by recognised standards and rules of conduct. Indeed, I asked the advocate for the guardian whether he was aware whether a student could undertake a degree in attachment theory, or otherwise study it at university or professionally. Mr Hussell was not able to answer my question. Therefore, it does not satisfy the first criterion for admissibility as expert evidence.

  2. Second, the theory is only a theory. It might be regarded as a statement of the obvious, namely that primate infants develop attachments to familiar caregivers as a result of evolutionary pressures, since attachment behaviour would facilitate the infant’s survival in the face of dangers such as predation or exposure to the elements. Certainly, this was the view of John Bowlby, the psychologist, psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst and originator of the theory in the 1960s. It might be thought to be obvious that the better the quality of the care given by the primary caregiver the better the chance of the recipient of that care forming stable relationships later in life. However, it must also be recognised that some people who have received highly abusive care in childhood have developed into completely well-adjusted adults. Further, the central premise of the theory – that quality attachments depend on quality care from a primary caregiver – begins to fall down when you consider that plenty of children are brought up collectively (whether in a boarding school, a kibbutz or a village in Africa) and yet develop into perfectly normal and well-adjusted adults.

  3. For my part I would say with all due respect that I do not need a social worker to give me evidence based on this theory to help me form a judgment about L’s attachments.

The lawyer and legal blogger suesspicious minds commented favourably on Mostyn J’s judgment

It seems that concern was growing about the possibly inapt use of attachment, particularly by those who see it synonymous with a ‘bond’. However, in 2021 in the case of TT (Children) [2021] EWCA Civ 742 (20 May 2021)the Court of Appeal issued a stern corrective to the judgment of Mostyn J, saying

It is one thing to find that a particular witness may not be qualified to give specific evidence about a child’s attachments, but it is another thing to question the validity of attachment theory as a whole or to state that it cannot be admissible in evidence. Nor is it correct to say that, if a child’s attachment to substitute carers is so strong as to lead a court to refuse an application to discharge a care order, that would deprive s. 39 of meaning. That approach risks looking at matters from the point of view of the parent at the expense of a rounded assessment of the welfare of the child. The decisions to which I have referred in the two preceding paragraphs make clear that the court has to give appropriate weight to all the relationships that are important to a child, and that there may be a role for expert advice about attachment in cases of difficulty. Insofar as the observations in GM v Carmarthenshire suggest otherwise, they cannot stand [para 49].

How can we deal with these concerns about attachment in practice?

David Shemmings, Professor of Child Protection Research at the University of Kent sets out seven principles for using attachment – based approaches in child protection work:

  • The main aim of using attachment-based principles is to help and support families stay together, whenever it is feasible to do so.
  • People can usually change and there is, as yet, no firm evidence that there are critical periods of a child’s development after which change is impossible, except in the most extreme forms of maltreatment – although the longer we leave things, the harder it is to overcome abuse and neglect.
  • It is preferable to think of disorganized attachment behaviour, not disorganized attachment per se. (These behaviours are temporary and fleeting, not an attachment ‘style’). The behaviours are not predictive of maltreatment: they indicate that additional questions need to be posed urgently, as the child may already have experienced ‘fear without solution’.
  • Practitioners need to make sure that they are not constrained by ‘confirmation bias’: forming a viewpoint too quickly and then only taking account of information, which confirms it – we need an ‘open mind, but not an empty head’.
  • Where there are concerns, they must be shared in the family (unless doing so might harm a child).
  • Practitioners must be ‘culturally competent’ when using attachment-based principles.
  • Approaches to help families are more likely to succeed if we demonstrate enhanced relationship skills, specifically ‘intelligent kindness’, ‘unsentimental compassion’ and ‘non-directive curiosity’.

Further reading.

161 thoughts on “What is Attachment Theory? Why is it important?

  1. Pingback: Attachment. (What are the most important messages about attachment that you need to remember?) | salmayahiya

  2. Sam

    I have noticed this article as many others have judging by the number of comments. Can anyone who knows about attachment theory please comment whether what these mothers practice which seems to be based around carrying your baby in a sling, responding to their cry, long term breastfeeding , reading to them and co sleeping results in a secure attachment.https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jul/30/attachment-parenting-best-way-raise-child-or-maternal-masochism

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I am not aware of any longitudinal studies that attempted to map the impact of such parenting on children in their adult lives. I would be very interested to know what research has been done.

      At the risk of descending into the anectdotal and the possibly prejudicial (I am NOT an attachment parent) I do sometimes wonder if this kind of parenting is more about the parents emotional needs than those of the child. It is about signalling that one is an excellent parent. I am sure for very young children, its just what they need. But once a child is no longer a baby, I am not so sure. I wrote about something similar here, looking at the discussions of ‘primary carer’ that were had around the Rebecca Minnock case.

    2. looked_after_child



      How many families have been destroyed and are continuing to be destroyed by a cruel and heartless largely privatised ‘therapy’ industry using attachment related labels ? Why have social workers and judges gone along with this and the power of the State used to break families up, without any real discussion, as a result of this glittery theory that turns out to be smoke and mirrors in the main? Shameful and very disturbing.

  3. Sam

    Thank you both. Two initial thoughts, secure attachment is about being responsive to the baby’s need for physical contact is it then impossible 6-8 for a fed on demand breast fed baby to have an insecure attachment. Also going off course now but mentions adults having insecure attachments and this could possibly be part of the answer why domestic violence victims stay.

    1. helensparkles

      Adult attachment style has an impact upon relationships with other adults as well as with their children and there is quite a lot of research into the link between adult attachment styles and depression.

      I think the reasons that abuse victims remain with the perpetrator is multifaceted, and usually predicated on vulnerabilities. But if you read in any detail about coercive control, you could also think there but for the grace of god (insert deity of choice) because it can be v subtle at the outset and anyone could find themselves there not able to extract themselves in very practical ways because they are isolated and have no money for example.

      Anecdotally (in the families I work with) victims of DV include adults who have experienced childhood trauma/dysfunction that would have had an impact upon their attachment/resilience/neurobiology/psychological & emotional landscape etc. Which aspect of their lives through to adulthood correlates to remaining would be assessed by me but I do work out with victims where they think their vulnerability is in order to support them, and access services to support them to rebuild their sense of self and identity, it is part of building/increasing parenting capacity.

      Most of the men I work with who are perpetuators have similar antecedents. Causation is over simplistic, so men who were abused don’t necessarily abuse, but domestic abuse is about power and control so there is usually a reason why their psyche is flawed and they need that. Obviously there will just be some socio/psychopaths but I think we are all agreed they are rare.

      1. helensparkles

        Sorry that should have said “wouldn’t be assessed by me” but I do work out …. because it would need a psychologist to do the assessment.

    2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Developing a secure attachment is about much more than simple responsiveness to physical needs. This is why depression in mothers of new borns can be so difficult. Just because a baby is being breast fed on demand doesn’t automatically mean a secure attachment is a given. Babies need more than just feeding, although of course that is crucial. They need smiles and soft voices, eye contact, singing, talking, interaction, gentle touch etc, etc, etc.

      I would imagine that a child who is simply fed, without eye contact or other interaction, then put back in a cot and ignored, is going to experience difficulty in later life with issues of identity and self esteem.

  4. helensparkles

    This is a really good DVD https://www.amazon.co.uk/Baby-Its-You-Leanne-Klein/dp/B000A7IHGC which you might find some of on youtube, it tells you about how the baby’s brain develops, and all those neurological pathways that are so important in forming attachments start being built. Baby’s need a lot more than feeding on demand, they need responses to everything, and lots of motherese even when they don’t know what we are saying!

  5. Sam

    So is attachment disorder just a western phenomenon? Would it also be fair to so that to some extent society could be seen as a contributory factor? From my reading what is described is an otherwise engaged mother who does not prioritise her baby, external pressures such as cramped housing must be taken into account which would impact on her engagement with the baby.
    I also find it interesting that women, have once again been labelled with a disorder by a man.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      There is interesting research/discussions to say that ‘mental illness’ per se is a Western construct and unknown to other cultures, for e.g. African societies. To which my response is a resounding ‘bollocks’. Human brains are complicated. There is lots that can go wrong. I am quite sure that maladaptive and harmful responses to adverse life circumstances are a feature of what makes us human. They are not culturally specific.

      Therefore I do not think ‘attachment disorder’ is a western phenomenon – people mistreat and abuse their children across the globe. But the handwringing and incessant Guardian articles about it, almost certainly is.

      A lot of work on attachment has been done by women – see Mary Ainsworth, Bowlby’s student for e.g. so I don’t agree this is some kind of misogynist plot. I think men are just generally more attracted to systemised thinking and labelling things.

      1. Sam

        I am not saying its a misogynist plot, I just wonder whether a woman who “discovered” something that once again mainly labels women would have called it a disorder. Also everything has a perspective , who was this Bowlby, what was his overriding attitude to woman, had he ever spent hours trying to sooth a colicky baby? I can certainly see the gist of it, but what I would say its more simple , an anxious or otherwise preoccupied care giver is not tuned in to the baby’s needs which in turn makes them anxious or withdrawn. I suppose the most obvious example would have been some years ago in those Romanian orphanages.
        Society does have a part to play, if you spend a major part of your day trying to fulfil basic needs as an adult you are going to be anxious and preoccupied. I do agree that mental health cannot be a western concept, but it is normally apart from very rare cases a mixture of environmental factors and the persons nature.

        1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

          As far as I remember (my Open University course on child development now a decade old!) is that Bowlby developed his theory after working with children in orphanages who no doubt were severely traumatised and lacking in attachment figures. So I don’t think he had some rosy or blinkered view and probably witnessed some quite difficult behaviour from children. He started off by saying that children needed maternal care but i think revised that quite quickly to say that children needed no more than a handful of consistent primary carers otherwise they would find it hard to ‘attach’ and thus find it hard to develop a robust sense of self that would take them into adulthood with good mental health.

        2. helensparkles

          There is a lot of research into the children from Romanian orphanages.

          “Rutter et al (2007) followed a group who had been adopted by British families, some before the age of 6 months and some older than 6 months. The children were assessed at the ages of 4, 6 and 11 years with the findings that the children adopted younger than 6 months developed normally in line with British adopted children, but those adopted older than 6 months showed disinhibited attachments (forming an attachment with any adult rather than maintaining a strong bond with one primary caregiver) and had problems forming peer relationships. This suggests that the effects of privation can be overcome if an attachment is formed within the first 6 months, but after 6 months the negative effects tend to be more permanent.”

    2. helensparkles

      Although a lot of work is done around women, mothers with PND for example, attachment to a primary carer doesn’t have to be mum or even dad. Although the research is pretty ethnocentric it can also be applied to other cultures where there are kinship networks which also enable children to feel safe, secure and thrive. If you wanted to read anything I would read this woman http://www.patcrittenden.com/include/attachment_papers.htm

      I think it is important to say that attachment disorder is rare and is only diagnosed by a psychologist. It is more common that someone will have one of the identifiable attachment styles or that we would say disrupted attachments. Adverse circumstances can play a part, because people are stressed, but most children don’t have a huge awareness of that because they’re protected from it.

      For me, attachment parenting (in the way covered in the Guardian and in the way that it is often written about is disconcerting. I would view that somewhat differently to attachment theory and I do have views about that. One of them would be that it adds to the huge burden of books about children which drives me crackers and makes anyone feel like they are not getting it right.

  6. Angelo Granda

    There is much misunderstanding of attachment theory .Bowlby ,i assume,was a psychologist and his theory is meant to be used by psychologists.
    Why is it of interest to Lawyers and Social Workers engaged in child-protection? Do they consider an apparent lack of attachment to a parent as an indication of bad parenting?
    I am no psychologist either but i shall throw in my three pennorth.

    We should not confuse bonding and or a bond with attachment or lack of it.The bond between a mother and her child is an invalent one. There is a permanent bond which is unbreakable physically,chemically,by blood, mentally or spiritually. The bond forms on conception and develops pre-natally . Post -natal ,nothing on earth can destroy the bond . Doctors and nurses say that bottle -feeding makes no difference to the forming of attachment and doing so will not affect the inbreakable bond.
    Should Mother and child be separated after birth , both parts of the dyad will suffer extreme trauma. Especially for the child, separation causes great mental and physical , actual severe harm. A natural mother cannot ever be replaced by a foster -carer or an adoptive parent to whom the child may become attached by circumstances . The child will be affected for life because he or she is bonded to Mum. Even when grown-up ,the child will seek to reunite with her. If this is not possible,the child will remain traumatised for life.

    So what of attachment. This is entirely different and will depend on individual human beings and relationships. Good parents,bad parents.Good children,bad children. It is quite natural for attachments to develop early on but the aim of good parenting is that attachment will gradually lessen and become less secure as the child gets older. The general aim is that a child arrives to a point where he or she can become independent and fly the nest. To be too attached to ones parents is wrong and unnatural. The bond will never be broken but the attachment has to be broken and the existence of an insecure attachment attachment does not mean bad parenting. In other words ,from infancy,the duty of parents is to teach children to care for themselves and not to become too attached. An insecure attachment does not mean the child has an insecure bond.
    I think as Mum gets older and becomes more experienced, she learns and changes.She is human but not only that each child she has is an individual human being. All adapt differently.Some will be more or less attached than another.Some will be more attached to father than mother and vicer -versa. One child may want to fly the nest at a younger age than another. This is human.
    The first child will be more attached to Mum because he or she will have received especially concentrated and smothering care.The fifth child will be less attached and may suffer emotionally from less intensive care but that is human.

    Let us just remember that the Bowlby theory is just that a psychological theory.

    1. helensparkles

      I can’t see how your theory of child development tallies with any where there has been some actual research, neurobiological or psychological, so it would be interesting to know what your evidence base is.

    2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I think you misunderstand ‘attachment’ quite significantly. It is not meant to describe a suffocating bond that limits child’s freedom to ‘fly the nest’. It describes the process by which a child is taught to value himself and feel safe in the world because he learned to trust that his parent would meet his needs, and therefore that he was a valuable person whose needs were worth meeting. Children who don’t have those experiences growing up are much less likely to be able to ‘fly the nest’ and live healthy, happy lives.

      A poor attachment between child and parent has often significantly bad consequences for the child. And I certainly don’t agree that there is always and inevitably some sacred bond between mother and child which will cause child to suffer for ever if removed from mother. Daniel Pelka and Ellie Butler might have agreed with me – if they had been allowed to grow up into adults of course. But they were not.

      1. Angelo Granda

        Sarah and Helen, I made the point that there is much misunderstanding of attachment theory and clearly i don’t understand it fully either as i am not a psychologist. I think many non-psychologists misunderstand it and i said i was just throwing in my three-pennorth.
        I based my view on my reading of the post incl;uding the thoughts and research of the Sutton Trust which said that 40% of children are not securely attached .I think that is an indication that idealistic theories do not apply to the real world.
        I am just theorising like Bowlby and the rest of you. Sarah, do you think that mother and child do not have an unbreakable chemical,biological,genetic bond? If so ,how do you account for hereditary traits?

        1. Angelo Granda

          Sarah,why considering recent discussions,do you bring Daniel Pelka and Ellie Butler into it?

          1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

            Because both were murdered by men while their mothers stood by or even encouraged and colluded. It would have done those children an enormous benefit to be removed from their mothers. They would both now be alive. I simply do not accept – as you appear to be saying – that the mother/child bond is automatically something that will damage a child if broken. Some mothers are absolutely the worst thing that could happen to a child.

          2. Angelo Granda

            Thank you,Sarah. I know those mothers had to have their children removed.Even so, the children will suffer lifelong emotional harm as a result.In their cases, the blame for breaking the bond lies with the two mothers.
            This does not change the fact that children suffer great trauma by permanent removal. Indeed that is why the Children’s Act and the High Court Judges come out so strongly against it , in my opinion.

            It should only be when absolutely nothing else will do. The Pelka and Butler cases are fairly rare,i hope!

          3. helensparkles

            Children dying because they are not removed from their parents is thankfully relatively rare.

          4. Sarah Phillimore Post author

            Yes, it is relatively rare. But still, far too many of these deaths are utterly preventable. Daniel Pelka for e.g. was noticed to be injured and foraging for food in bins by his teachers. Victoria Climbie was seen by very many professionals. Ben Butler had six convictions for violence before 2012 etc, etc, etc.

            But my point was really to Angelo – this elevation of the parental bond as automatically something sacred and wonderful does not always play out in reality. Some parents are awful and some children really do need to be rescued from them as quickly as possible. I do not accept that removing children from those kinds of parents causes a lifetime of traumatic harm because the ‘bond’ is broken.

          5. helensparkles

            I agree with all of that, although I would like SCRS to be more than a benefit of hindsight review, and more of a systemic analysis which might create an environment where those deaths are actually preventable.

          6. Angelo Granda

            Sarah, You should read more stories about the experiences of adults who are adopted as children. I am not saying the bond between birth mother and children is all-good,sacred or wonderful. I am saying it the wrench when the bond is broken causes life-long actual emotional disturbance,physiological harm and distress.It is traumatic.
            When it happens, whether the severance of the bond is because nothing else will do or not,the effects are the same.

          7. helensparkles

            Those stories are very painful Angelo but I think one of the things that a lot of stories told by adoptees shares is that hey were relinquised and that is very uncommon for all sorts of very positive reasons. Most children who are adopted, as has been the case for at least the last 20 years, are because of child protection reasons. One of those children walked into a police station asking to be taken into care so you could read her story

        2. helensparkles

          Angelo, the thing is you are not theorising like Bowlby and the rest of us. Bowl by (and those who continued exploring attachment theory) did research and created an evidence base. When the rest of us talk about attachment theory we are using that evidence base which is now enhanced by the knowledge we have about neurobiology and epigenetics. I absolutely don’t think that mothers and children have an unbreakable bond of any kind, there may well be hereditary or genetic traits passed on, but the bond needs to be built and the bond Daniel Pelka and Ellie Butler had with their mother was broken by cruelty.

  7. Angelo Granda

    Correction: The bond between a mother and her child is a valent one.

    It isn’t invalent.

  8. Angelo Granda

    QUOTE: Naturally, attachment theory is a broad idea with many expressions, and the best understanding of it can be had by looking at several of those expressions in turn: UNQUOTE

    My views about attachment are based on my own research in to the subject, my own personal experience of it in relation to two quite different children, a study of the pre-natal bond which develops between mother and even with father and from the evidence from fostered and adopted children who have attempted to describe the quite profound ,palpable distress and emotional harm they have suffered and continue to suffer for life when child-protection professionals have destroyed the physical bond between them and their natural parents.

    As I have said, I think bonding and attachment are not one and the same. What other conclusion can I arrive at when I have two children ,both of whom have received the same ,love and attention from their parents but when one of them is insecurely ‘attached’ and the other securely attached’. Yet both of the children share a loving bond with both parents and with each other which has transcended long terms of absence from family?

    I have all due respect for psychologists and their attachment theories. I believe that Bowlby was examining attachment particularly in relation to what influence bad parenting has on it and I recognise how and why child-protection professionals have ‘attached’ themselves to the theory.

    Unfortunately, my respect for child-protection professionals is rather less solid. The Bowlby theory colours their assessments of parents and at the same time, it colours my assessment of the cp system. Yet I don’t think I understand psychology fully. Do lawyers and Social Workers?

    I asked ‘Why is it of interest to Lawyers and Social Workers engaged in child-protection? Do they consider an apparent lack of attachment to a parent as an indication of bad parenting’?

    One reader of the Bowlby theory has declared ‘insecure attachment is when a parent or caregiver responds inconsistently or not at all to a child’s needs’. I guess cp professionals will tend to agree with that but I suggest it is quite wrong but not only that I suggest that the cp tendency lies in their desire to justify the ‘child-rescue’ narrative. Just like their reading of every other theory and speculation. They are consistent in that tendency. At the same time, they pay little attention to specific evidence in individual cases which contradicts the general ‘theories’. One might say that they seek out any evidence which supports their claims and which justifies what the general Public regard as the improper removal of children from natural family.

    I look at my ‘evidence base’ and I see the joint expert, considered assessment in a specific case of a very skilled eminent child-psychologist and anthropologist. His co-assessor is a very skilled and eminent child-educational specialist. Both these professionals had long experience of children with attachment disorder, years of practical experience working with those children day by day and years of experience in making reports for the purpose of child-protection proceedings. They were completely independent (having been chosen by a Court itself, rather than by the LA). I feel bound to accept their opinions above those of lawyers and Social Workers. Interpretations placed by those professionals on this resource and others appear to indicate generally confused understanding and opinions which lean towards their own cp narratives. This is consistent with the ‘child-rescue’ role they are disposed towards.

    I have pondered my ‘evidence base’ and my research for many years. I have noticed that there is much misunderstanding of the theories by non-psychologists and commented on it above. In particular, I consider the supposed ‘basic’ of attachment theory summarized at the beginning of this thread shows a level of misunderstanding.

    QUOTE: Attachment is a theory about danger and how we organize in the face of it :UNQUOTE
    This is why we hear a lot about attachment theory from CP professionals.
    According to my ‘evidential base’ attachment is defined as the ‘affectional tie that infants form between themselves and their mother figure’. The attachment system is activated when infants are tired or, when there are threats in the environment and when the attachment figure moves away or is absent.

    Quite different don’t you think? In particular there is no mention of bad parenting or danger.

    Attachment security or insecurity must be inferred from behaviour that is observable. Ainsworth’s approach only applies to babies and it cannot be used to identify attachment security in toddlers or older children. Judgments made on the basis of direct observation of children in contact meetings, looking especially for patterns of behaviour indicative of secure attachment or otherwise and contrasting with patterns of behaviour observed in other contexts is very difficult even for psychologists and it is difficult for Courts to be certain with regards to judgments of security of attachment on the basis of such evidence. Statements made on such observations are based merely on PROFESSIONAL OPINION AND SPECULATION.

    It should be pointed out that lack of security of attachment in a child is not necessarily indicative of lack of sensitivity in parenting. Reviewing the literature on attachment, I would also point out that insecure attachment does not necessarily cause ‘significant emotional harm or injury’ nor does secure attachment cure the condition.

    Ultimately it is likely that a combination of different genetic and environmental factors result in a person having attachment disorder. These factors affect the type of disorder they have, lack of secure attachment or too much secure attachment. These factors will impact on very early brain development, which in turn influence the myriad of behaviours that are seen in every child.

    I threw in my threepennorth and showed respect to the Bowlby theory whilst emphasizing it is only theory and I stick to it. As in many other areas, CP professionals (CPF’s) should never generalise.Each case is different. I feel that cp professionals sometimes reveal a certain level of arrogance when they read parent’s views and I wonder whether this has been noticed by other readers.

    All comments welcome.

    1. helensparkles

      It is certainly arrogance to extrapolate an evidence base from 2 examples you have seen Angelo and I think you would be the first to challenge a SW saying anything like that, it is not an evidence base. Your personal experience is not irrelevant to those two people but it may well be to everyone else, peer reviewed evidence informs the literature on attachment theory. You seem to think theories are like files, they can’t possibly apply to the people being assessed. They can and they do. Those theories and those files make sense of what is happening for that child in that family and their parents. I often work with parents whose own attachments are disrupted to the extent that it is a huge barrier to the attachment their child can form with them.

      As a SW it is more helpful to identify the issues that are affecting children whether that be causing them trauma etc. or disrupting attachments, parenting capacity can be built and change effected. I don’t walk around talking about attachment theory, I do often tell parents how their child’s behaviour is telling me what they can’t verbalise. Attachment is not about relationships or bonds, it is about whether children think they can survive with that parent, it is very basic and it needs to be ‘good enough’.

      ” Just like their reading of every other theory and speculation.” is very general and dismisses all aspects of CP really doesn’t it, so however much respect you may offer to anyone at any time, it is irrelevant to you. This is a shame because there is a critical balance to the grief and loss children experience from being separated from their parents and where the state should or should’t intervene. Enabling children to thrive isn’t always possible, enabling them to survive without being damaged in the process should be.

    2. helensparkles

      P.S. You need to be really careful about using the phrase attachment disorder, it is rare. Using the phrases we do in order to describe attachment styles is not an attachment disorder.

    3. helensparkles

      QUOTE: Naturally, attachment theory is a broad idea with many expressions, and the best understanding of it can be had by looking at several of those expressions in turn: UNQUOTE

      Where is this quote from Angelo?

  9. Angelo Granda

    I protest.
    I wrote that my ‘ evidential base’ includes personal experience of two children. I did not write it was based solely on it.
    Helen,i respect your views.I respect the Bowlby theory. I have not disagreed with your views nor his.I have expressed the view that there is much misunderstanding of attachment theories amongst- non psychologists.I have admitted i am no psychologist.
    I have cited an opinion that we must look at all expressions of attachment theory in turn in order to form an opinion. I have made no attempt at picking over your comments nor criticised them. I agree with some of the things you have said.
    Please try not to be so critical of other commentators fair opinions. The experts i wrote about gave their own general view of attachment as it relates to child-protection enquiries. They used the term attachment disorder and they think very carefully about what they say,i feel sure. You aren’t a psychologist neither am I.
    I think Bowlby was basing his theory on known cases of bad parenting,abandonment and/or child cruelty . I don’t think attachment secure or otherwise can be used in Court to ‘prove’ bad parenting and that is indicated by the report i cited. It is only opinion and speculation, fine in general social work but not to be used as part of a factual matrix in Court. I hope Sarah takes note of it. That’s all i ask.
    Sarah ,did you take down a comment from Ian last night.I can’t find it today.

    1. helensparkles

      “My views about attachment are based on my own research in to the subject, my own personal experience of it in relation to two quite different children..” this reads like your own research is based on two children?

      I don’t think it is being critical to request caution about use of the phrase attachment disorder. Attachment disorder is a very rate condition only diagnosed by psychologists and which is hard to diagnose. Personally, I don’t feel comfortable with anyone using it who isn’t a psychologist unless they are quoting something a psychologist has said. If I was going to court in regard to a child with an attachment disorder I would be looking at a very marked psychological condition which could not be assessed by any other experts, just a psychologist. You can call me pedantic if you like but there was no disrespect intended.

  10. Sam

    I can see something in this theory. Certainly if a baby or toddler or even adult is fearful and unsure in a relationship they are likely to react negatively. It can be in several ways, for instance if they are anxious they become needy and rather than freeing themselves from a negative relationship (which of course a child can’t) they become clingy and try to appease. They effectively tighten the relationship even though they can get hurt in the process. I have certainly seen this in children and adults. They can react by acting out behaviour as negative attention is better than none at all. Thirdly they can simply become withdrawn and sink into depression and sometimes addictions. No I am not a psychologist but these are simply my observations.
    I am with Angelo though, I see attachment being used as something to force court cases through rather than supporting the parent and showing them another way to parent, IF they need it. Quite frankly from my experience what child psychologists write can be complete bollocks , I put it no higher than that.

    1. helensparkles

      You might think this is all rubbish then Sam but Professor Antonia Bifulco has written a lot about the link between adult attachment styles and depression. Royal Holloway were also behind developing an adult attachment style interview which is very helpful in some areas of practice. https://pure.royalholloway.ac.uk/portal/en/persons/antonia-bifulco(2d155102-c3f5-4631-b367-88bcb44eb8fc).html

      Observations of children’s development, including their presenting attachment style, do inform assessments. Attachment as a driver is interesting; an insecure attachment wouldn’t meet the legal threshold obviously. On the other hand, a diagnosed radical attachment disorder would be highly indicative of how damaging a child’s parenting has been for them.

      There is something quite fundamental about care proceedings which is that something needed to change for this child to be safe at home with their family of origin. There are extreme circumstances where things are not changing or are very risk and the court room is reached more quickly. In a lot of cases though, the CP process, and then pre proceedings is very explicit about what CS are worried about and needs to change, as well as the support being put in place to support that change. By the time I get to court, I’ve told families in various settings on a more or less weekly basis what needs to change. Since that includes checking their understanding, helping where support is needed, and periods where change is effected but but not maintained, I don’t often think it could be any clearer.

      Obviously I can’t comment on how that works in a setting where someone can’t explain a S47 enquiry to you. I can only despair that such a thing could happen.

      1. Sam

        Thank you Helen , I do understand as much as a layman can , which I suppose all of us are as a child psychologist has not joined in. I also agree with Angelo, there are a number of factors other than attachment which will affect a child’s development, including that we are an extremely unequal society and those at the bottom are those scrutinised by CP professionals.
        If you look right at the top of society the way children are raised cannot possibly be any good for their development and yet parenting styles are fixed generation to generation just as much as in any” benefit street”. The outcomes are the same, hence the occasional tabloid story where a pillar of the establishment gets caught with his pants down and wearing a nappy.
        I also realise that I may and probably Angelo have had the worst of SW practice

        1. helensparkles

          Child development is indeed multifaceted, and whilst I’d agree that there are lots of factors that affect the way a child develops, the significance of attachment is that a child who is worried about surviving won’t be doing much of any kind of developing. It isn’t a facet of child development.

          I don’t know what you mean by the top of society or the way children are raised there but I would have a lot to say about the trauma caused by boarding schools for example, there is a whole therapeutic community set up to support those children as adults. I think separation from parents is the same for all children. I found this interesting https://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/jun/09/boarding-schools-bad-leaders-politicians-bullies-bumblers because it is important who creates social policy. I’m not really interested in people proclivities whether they involve nappies or not.

          Demographics vary but the families I work with are very diverse in every way you can think of. There are plenty of ‘nice’ middle class areas where SWS are involved. I think what is absolutely true is that poverty creates stress, and the addition of cuts and austerity lead families to crisis point sooner than they may otherwise have reached. I think that is a social injustice.

          1. Sam

            Thanks for the link , it was most informative and scary especially when you take into account most of the senior judiciary as well as the Government attended boarding schools. The article states they will lack emotional intelligence which is surely a key factor in judging family proceedings as well as running the country. Of course like attachment theory is only a hypothesis, certainly some judges such as the President don’t lack empathy, others certainly do. I can certainly see why Lady Justice Hale has mentioned more diversity in judicial appointments more than once.

            ” I’m not really interested in people proclivities whether they involve nappies or not.” you may not be but Freud and those developing his theories certainly were. PS I had to look up the meaning of proclivities!

          2. helensparkles

            Attachment theory is not a hypothesis, it is a tested evidence based theory.

            Obviously the same set of circumstances can have a different impact on different children, there are all sorts of other factors that affect a child’s response. This is why you often hear people say it xyz was fine for me and try to extrapolate from it. It might have been fine for them, for others it wasn’t. I always felt like that when Gove talked about adoption as the holy grail.

            I don’t think there is an ability in our current government to feel the pain they are causing.

            Freud may be interested in people’s proclivities, but unless they are exposing children to anything inappropriate, it is nothing to do with me.

    2. Angelo Granda

      Attachment ( secure or insecure) is not necessarily indicative of lack of sensitivity in parenting. Insecure attachment does not necessarily cause ‘significant emotional harm or injury’ nor does secure attachment cure the condition.Ultimately it is likely to be a result of a combination of different genetic and environmental factors which impact on very early brain development which influence the myriad of behaviours that are seen in every child.

      This view ( based on the psychological evidence i have referred to) gives a qualified reply to queries in your comments,Sam.in opinions you have discussed above on this thread.

      Going back over them, carrying your baby in a sling, responding to their cry, long term breastfeeding , reading to them and co sleeping does not necessarily result in a secure attachment.

      It is possible for a fed on demand breast fed baby to have an insecure attachment.Physical contact or the lack of it isn’t a decisive factor.

      It is not a Western phenomena, it is genetic and environmental.

      Society is a contributory factor where Society affects the child’s environment. Cramped housing has to be taken into account .

      Attachment is a result of environmental factors and the persons nature ( genetic make-up).

      Strangely, my independent psychological and educational specialists agree with some of what you say and have surmised so they don’t all write BS!

      Thanks for your comments,Sam.

  11. Angelo Granda

    I have going through some old papers which form part of my ‘evidential base’ collected over the years. Readers may or may not find them interesting. I hope it doesn’t bore anyone.Sam,i think you will like it.
    This excerpt is from AIMS and written by the Honorary Chair :-
    Naturally with social workers we expected a different approach and style, but we did expect a reasonable degree of professionalism which we did not find. As would be our usual practice, once we became involved, we began to read relevant documents, text books, articles in professional journals in an effort to understand what might be happening, and why. We found ourselves quoting to social workers research which was highly relevant to cases they were dealing with, which we would have expected them to be familiar with, and found they had no knowledge of it. (E.g. a mother might be criticised for behaviour or opinions which research showed to be common, and not necessarily harmful. Without knowledge of epidemiology, social workers failed to place incidents or comments within a relevant context, so their reports on families were distorted. We saw a number of examples of this).
    This applied not just to fairly recent research but to basic work. If, for example, one mentioned Bowlby’s standard work on Attachment and Loss, it became clear that they did not truly understand what should be foundation literature in their work. They did use the word and the concept (e.g. removing a baby before it became too “attached” to the mother, or not returning a child to the family because it was too “attached” elsewhere).

    In many other cases we saw children treated in many ways which damaged attachment, often unnecessarily, and without mention of, or apparent understanding, of the possibility severity of the price the child was likely to pay in later life. It sometimes seems as if the concept was something to be switched on and off in their reports, as it suited the case they wished to make.

    Another short excerpt:-

    Not only is there lack of adequate evidence base for social work interventions ( Geraldine Mcdonald, Bristol University 1997) but where there is good quality, relevant evidence in the medical literature of potential harm from their interventions, social workers are ignorant , or do not fully understand it, or feel free to substitute their own judgment without adequately balancing the two ( e.g. the work of Bowlby and others on attachment ,effects of stress in pregnancy, benefits of breastfeeding).

    I hardly dare add more excerpts here for fear of over-criticising CP professionals on the resource.

    1. Sam

      Yes Angelo I and I am sure other parents were prey to confirmation bias both from SW and experts. SW degrees are generalised, which has previously been criticised by Sir Martin Narey as is judicial training . So basically you have people making life changing decisions, by bandying words around that they don’t know the meaning of but sound good, but may have no particular relevance to the case in front of them.
      I commented first on this article after seeing the term attachment parenting, I was interested as what was described was exactly how I parented my children as babies before the term was used, yet I am supposed to be a crap mother who’s children are not attached to her. All of this was of course explained to the child psychologist . I think the most relevant fact about the child psychologist in my case was that he was recommended by LA counsel as someone who would do the job.

      1. helensparkles

        Everyone criticises SW. Can’t remember the last positive thing I ever heard about it, SW education, knowledge, anything.

        “That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.” Noam Chomsky.

        When SC4 are removing children, come back to me with their SW knowledge base.

        1. Sam

          There is a difference between criticising SW education and SW as individuals. I am sure most SW undertake the job out of the right motives, their lack of education not their fault.
          I don’t actually think most struggling parents need a SW , kindness and solutions would achieve far more .
          I do think privatisation will stop the upward trend of care proceedings as they are expensive and hopefully the private sector will be so fixated on profit they will issue less frequently.

          1. helensparkles

            SW do kindness, solutions and help struggling parents. Not in your experience obviously, but you dismiss the profession and it’s education wholesale anyway.

            You’re right about the risk assessment in the private sector though, it won’t be based on anything except cost. Where the state intervenes in family life and where it shouldn’t is definitely up for discussion, as is the rise in referrals, I guess I am just naive in preferring that to be a philosophical discussion rather than one drive by a balance sheet.

          2. Sam

            I do not mean to dismiss the profession wholesale but I still say SW degrees do not equip NQ SW to understand CP concerns sufficiently to make life changing decisions.
            I realise it must be very difficult for SW to one of the most hated professions especially when considerable problems are caused by lack of resources and bureaucracy that you have no control over.
            I am afraid any parent coming onto this website has probably searched for it because they have had a negative experience, if everything was alright they wouldn’t be searching. So parental views are likely to be biased, saying that I think most of us do quite well to listen to each other most of the time given the emotional baggage we carry.
            Once again this is for the comment below.

          3. helensparkles

            The SW degree is a bit like a nursing degree, some academic study, some placement experience, about half of each.You also can’t do a SW degree without social care experience. The first year in practice is more closely supervised and decisions are never made by a SW in isolation. SWs talk to their managers, managers to service managers etc. CPD is obligatory and measured by managers, training is ongoing, and there are also post graduate qualifications.

            The key task of social work is assessment, critical thinking, analysis and reflection. They take that to someone else for decisions. The most life changing decisions are made by courts. SW should do that well so that good decisions can be made. I’ve always said there should be systemic changes, they would enable SW practice to be better.

            The government find some targets easier than others, and it is always easier for them to say that social workers need to do a better job, rather than tell us that all those cuts they have made make that fairly impossible. It surprises me that parents can’t see the agenda loud and clear, it is after all so pro adoption they get cheesed off with judges raising the pesky little matter of human rights.

          4. Angelo Granda

            Sam and Helen, all of on this resource are concerned that parents ( particularly those with MH issues ) get left behind in the rush to ‘rescue’ children involved.
            If i could make a suggestion to SW’s on the subject ( i hope it isn’t too simplistic) ; why don’t they themselves make an immediate PRIORITY referral of Mum to adult Social Services?
            The adult services will then have to support her in every way they can,get her an advocate and so on.
            Such a policy will lessen the onus on the CS to support Mum. It might be said they have enough on their hands with the children,finding carers etc.
            The only difficulty will be if the LA were reluctant to provide funding for statutory adult services involvement.
            The Mum last night on the mental health thread appears to be crying out for support but the CS has to concentrate on the children. Would it have been better had Mum and Dad sought help from adult services years ago? Does that department supply family support?

          5. Angelo Granda

            Mum’s ( and Dads) with problems need to be presented with a clear,unobstructed ‘pathway’ to follow in order to solve problems .When the plan is clearly laid out to them and they are told exactly what they have to do to alleviate concerns for their children,I feel most will react. Maybe adult services would be more suited to that task and they would be able to mediate with the CS and the number of cases where proceedings are issued would decrease.

          6. helensparkles

            CS do refer to adult services, in the other comment there were no presenting issues that would require an adult social worker so I didn’t mention it. CS provide family support, not just for children, and refer to other services for adults if they don’t need an adult SW. It is what I spend most of my time doing, looking at what the adult needs in order for the family to thrive.

          7. Angelo Granda

            I am glad you do,Helen. Unfortunately, i have never heard of an adult social worker calling on a parent as a result of a CS referral . Hence,why not make it a top priority referral?
            Maybe they are even more short-staffed than you,i don’t know,but i feel their involvement with the ADULT parents might be a constructive way to assist CP work. Perhaps it would be even better, in serious cases, if at the same time the Police make a cp referral to the CS, they also referred the parents to the Adult Services. I am thinking parents actually need a worker who sees them regularly from day one who is able to explain matters ,supply or get MH services,counselling and all those other agencies involved and to prod parents into action ,to lead them to the water and help them to drink it. Parents are often so confused they don’t know if they are coming or going.
            Regardless of the good intentions and bluster of good SW’s , the CS often simply take children ( especially in S47 enquiry cases) and say ” See you in Court”. They have little time for parents.

          8. Angelo Granda

            Thanks very much for your comment,Helen.Unfortunately once again,we have gone round in a circle. You say SW’s do offer support and refer children to other agencies and that cp is multi-agency.
            I do not disagree; most of all because i have found that to be true, it is easy for me to agree.SW’s will refer parents to Health visitors; MH services ( and even get a parent to the top of the waiting list); family centres; parenting training and assessors; medical social workers; child-care support such as continence advisors; children’s disablement teams; housing departments and all the rest. You are right but only when the LA’s aim is legitimate.
            Your comments always seem to turn a deaf ‘un to parent’s comments.
            Did you read mine about the “See you in Court” type of Social Worker? The rodomontades, the bullies about which many other parents complain besides me. When the LA has illegitimate aims,this is the type parents meet and it isn’t uncommon.
            To those parents,your claims are CC land! I have experienced both ends as i keep saying.

            I think it was Jason who said many CP professionals tend to bury their heads in the sand and I have used the word idealistic. This is not an attack on you personally; you aren’t avoiding issues which you prove by joining in discussions and helping the CPR.Not many SW’s do.
            To me, what it all boils down to is the lawyers are responsible for ensuring correct procedures are followed in every case. That is the only way to stop malpractice and system abuse.

            In a way these discussions about attachment ,whilst of interest,divert us from the main issues . I suppose this is the reason why we always stray from the subject after a while. This comment is no.76.

          9. helensparkles

            There are always elements of your comments I don’t respond to Angelo, partly because you write a lot and I can’t. I have consistently said that poor practice should be held to account. It doesn’t mean I don’t hear the voice of parents but it isn’t a surprise that those voices here are often negative about SW. You don’t hear the voices I do which thank me for my help. Unfortunately both are equally anecdotal, so as I say, relatively pointless to point out.

            The point of this point was attachment theory, if you feel it is a diversion you don’t need to comment. It is an integral part of the CP process.

  12. Angelo Granda

    I have tried several times to get this comment through. The above was a test .
    In reply to Helen’s query about the source of one of my quotes:

    Will anyone answer my query?

    I asked ‘Why is it of interest to Lawyers and Social Workers engaged in child-protection? Do they consider an apparent lack of attachment to a parent as an indication of bad parenting’?

    1. helensparkles

      If a child has a healthy and secure attachment to their primary carer it means they are confident their needs are going to be met and their carer is attuned to anticipating those needs. Children whose needs are not met will not have that healthy and secure attachment. I suspect you can tell that unmet needs is a comment on how that child is being parented.

      1. Angelo Granda

        Well,i am afraid that opinion of yours is wrong and is proof to me that many CP professionals misunderstand the Bowlby theory of attachment and the Ainsworth theory on testing security of attachment.

        Insecurity of attachment is not indicative that a primary carer is not meeting a child’s needs.

        Attachment is defined as the ‘affectional tie that infants form between themselves and their mother figure’. It applies to babies and security ( or insecurity) of attachment , according to qualified psychologists, ultimately it is likely to be a result of a combination of different genetic and environmental factors which impact on very early brain development which influence the myriad of behaviours that are seen in every child.
        Please do not ignore the psychologists views and substitute those from your own reading of Bowlby’s theory.

        I can think,off the cuff ,of many environmental factors which will result in an insecure attachment even with the most caring mother. For example, what of babies whose early brain development period is spent in an incubator where he or she has needs supplied through various tubes including feeding tubes? What of those babies who when first taken out of the incubator has needs supplied by a nursery nurse in hospital? What if a mother suffers from some sort of post-natal illness or disease and is incapacitated? That baby will either have to have its needs supplied by a nurse at hospital,by a female relative or by her husband.
        A major point i wish to make,however, is that judgments of secure or insecure attachment cannot be made with any certainty in a Family Court. That rule applies even when given by a qualified psychologist. Such judgments are merely professional opinion and speculation and they are not based on scientific fact. They are based on scientific theory .
        The Bowlby theory in any form cannot be used as a factual evidential base as CP professionals seem to assume.Particularly they should not make judgments after applying Ainsworth or Q- type tests to their observations at contact meetings and so forth.
        Family Courts should make judgments on facts alone.

        1. helensparkles

          ‘affectional tie that infants form between themselves and their mother figure’.

          Where is the quote from, not all sources are equal.

  13. Angelo Granda

    Once again the digital link( web address) won’t go through for some unknown reason. Helen, the quote comes from a psychological expert source:

    Phychologist World examination of developmental,attachment theory. Try googling it.

  14. Angelo Granda

    In Tarzan’s case he would have formed an ‘affectional tie’ to the animal which supplied his needs.
    The quote comes from the independent report to court of specialists. Apart from examining the specific case ,they gave a general view on attachment theory as was their duty under ethical standards of practice. I don’t think i should be revealing their names on line. I suggest professionals refer to the link to Psychological World.

    1. helensparkles

      The link to psychological world is a brief review about those who have researched attachment theory and their findings. It is fine but it doesn’t say very much and it doesn’t hold the quote above. I don’t think it is helpful to quote from a source nobody else can access.

      1. Angelo Granda

        It would be helpful for everyone especially the General Public were I allowed to give them access to Court reports and assessments but unfortunately proceedings are not open and transparent. I am unable to publish the report online. It was meant for the Family Court alone.As far as i’m aware it is forbidden.

        1. helensparkles

          I hadn’t for a minute meant to suggest you should publish anything which would be case specific. What I meant is that it isn’t helpful to quote from anything that isn’t peer reviewed research and that nobody else can access.

    2. helensparkles

      “The quote comes from the independent report to court of specialists. Apart from examining the specific case ,they gave a general view on attachment theory as was their duty under ethical standards of practice.”

      I don’t understand any of this I’m afraid, what independent report?

  15. Angelo Granda

    A psychological specialist report on children can be ordered by a Family Court. Experts are appointed,a letter of instruction ( supposedly agreed by all parties) is sent to them and they carry out the instructions. These experts are completely independent of any of the parties and are expected to be neutral.
    Members of the British Psychological Society have a code of ethics under which they are obliged to explain points to it and caution them as to the significance of various expert terms and theories such as attachment.
    They reviewed all up-to-date literature as all so-called experts should and felt it their duty to explain attachment theory and the validity of professional judgments as to attachment security etc.

    I suggest non-psychologists should read as many psychological reviews as they can.
    The thing is, Helen ,it doesn’t really matter.You are entitled to view attachment in any way you want.So am I. We are all able to express the theory in whichever way we want. The psychologists felt they should caution the Court that judgments as to security of attachment can only be regarded as theory and speculation.
    Also and I quote in more detail:-

    ‘As the COURT WILL BE AWARE attachment is defined as the affectional tie that INFANTS form between themselves and their mother figure’.

    I can’t really say much more.I hope my comments are of some help. I can only remark that the experts could not have been fairer or more neutral; under their code of ethics ,they did not attempt their theoretical judgment of secure attachment as fact. They cautioned the Court .

    1. Angelo Granda

      Sorry,I meant to say they did not attempt to disguise their judgment of secure attachment as fact or the theory of attachment for that matter.

    2. helensparkles

      “We are all able to express the theory in whichever way we want.” not really, you can dispute a theory but it is a theory not a moveable feast.

      Is the report you are referring to a case specific one then? It could be the most lauded report in the universe but I would still want to read their evidence base and credentials, because I do read.

      1. Angelo Granda

        Unfortunately you can’t read it. Only the Court,lawyers,advocates etc. and other parties can read it.
        In a previous post,i outlined their credentials.Take my word for it. One has Phd Psychology and MSc Educational psychology.,BSc 1st class anthropology.It is a case specific report as i have already said but ,to assist the Court and to fulfil ethical standards,it also explains attachment theory generally.
        I suggest you read everything you possibly can on psychology world and review other recent literature, if you are really interested but i would not expect it of you or of lawyers or parents for that matter. After all,we are not psychologists. That’s why the Court commissions expert reports.They don’t go on our opinions ,ostensibly.
        If we had transparency,i could put it online but we haven’t.Anyway,even if I was allowed,I would feel myself ethically bound to ask the permission of the experts first.
        I trust you are not questioning my integrity .I am neutral on attachment theory.

        1. helensparkles

          I’m not asking you to share a report you can’t share. it is confidential information, I was just late catching up with that. I had assumed you would be quoting from something I could read and check the source for. I am absolutely not taking the word of report I can’t read written by someone I don’t know, I’d never do that. That doesn’t call your integrity into question.

          I have read extensively on attachment theory, it forms a key part of my ongoing education; CPD and post graduate qualifications. I would be a very foolish SW if I wasn’t interested.

          1. Angelo Granda

            Please,then, in future remember to keep more up-to-date.
            Insecure attachment is not indicative of insensitive or bad parenting. Neither is a secure attachment indicative of good parenting. One or the other develops as a result of genetic and early environmental factors.
            The Bowlby attachment is around infants and how they are pre-programmed to form an affectional tie with any mother-figure which meets their needs. Nothing to do with the the primary carer and nothing to do with danger.
            Please tell me do you make your own assessments of attachment on the strength of reports by contact workers and by reference to the Ainsworth assessment technique called the Strange Situation Classification (SSC)?
            If you do,be warned the technique is only really valid for babies .Don’t rely on the method with any certainty . Preferably,you might also caution the Court that the your assessment is only professional opinion and speculation and that security of attachment does not necessarily mean bad parenting.
            I know you do your best.
            My main worry is about how cp professionals misunderstand the theory and use it with a lack of impartiality not about the theory per se.
            But then again, it is down to the lawyers to argue the parents case in Court which is where the real systemic problems lie. Eviodence should be tested more rigourously,in my view. How is it possible to do so in a family court with such tight schedules?

          2. helensparkles

            I said that “I suspect you can tell that unmet needs is a comment on how that child is being parented.” I did not say anything about insecure attachment or good/bad parenting.

          3. helensparkles

            We could bin the word attachment completely, Sarah’s post is about attachment theory so obviously we haven’t here, but it is always possible to talk about observations of children in different settings and what does/doesn’t worry CS. http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2016/08/09/never-use-word-attachment/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

            This is what I meant by not using the term attachment disorder.
            “Similarly, avoid using the term “attachment problems” and never refer to “attachment disorders” as this is a restricted psychiatric or clinical diagnosis.”

            & this is what I meant by not referring to insecure attachments. The attachment indicators SW are worried by are those based in fear et.
            “What social workers really need to be concerned about is disorganised attachment behaviour; the specific set of temporary behaviours seen when children are experiencing’fear without solution’. This can be fear of the carer and/or fear for the carer – the person who is supposed to provide comfort or protection so the child has no way of managing their anxiety. If a child regularly experiences this kind of fear, because of abuse (including emotional abuse) or witnessing domestic violence, for example, the effect can be traumatising.”

  16. Angelo Granda

    Be wary about taking to much notice of what children tell you though.Get the parents view too. ” I hate my Mum and I hate my Dad” ” They are cruel to me all the time!” ” They won’t let me come out of my bedroom” ” I never get anything good to eat”. “I can’t go out like my friends,it’s a prison”.
    Did you ever see the Harry Enfioeld show? Ha-Ha!

    1. helensparkles

      SW don’t tend to give that much import to that kind of stuff and they do talk to parents as well as listening to children.

  17. Shaun O'Connell

    In 13 years not one single social worker, Guardian, or ‘expert’ has been able under oath how they assess attachment. The best reply has been ‘it’s complicated!’Yet couldn’t explain the complex process. For those with a longer memory in the 1990s attachment theory was used in private law to justify mother custody ie the idea was that children are harmed by being separated from their mothers. Now attachment theory and the dubious neuroscience is being peddled to assess parenting with fleeting visits, no proper process and in a manner which is not scientifically valid.

    MPs and Judges all accept a theory which is not scientifically valid. We need a process like in USA and Canada to test these theories. Personally, I cannot see that the process used by social workers etc has any validity, but Judges just follow it blindly. Woe betide anyone who challenges it, as it falls on deaf ears.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      you must have been to some odd cases! I have heard plenty of explanations and discussions about attachment and how it is assessed. I understand it to mean that a child who has a good attachment is a child who is secure in the knowledge that the adults around him will look after him; they are consistent, reliable and safe. Disorganised or ambivalent attachment thus arises when the adults are NOT consistent, reliable or safe and the child doesn’t have confidence that his needs will be met. In such circumstances it is likely that a child will demonstrate a lot of difficult behaviours, in order to get and keep adult attention – or conversely the child will be very ‘flat’ and will not engage with adults – because what’s the point?

      I agree with you that you can’t assess parenting on ‘fleeting visits’ but I don’t agree with you that attachment is not a valid theory. I have met too many adults who as children did not feel safe or protected in their own homes; the consequences are often awful and life long.

  18. looked_after_child

    Sarah -Can I ask who wrote this post?. I’m interested in their background (cultural perspective?) – Clinical, legal SW etc..?

    As you know this is a very complex area and highly contested.

    Unanswered questions particularly relate to the complex relationship between Autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorders (Pseudo/non-standard Autisms?), Attachment Disorders ( Clinical) and Neuro-developmental disorders including Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, Learning Disabilities and ADHD.

    Some questions :-

    How many of the above are ‘cluster conditions’ as well as ‘spectrum conditions’?

    Are there other ‘markers’ we should be looking for when children have disorders, for example around speech and language or movement difficulties?

    When does ‘diagnostic overshadowing’ become a risk and how do we address this?

    What is the effect of a poor genetic inheritance?

    What are the effects on a developing fetus’ brain of alcohol/substance misuse and medicines eg for epilepsy?

    What can be the result of emotional and physical neglect in the early months/years of life?

    What are the effects of physical trauma during childbirth? Can this result in lifelong brain damage and if so does it differ from a neuro-developmental disorder as a result of a poor genetic inheritance or an in-vitro imbalance of hormones?

    How ‘plastic’ are our brains? Are there phases in our development when they are very plastic for example in the first few years of life and again in adolescence?

    Do we have different resiliancies so that some of us cope with adversity better?

    Where do we draw the line between disability and disorder and who has the skillset and competencies to make these calls for an individual child?

    Should we be medicalising ‘difference’ or adopting a ‘strengths based’ approach whilst accepting that some of these conditions bring a susceptibility to very poor mental health for example?

    How much credibility should we give to theories?

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I wrote the post and it is nothing more (or less) than an attempt by me to precis and simplify the issue of ‘attachment’ to make it (hopefully) accessible to a lay person.

      In answer to some of your questions – as I am certainly not qualified to answer all:
      It is my understanding that the characteristic of ‘resilience’ (or ‘grit’ or ability to respond to adverse life events) has had its genetic marker identified; some have ‘more resilient’ genes than others so I assume there must be a degree of inheritability of this trait

      We should give credibility to ‘theories’ according to how well they have been identified and tested in the real world. The ‘theory’ of gravity for example is not something I treat as ‘theoretical’. I am not qualified to opine on the strength of much of the research into attachment. However, after spending nearly 20 years witnessing the long shadow that maltreatment in childhood casts, I am quite happy to accept a basic theory that it is very important to a child’s development that they grow up with adult carers who can be trusted to recognise and respond to their needs. That, as I understand it, is the simple basis of ‘attachment’.

      There are of course very many variables in terms of genes and environment which explain why its often so difficult to unpick the ’cause’ of a child’s suffering. Each will interplay and affect the other. I guess all we can hope to do is be aware and not too quick to put children in a particular ‘box’ – a horrible example of this was the belief that mother’s ’caused’ autism by being ‘refrigerator mothers’. I don’t believe for a moment that having an emotionally distant mother CAUSES autism or schizophrenia, BUT I am certainly prepared to accept that emotionally distant parents can certainly exacerbate existing mental health difficulties by inappropriate or insensitive interactions with their child.

      1. looked_after_child

        See http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/how-neuroparenting-is-sapping-the-joy-out-of-family-life-a7458816.html
        The neuroparenting desire to recast the family home as the “home learning environment” risks stripping the intimate realm of its special nature by opening it up to instrumental measures of success and failure. And to talk of the “quality” of parental care undermines the complexity and warmth of genuine intimate relationships.

        Instead, the child becomes the neurological embodiment of parental “input” rather than a unique individual who requires understanding as a whole – all of which is ultimately damaging to the modern family. After all, plenty of humans have made it to healthy adulthood without robotic, self-scrutinising parental care.

        ‘Amen’ to that

  19. looked_after_child

    Thanks Sarah for the clarifications. I’d be really interested in any clinical perspectives if there are any professionals who could comment.

    It really is very complex as I understand it – just take resilience.

    Some people are traumatised/have meltdowns on a daily basis because they have very high needs that are not being met whilst others are coping in very extreme circumstances because they have very high levels of support – emotional, (no blame and availability, good self-esteem/confidence etc) financial etc. and possibly they are ‘stressed’ as an event rather than over the long term.

    I’ve also been at enough presentations by autism researchers to know that genes matter, groups of genes matter, gene deletions matter and as I understand it gaps between genes matter. In the case of resilience there would be considerable ethical challenges in identifying resilient and non-resilient groups to test hypotheses so for example gene testing for ‘autistic mice behaviours’ is often carried out in mice.

    For these reasons I really think any work on genetic markers for resilience is in its infancy and probably akin to the medieval search for a method to create gold.

    ”We should give credibility to ‘theories’ according to how well they have been identified and tested in the real world”

    I have two theories:-
    1 Maltreatment causes physical disabilities, pseudo-Autism – nothing to do with Attachment Disorder at all for very many children in the Care system.

    2 Children need care and caring relationships from adults who prioritise their needs to ‘grow well mentally’. SWs and others should have enough skills to be able to identify where there are problems without resorting to pseudo psycho-babble / using borrowed clinical language.

    So please can someone prove me wrong unless of course you think I should be able to produce evidence in which case theories become facts?

    1. HelenSparkles

      “psycho-babble / using borrowed clinical language.” not sure what this means, do you mean SW shouldn’t talk about attachment theory?

      1. looked_after_child

        Truthfully Helen – No – SWs should’ent talk about Attachment Theory as if it mattered one way or the other..

        1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

          of course it matters. The ability of an adult to respond to a child’s needs for reassurance, for comfort etc are a crucial part of growing up for that child. The parent who cannot or will not respond is not a good parent and needs help – if they can’t or won’t accept help then there is an argument that their child should be parented by someone else. The emotional damage done can be huge.

          1. looked_after_child

            I don’t argue with any of that Sarah – You are conflating a theory with parenting as if this defines what good parenting is. That leap is one of faith and if you choose to make it, then that is your belief – it is not a fact

          2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

            No. I am describing a way of parenting. Some people call it ‘attachment’. It represents an objective good, not some flakey theory. I have seen far too many adults who have suffered the lack of it as children.

          3. looked_after_child

            Is it such a shock that we don’t need ‘a theory’ to be good parents? Or that I should believe that SWs should have enough skills to understand what constitutes harmful or neglectful parenting without this one theory?

            Costly care?

            While in theory individual parents can choose to reject this parenting lifestyle, when governments decide that all parents require neuroparenting training to do a good enough job, we should be concerned.

            Having spent the past few years reading promotional material produced by neuroparenting advocates and surveying UK policy documents which have absorbed their key messages, I have wondered and worried about the consequences of this cold, technical reinterpretation of family life.

            This is because under neuroparenting we are in an alien, joy-sapping territory – not a loving family home. Caring for a child becomes a matter of “attunement” – a “neurobiologised” version of the mother-child relationship where the mother must be constantly attentive to behavioural “cues”, which are said to express the baby’s needs.

        2. HelenSparkles

          I don’t ever talk about attachment theory as such, just because I think it is better to explain things in plainer language, and attachment is word that makes people think about the quality of relationships. Attachment theory is about the need for children to have a secure base, to know that there is a safe, reliable adult who will consistently meet their needs.

          That matters without the need to borrow any language and it isn’t psychobabble.

          1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

            dressing ANYTHING up in ‘psycho babble’ shows poverty of thought and understanding. I cannot understand how anyone could object to any standard of parenting that tried to ensure that a child felt loved and wanted. Different children may need that expressed in different ways at different times. but the hostility shown to ‘attachment’ is rather odd. I agree it is often woefully misused and people ‘diagnose’ attachment problems with very little understanding of what they are doing and this causes harm.

            But as a fundamental bedrock of good parenting, it seems very obvious to me that it is what is needed.

  20. looked_after_child

    ”Maltreatment causes physical disabilities, pseudo-Autism – nothing to do with Attachment Disorder at all for very many children in the Care system” .. just think how challenging that concept would for the ‘Trauma Recovery ‘Industry’ and how much social policy might have to be unravelled if that ‘theory’ turns out to be correct…

    1. HelenSparkles

      What is pseudo autism, or did you mean indicators which are similar to autistic traits?

      Attachment disorder is v rare.

      1. looked_after_child

        This is not to say that some children in Care are neuro-typical and have poor mental health but this is not the whole story. The more I read Helen, the more I think that when children are *severely* neglected they have been ‘developmentally damaged’ – this damage is a disability and is to all intents and purposes the same as autism, even though the cause is different. There are children of autistic parents in Care, and those children are likely to be autistic too.

        This is likely to be a bit of a challenge to the ‘trauma recovery’ industry who seem to have taken ‘ownership’ of children in Care – more and more policy is moving in that direction – the NICE guidance for example is all around rebuilding trust etc.. – all good but limited because the wrong lens for many children in Care – sensory, sleep, communication disorders need addressing FIRST.

        1. looked_after_child

          ..So I guess I mean there is a pretty comprehensive misunderstanding of the needs of a significant of children in Care – with this understanding, outcomes would be so much better for these particular children — imagine if 1 in 8 in Care.

          One size just does not fit all!

        2. looked_after_child

          In my world, the world of parents of high IQ Autism and poor mental health, – Attachment Disorder comes up again and again – parents have a tremendous battle to do whatever it takes to get that label removed from our children. It is the ultimate in parent blame – clinicians who hand it out without a real understanding of family dynamics gained in the family home over time ( and how realistic is that?) must lack any empathy and understanding of what it is to parent a neuro-disabled child with poor mental health.

        3. HelenSparkles

          Severe neglect does cause damage, and the damage can be neurological, that doesn’t mean that those children are not neurotypical.

    2. looked_after_child

      Can I ask Sarah for example if you believe parents have a huge role in explaining the world to their children to prepare them for adulthood and to help them deal with much of the horrible news they are exposed to or that parents should role model how to deal with anxiety or anger? Are they not just facets of parenting? How could that happen without an incredibly strong bond – we used to comfortable calling it ‘love’ and that is what all children need.

      I have a hostility to this pervasive theory because it denies something called ‘false positives’ ie it draws others into the bad parenting net.
      I also am very dubious about much of the theory surrounding it linking cause and effect.

      Sadly I too have met many people with difficult problems in later childhood and adulthood. I would never link cause and effect in the way all are encouraged to via this theory.

      1. looked_after_child

        Attachment Theory has an identity crisis too.

        -Is it a screening programme for babies to identify where babies are not developing properly? (If the answer is ‘yes’ then we must investigate all possible causes )
        -Is it a ‘parenting programme’ so essentially people pushing products and services?
        -is it a personality disorder caused by extreme neglect?

        Is it a gift to policy makers as our health and social care systems crumble through lack of money and expertise to be replaced by people pushing products and services?

        Is it the wrong answer to the wrong question?

      2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

        Eh? I am afraid I just don’t understand what point you are making.
        Children need parents who are emotionally atuned to them
        I don’t care whether you call this ‘attachment’ or ‘bonding’ or ‘fiddlesticks’.
        It’s what they need.
        I know this because I remember being a child.
        i am now parent to a child
        And I meet many, many adults who didn’t get it and I see what it does to them.
        I see no problem at all in recognising this actual FACT and promoting parenting that is emotionally atuned to children.

        1. looked_after_child

          Sarah neither do I but that is not Attachment Theory – that is responsible, capable, loving parenting.

          1. looked_after_child

            ..and being emotionally attuned to a child with a learning disability is a different landscape that parents of children meeting their developmental milestones would’ent recognise as your child has to be taught everything from toileting to dressing themselves to naming emotions to how people relate to each other to when it is OK to say ‘No’ and when it is a problem….it genuinly does not come any more ‘mindful’ than this.

          2. looked_after_child

            And is that the best arguement anyone can put forward in defense of this theory ..all the grading, categorising, judging, correcting, instructing and bullying…. it teaches us something anyone with any understanding of people and any humanity should know already?

          3. HelenSparkles

            This makes me think you don’t know what attachment theory is, because we have previously agreed on its content, including for children with additional needs. I think something else is going on here and that might be that you have felt/been blamed for your child’s needs.

          4. Angelo Granda

            Trauma bonds? What are they? Sounds like more SW theory. Are you saying they are crying ,screaming ,clinging to their Mum and fighting against going with SW’s and foster-carers because Mum has traumatised them? Or that they are traumatised at separation from Mum which is highly likely?

        2. Angelo Granda

          It doesn’t matter really to lawyers in a family court whether you call it attachment, fiddlesticks or whatever nor does it matter to the LA’s or the Family Court as a whole.They haven’t time to debate real medical facts or check those put forward by ‘professionals’ such as SW’s and Guardians.Even if a psychologist reported that a child was ‘securely attached’ all that happens is they ignore it and keep quiet.The Judge does not have time to read all the medical evidence in detail; he is entitled to expect the professionals to read them and make impartial assessments.
          If a child clung on to his or her Mum’s hand ,shouted,yelled,cried and screamed and had to be dragged away forcibly and made to go with the sw or foster-carer it does not have to be reported by the SW. They won’t take that as evidence of attachment.
          As Sarah says it is reasonable to guess that if a ‘mum’ is not there consistently to respond to a child’s needs, it is potentially harmful.
          However, if such speculation and guesswork is to be listened to then the powers of the Family Court should be limited.

  21. looked_after_child

    This is worth reading too
    .. http://www.scie.org.uk/children/care/mental-health/publications/call-evidence-findings#downloads

    While there is evidence of positive outcomes and impact, the variation in the quality and quantity of available evidence suggests a need for further good quality evaluation to establish which services and configurations of services are most effective to meet the mental health and wellbeing needs of children and young people and their carers.

    The detail case studies ( you have to register) make interesting reading for all sorts of reasons. Only 2 (covering 5 children) of 88 from memory relate to autistic children. In addition one of the Case studies identified how meeting sensory needs for children with ‘difficulties of attachment’ had produced marked improvements in the quality of life for the children….Sensory needs in children with attachment difficulties??

    1. HelenSparkles

      Absolutely. The attachment or autism friendly classroom would be a very similar place.

      1. looked_after_child

        Thanks Helen – you must know my next question….where is the research showing ‘the attachment friendly’ classroom meets sensory needs of children with Attachment anything? ( Disorder/clinical or difficulties if you go down the Shemmings route)….Please show why this is not nonsense for the starry eyed and the gullible…

          1. looked_after_child

            Thanks Helen – you must know my next question….where is the research showing ‘the attachment friendly’ classroom meets sensory needs of children with Attachment anything? ( Disorder/clinical or difficulties if you go down the Shemmings route)….Please show why this is not nonsense for the starry eyed and the gullible…

          2. looked_after_child

            typed in ‘peer reviewed research sensory needs autism’ Helen into Google – 100’s of articles
            typed in ‘peer reviewed research sensory needs attachment’ ..not one article.

            Does this matter? Yes it does..it really, really does matter that the someone who is defending the attachment industry can make this kind of claim without challenge, without evidence and it is not acceptable to say ‘prove it’.

          3. HelenSparkles

            I didn’t expect you to resource peer reviewed papers, I was making a point about the link you posted not being research, but a description of research.

            My comment about attachment/autism friendly classroom could be illustrated with various examples, but I was just saying what I think. So , it works well for a child I know that they have a weighted blanket on their laps. It works well for another that they are greeted at the door by their teacher, and almost handed over by a parent, with a reassurance about when they will be handed back. The first child was not autistic, the second did not have attachment issues.

            The way that children feel overwhelmed is different in regard to whether they have attachment issues or autism, the way they can be supported isn’t always that different, but it is always about what works well for this child now.

  22. looked_after_child

    ….Sensory needs in children with attachment difficulties – no wonder further good quality evaluation was recommended – In the case of these children, I can only suggest they are assessed for Autism as a matter of urgency.
    What a MESS..

      1. looked_after_child

        I would’ent know Helen I just look at guidance as what looked-after-children’s health checks should include.
        – eg Promoting the health and Wellbeing etc from 2015 – eg

        Health assessments should:

        ..pay particular attention to health conditions that may be more prevalent in looked-after children (such as foetal alcohol syndrome or attachment difficulties) and which may otherwise have been misdiagnosed. .(Promoting the health and Wellbeing etc pg 16)

        Lots and lots more of this Helen. This is the most shocking from my perspective.

        Narey Martin Sir (2016) Residential Care in England Report of Sir Martin Narey’s independent review of children’s residential care, Available from:

        Secure Homes also achieve a range of health outcomes for children, including the diagnosing of their mental health issues.( so children need to be locked up to get help for poor mental health, so justifying locking them up — shall we try it with his child if they need clinical help and see how he views ‘secure homes’ after that experience?)

        1. HelenSparkles

          I’m afraid I’m not very interested in anything Martin Narey writes, he has his own agenda.

    1. looked_after_child

      ”the way they can be supported isn’t always that different, but it is always about what works well for this child now.”
      There is a huge problem with this approach Helen in that ‘in effect you are saying diagnoses do not matter’ because for NOW we are meeting the child’s needs in one sphere ( educational) This is a version of the social model of disability and one of the problems with it is, as a child gets older, their difficulties become more and more extreme because people around them do not understand their needs and so cannot meet them. Diagnosis is a signpost to a wealth of information about what works. Children have a right to diagnosis as much as they have a right to care from the adults in their lives. Many autistic children are denied diagnoses for lots of reasons to do with scarce expertise – these children may ‘hobble along’ with good family/school support until adolescence and then things can deteriorate very quickly. The risks these children face of exclusion, prison, homelessness, exploitation are so high. A child that needs a weighted blanked needs a very good assessment of her difficulties and from what you describe there is a high likelihood the child described is on the autistic spectrum .

      1. HelenSparkles

        I wasn’t saying that at all. I was actually assuming diagnosis but saying that the tools/strategies used to support children are not that different. I was talking about the classroom accommodating everyone. If I was talking about there being no need for diagnosis I would have said so.

  23. looked_after_child

    – should be 82 submissions not 88 Apologies

    This is what leaves me perplexed –
    Submission 62 is a Specialist therapeutic, long term fostering program (Focus Fostering)
    , providing solo placements for children aged 5 to 18 who have suffered complex developmental trauma. Focus fostering is a multi-agency team with a dedicated CAMHS practitioner or lead, family placement social workers, support workers and a teacher. The service aims to provide a holistic
    approach that is psychologically informed, trauma sensitive and attachment focused.

    Surely ‘ complex developmental trauma’ are words that do’nt belong together except in pseudo-Autism? …’is psychologically informed, trauma sensitive and attachment focused’….these are all ‘hocus -pocus’ words…what about identifying communication needs, sensory and sleep disorders and associated SEN-D?
    ..Many of these Programmes are American and Trademarked/marketed – You buy into the programme and the language, you become a believer. They have much in common with Cults…

    1. looked_after_child

      …what about identifying communication needs, sensory and sleep disorders and associated SEN-D?
      See https://spectrumnews.org/news/short-sleep-unhappy-bedfellow-autism-features/

      One really really has to ask why foster carers are getting all this training at great expense, much of it the kind that makes THEM feel better whilst clinicians have become gatekeepers who never leave their consulting rooms and SW are so focussed on trauma/risk averse and so poorly trained about Autism that more and more children with complex problems are entering Care….

      and yet no-one seems to ask, what are we missing here?? Who will apologise to the countless families so failed by this system in decades to come?

    2. HelenSparkles

      Pseudo-Autism is hocus pocus language to me, I honestly have no idea what you mean.

  24. looked_after_child

    I’ll stop now promise!
    I recommend you read the evaluation if you are interested.

    Here is the last one that defies any kind of analysis:-

     Foster parents (n=29) attending the Nurturing Attachments programme (submission 18) completed a range of measures of parental and child wellbeing and family functioning pre-training and immediately after completing training and rated how close they were to reaching self-selected goals at each session. There were improvements in for example, confidence for parents. Children’s difficulties didn’t improve (SDQ scores showed an increase in difficult behaviour), but there was evidence that parents’ perceptions had changed, with greater understanding of those difficulties.

    The whole premise is so questionable..Did parents have greater understanding of difficulties or were they just told they had? Where is the evidence – Children showed an INCREASE in difficult behaviour – and this was submitted as a case study of good practice that we are supposed to want more of for our children??

    No thanks!

    1. looked_after_child

      See https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14616734.2017.1354040 for details of widespread misconceptions for example around ‘dis-organised attachment’ .

      It is difficult to know how to start unpicking the effect of these misconceptions and potential harm caused in individual cases where children have been removed from their families as a result. It is in my view likely to have caused inter-generational harm on a very significant scale. It is also likely to have undermined trust in the structures of the State that once lost, may never be regained.

      Where was the CHALLENGE at any level? Where was it?

  25. looked_after_child

    Models of care and care pathways to support mental health and wellbeing of looked after children: Findings of call for evidence

    Some stats:-

    No. of pages – 63 pages.

    No of times the word ‘autism’ appears in the document – 2
    No of times the word ‘disability ‘ occurs in the document – 4
    No of times the word ‘ birth family’ occurs in the document – 1

    No of times the word ‘attachment’ appears in the document – 26
    No of times ‘trauma’ occurs in the document – 23
    No of times the word ‘carer’ occurs in the document – 32

    Programmes to support autistic/LD children – 1 number – Shared Lives, 4 young people

    ‘Branded’ Programmes – RESuLT, INTEGRATE, Integrated residential care service – No Wrong Door , Multisystemic Therapy Family-Integrated Transitions, Needs-led therapeutic model,
    Mockingbird Family Model, Incredible Years, KEEP, TEND, Nurturing Attachments ( incorporates attachment and trauma theory), Head Heart Hands, Reflective Fostering, Mentalisation Based Treatment for Fostering, Fostering Changes Programme, multi-dimensional treatment foster care – TFCO, Specialist therapeutic, long term fostering program (Focus Fostering) -trauma sensitive and attachment focused, The AdOpt parenting programme, Neurophysiological psychiatry (NPP) model (Family Futures)….a multidisciplinary, brain-based, developmental and attachment-focussed intervention for children who have experienced significant trauma in their early life.
    AdOpt, Face to Face, New Orleans Model in Glasgow (GIFT), BOOST pathway,

    The submission from NSPCC (submission 41) highlighted the organisation’s view that there should be parity between mental and physical health in local authorities’ work as corporate parents

    …Have they really thought this through?

    1. looked_after_child

      It is my opinion in the absence of evidence to the contrary, many of these companies are no better than vultures feasting on the bones of the vulnerable despite the ‘touchy-feely’ wrappers they give themselves.

  26. looked_after_child

    Labour Manifesto for the next General Election

    – A Labour government would invest £8 billion in adult social care, establish a National Care Service and ring-fence mental health budgets, according to the party’s election manifesto.

    Other pledges made, ahead of the upcoming election on 8 June, include more regulation for commercial fostering agencies.

    …They have my vote

  27. looked_after_child

    I think this is the last word from me and thanks for engaging:-

    Attachment theory has some merit because it give an intellectual framework for understanding some of the components of good parenting that might otherwise be difficult to grasp intellectually.
    It however has very serious limitations in that it does not address the difficulties of children who may not be meeting their developmental milestones for other reasons and can lead to an environment where all parents are encouraged to parent in a mechanistic way and when children do not respond to this, this is seen as a failure in parenting.

    It has lead to a bloated ‘attachment industry’ where many are promoting their own version of ‘attachment friendly’ products and services and as the state withdraws specialist services for children all resulting difficulties are ascribed to ones of poor parenting. Children at the ‘edge of care’ and ‘within Care are most at risk from ‘mis-diagnosis’ and mis-treatment. Many of these children will have complex physical disabilities and poor mental health that remains unrecognised. This is happening largely without scrutiny or challenge.

    1. HelenSparkles

      Attachment theory is all about the need for children to have a safe, reliable adult who will be available to them, physically and emotionally, and consistently meet their needs. About a third of the population have an insecure attachment and there are a myriad of reasons for that, it isn’t about blame, or identifying poor parenting. Rather than identifying attachment or an “attachment industry” as the flaw, perhaps it would just be better to focus on the way individual children’s needs are not met but the services and support available, whatever that might look like.

  28. Sam

    To simplify the argument would it be fair to say that children labelled with attachment problems react out of fear ,and unfortunately so do children with autism . Autism in many respects in a very heightened state of anxiety. Their anxiety results in anxiety in family members . Hence the potential for wrong diagnosis of attachment problems.

  29. HelenSparkles

    I think you’re right, anxiety and managing it is the key Sam. The overlap between autistic traits and the features of attachment issues means a specialist needs to diagnose.

  30. looked_after_child

    that is a well made point Sam

    there is also something called diagnostic overshadowing’ where children ( particularly children in/at the edge of Care) have quite extreme difficulties, When unpicking these difficulties it may be a question of where to start. Given autism is a ‘communication disorder’ and a ‘cluster condition’ bringing sensory and anxiety disorders for example in many cases- It should be one of the first checks ( to discount if nothing else) so all know HOW to reach a child. This is about hearing ‘the voice of the child’ as much as anything and a child who is not heard is very likely to have mental health problems..or so I think. This is not about their Autism it is about not being recognised as needing adjustments.

    1. HelenSparkles

      This, in my experience is exactly what happens, but I recognise it is not yours.

  31. looked_after_child

    Sadly too many children enter Care at his point because it would take years to access a specialist assessment. This seems like the answer – not having to work with a ‘dysfunctional family’ ..the ‘experts’ take over with all the ‘training’ cited in the SCIE study – many of these children’s ‘placements’ break down within weeks and they end up in secure ‘accommodation’ of some kind. They lose the fragile links with their families and I have no idea what happens them post 18 – nothing in the public realm…I just know individual parents stories and the tremendous struggle they face – some do not even know where their child is – out of county, out of country. This is perfectly legal if the young person is over 16 and chooses not to share ( even though they may for example have the danger awareness of a three year old..)

  32. Angelo Granda

    From a legal point of view ( one not understood by many family court lawyers) attachment theory , attachment disorder etc. is purely theory not FACT . Just speculation on which Family Courts which make very serious decisions such as adoption should never rely. Okay in less serious cases but in those where liquidation of natural families is to be considered guesswork,speculation, theory and professional opinion based on it is not acceptable. It is not proportionate. Such decisions to be taken on a matrix of facts alone.
    So why the hell do the Family Courts admit it as evidence in serious cases?
    One problem, in my view, is that many child protection professionals don’t appear to recognise ( or at least they won’t admit it) that predication, speculation, theories, risk-assessments are okay when deciding on whether threshold for a care-order and LA support is called for ( see the work of Dr.Devine) but the threshold for permanent liquidation of a family is completely different EVEN when it might be in a child’s best interests.
    Of course, I have written this before. Is there anyone particular any parent who agrees or am I calling out in the dark?

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      It’s clearly NOT just speculation. Its a ‘theory’ which has behind it a wealth of research over many years. Yes, it is often misunderstood and misapplied. But that doesn’t make it ‘speculation’. Nor do digs at family court lawyers for not understanding ‘law’ advance your arguments very much.

      1. Angelo Granda

        Sarah,I apologise for assailing the sendsitivities of Lawyers.I do recognise that criticism will upset them but I am not deliberately having ‘digs’ at them I am trying to inform them where they are failing. Constructively.
        Unfortunately,you are quit wrong that judgments made on so-called attachment theory is not speculation.It is and psychologists have reported it as such.
        Please see the above discussion.
        The Family Courts should stick to facts in serious cases.
        Just wondering if any one agrees that there should be higher standards for serious cases .Perhaps even a two-tier system and/or peer judgment.Plus parents might be permitted to call witnesses.Maybe no such tight time limits on hearings.Hearings of much less serious issues such as fraud or libel often take weeks if not months .What about proportionality and appeals.Why are appeals so often not allowed? To suit the lawyers or citizens.
        We want answers.

          1. Angelo Granda

            It is a theory ( no doubt based on some general facts and experience of families ) that if a parent is not consistently available to satisfy the wants and needs of a child ,that child will suffer anxiety and that will POTENTIALLY be a cause of future significant emotional harm.
            Sarah has explained it quite clearly in her post above so we all know what it is from a legal angle.
            It is the view of many that when children are not suffering significant and aren’t emotionally disturbed, the Local Authorities dig up all these theories and exaggerate the potential harm in the future and because of strict directives, some ‘professional’ SW’s go along with them and over-estimate the future possibilities, predicate on the antecidents of other families etc.
            LA’ss often have illegitimate aims and because of that professionals will drop down like a ton of bricks on negatives whilst forgetting completely to mention positives .Research the views of parents and appeal court judgments for confirmation, readers..

          2. HelenSparkles

            It is a provable testable theory, based on the fact that children need a safe, reliable adult to meet their needs consistently and to be emotionally and physically available to them.

            Attachment disorder is very rare. Insecure attachments are very common, effecting about 30% of the population. Attachment theory is not on its own used to prove significant harm or the possibility of it. A child whose primary carer is an alcoholic is likely to have an insecure attachment because that adult’s excessive drinking may affect their ability to consistently meet a child’s needs. Attachment is a factor because that parents is unreliable and the child will feel anxious. That child is also likely to be inadequately supervised or perhaps otherwise unsafe perhaps due to a parent’s judgement being impaired by alcohol and not protecting the child from a risky adult(s) risky adults being around the child. The risk of significant harm lies in the reasons the parent is unavailable or not meeting a child’s needs.

  33. looked_after_child


    In this article, Carrie’s Mum is key to her eventual diagnosis because she can provide a reliable early history consistent with Autism.

    I personally believe there are thousands of children in Care who are Autistic but their difficulties are seen through the lens of ‘Attachment difficulties’ leading to a personality disorder mis-diagnosis.

    For me this, is THE scandal of the Care system – that Corporate parents are neglecting ( and there is no other word for this) so many disabled children in their Care.

    I leave it to others to work out how these children ended up in Care at all, how many had learning disabled parents who were/were not supported, how many parents neglected their children to the extreme extent that they caused them to be disabled, how many had loving parents who tried to explain their child was different and no one would listen and how many had a diagnosis before entering Care but no support around that diagnosis so the Care system is acting as the last safety net for these children and then failing them?

    1. Angelo Granda

      I agree it is a national disgrace. Thanks to all the links and other information you have made available to professionals on this resource ( especially research into this subject not previously seen) I am sure the lawyers, transparency campaigners and Guardians will realise that these special children are suffering degradation and mental torture . Well, I hope it will trickle down anyway and soon they will be advising children ( and parents) to appeal cases owing to contravention of ECHR article 3.
      They will be rushing to the Supreme Court on behalf of the children and will be putting all the research evidence and demanding autistic expert input. Rather like in the Russia/USA case when one party argued that the potential adoptive children’s lack of optimal medical care in Russia was in breach of Article 3.
      There will need to be a Court case about it because the CS are unlikely to re-consider things. It won’t want to know because it would mean admitting to being wrong.
      Do any readers agree with me that the treatment meted out comprises degradation? All comments welcome.

  34. Suz Hd

    Please could you provide the name and date, for my Harvard Referencing, if i use information from this for my essay?

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      If you want to cite information from here, simply use the reference as the Child Protection Resource Online – the date each post was published should be at the end.

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