Attachment theory derives from psychoanalyic psychology, however it is used in social work to attempt to understand behaviour in infancy and childhood to show the way in which children develop emotionally WALKER 2009
This theory centres on the idea that children need to form secure relationships with other people, such as parents or guardians, as it is a significant contributer to their emotional development. Social bonds and relationships that are made in early childhood are believed to influence an individuals life and can impact upon their well-being to determine their emotional and social stability later in life. Consequently, attachment is seen as an integral component within infants and young childrens lives, as these experiences can shape a persons personality and identity in future years. (WALKER, J and K, CRAWFORD 2010). If these experiences of attachment are negative, and the child does not develop adequate relationships with their caregivers, then this can have detremental consequences on their psychological and emotional development. (WALKER, J 2009).
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The Attachment theory originates from the ideas of John Bowlby who believes that humans are biological predispositioned to seek attachment from others. He proposes that survival is closely related to the ability to possess emotional bonds with other individuals (GREEN 2003). This is because by forming an attachment with an authority figure who is seen as the stronger of the species, this reduces the vulnerability of the individual as it provides increased security and protection from harm posed by potential predators (BOWLBY 1958, cited in LISHMAN 2007). The theory looks at the way that attachment relationships are formed, and the reasons behind their manifestation. Children are seen to form these relationships for reasons such as safety, comfort and to provide guidence. These attachment behaviours, according to learning theorists, are displayed in infancy through talking, laughing and crying. This enables them to persue their basic needs for survival, such as food for nurishment, by their attachment to their mother who is able to support them in fulfilling their needs (WALKER, J and K, CRAWFORD 2010). This initial attachment to caregivers also guides the individuals thoughts, feelings and expectations as they become aware of peoples responses towards them which help them recognise how to behave (WALKER 2009).
There are four assumptions of Bowlby’s attachment theory which attempt to explain his beliefs. The first, is that infants and young children develop emotional ties with individuals early in life, which acts as a biological function and plays an integral part to their survival. The second assumption is that the way a child is treated early in life has a major contributing factor to their future relationships and the way their personality is formed. The third assumption is that attachment behaviour can form an ‘internal working model’ which guide the child’s thoughts, feelings and expectations as a result of the reactions of others towards their behaviour. The final assumption of Bowlby’s attachment theory is that although it is difficult to alter attachment behaviour, it is not impossible, thereofre there is the possibility of alteration at any point in life, both in a positive and negative way (GREEN 2003).
Although infants and young children are able to have more than one attachment figure, they are still affected when they are exposed to seperation from their primary attachment figure. This can happen for many reasons, such as a child being removed from a family home and placed into care, or perhaps death. This can be a very distressing and confusing time for a child as they are unsure of who to turn to for security and protection. This is evident in social work practice in instances where an abused child wants to remain with its parents, even though it is not a stable or supportive attachment (LISHMAN 2006). Bowlby proposed that children who have experienced seperation from their main attachment figure will suffer in a process involving protest, dispair and detachment, in an attempt to overcome their loss (BOWLBY 1958, cited in LISHMAN 2006).
However, although Bowlby provided an important contribution to the idea of attachment, his research can be criticised in many ways. This is because Bowlby tends to focus his ideas on one primary figure of attachment, often the mother, when it is possible for children to form attachments with other people within their lives such as their father. Also, developing relationships with other people alongside the attachment figure is also important, this is because having to rely on the caregiving relationship of one person can be detrimental due to the fact it often results in dependency and does not allow other relationships to be formed with others, which can the hinder the social and emotional development of the child (WALKER, J and K, CRAWFORD 2010).
According to Lishman (2007), the attachment theory believes that when a child is stressed or afraid, they exhibit particular behaviour and emotions which can be perceived as attachment. This is because they seek protection from harm through the help and security of an adult who they see as stronger than themselves. This is closly linked to two types of behavioural systems: the exploratory behavioural system and the fear behavioural system. The exploratory behavioural system is based of the belief that when an infant or young child feels comfortable and safe, the attachment behaviour remains dormant and therefore the child will be willing to explore the people around them and their surroundings. However, if a child feels threatened or vulnerable, the fear behavioural system will become active, where the child will no longer seek exploration and instead they will seek protection from their attachment figure and exhibit behaviour related to that attachment.
However, the behaviour that they display is not intended to provoke affection from the attachment figure, instead it is to â€œregain a state of equilibriumâ€ (p59). This means that infants and young children are not dependent upon the caregiving nature of the attachment figure, instead their aim is to diminish their fears.
There is a classification of attachment patterns which identifies four different types of attachment, which attempts to enanble professionals to assess young childrens behaviour and emotions (secure, ambivalent, avoident and disorganised). Secure attachment is based of the belief that children depend upon their caregiver as a base for exploration. The caregiver is available to the child and responds to the childs needs, therefore the child behaves in a positive manner. Ambivalent attachment looks at how children are unwilling to explore their surroundings as the caregiver is not consistent in their support. This can leave the child distressed, clingy and dependent. The third category is avoident patterns of attachment, and features an unresponsive caregiver, therefore the child feels rejected and they view themelves as dependent whilst actively avoiding or ignoring the caregivers presence. And finally, disorganised attachment is where children are fearful of their caregivers, and they themselves may feel confused or depressed. This type of attachment is most often seen in children who have suffered abuse (HOWE 2001, cited in LISHMAN 2007).
How a critical understanding of Attachment Theory can contribute to Social Work Practice.
Social workers are seen to have three roles to play when working within an attachment perspective: assessment, planning and direct work with children, parents and carers. Assessment looks at areas within attachment such as the needs of a child, the parenting that they receive, their emotional and behavioural development and the relationships which they have formed. There are also tests created specifically for measuring attachment, such as Ainsworth’s stranger test which provide an indication of the pattern and quality of their attachments.
The second role, planning, looks at how planning for new attachments when placing children with new families needs to be approached carefully. This is because they need finding the most suitable parenting figures where new attachments can be made.
The third role is direct work with children, parents and carers. This is because direct contact and communication is necessary to achieve the best possible outcome when working with children and families. For example, when a child has been removed from their home and is being placed with new carers, direct work can provide support to the child to prepare them for change. It can also be useful with the adoptive or foster family to provide guidence and support towards what to expect and to help with any problems they face (LISHMAN 2007)
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Attachment theory has been used within social work practice as the basis for many child care policies. This is because the idea of a infant or child being ‘attached’ to their family, which can influence their development in many ways, has been used as the basis for many legislation (LISHMAN 2007). For example, Sure Start Children’s Centres have been introduced in response to the importancy of family support to enable them to build and maintain positive family relationships (LAMING REPORT 2009, cited in BRAMMER 2010). Attachment theory had also contributed to policies such as shared parental responsibility, as it has emhasised the need for emotional and social relationships with caregivers, whilst also suggesting possible consequences to a childs development and the negative impact later in life if these needs were not met effectively. (LISHMAN 2007).
Attachment theory also provides guidence to enable social workers to judge the quality of a relationship between a child and it’s parents. This can enable them to gain an understanding of at what point, if at any, intervention is necessary as it gives them the ability to evaluate the attachment that is present within the relationship. The attachment theory also gives a more comprehensive understanding of the loss experienced by an infant or child when they lose their main attachment figure. This means that people working within social work practice are aware of the common and typical behaviours of a child who is going through this process and can therefore support them to overcome it. A further way the attachment theory is used to benefit social work practice is that as it is known that attachment figures are necessary for children to develop adequately, individuals such as adoptive parents can be taught to exhibit behaviour which will encourage new attachmentment from the child which is needed for personal growth (WALKER, J and K, CRAWFORD 2010). However , care needs to be taken when placing a child with a new family as to prevent a repeating loss of attachment figures which can cause them to blame themeselves and produce feelings of worthlessness. This can mean ensuring that the child is appropriatly prepared and ready to form new bonds of attachment and that the new carers of the child receive sufficient support within their role. (LISHMAN 2007).
Attachment theory can also be linked to the way in which a mother bonds with her new born baby. However, these early bonds are not solely restricted to mothers, it is also possible for fathers. Although, this bond is typically formed within the first few hours after birth as the mother and baby connect both physically and emotionally. The initial bond that is made is thought to have a significant effect on their future relationship as it is the beginning of their ‘attachment’. This knowledge enables social workers to support mothers who are particularly vulnerable to poor parenting, although this is only effective if the support continues throughout the first few months after the baby is born.. However, it is important to note that just because a mother fails to achieve an initial bond with her baby, this does not mean that abuse is inevitable.
How are issues of ‘diversity’ relevant to human growth, behaviour and development?
GREEN, V. 2003. Emotional development in Psychoanalysis, Attachment Theory and Neuroscience: Creating Connections. East Sussex: Brunner-Routledge
LISHMAN, J. 2007. Handbook for Practice and Learning in Social Work and Social Care: Knowledge and Theory. London: Jessica Kingsley
WALKER, J and K, CRAWFORD. 2010. Social Work and Human Development. Exeter: Learning Matters
WALKER, J. 2008. Studying for Your Social Work Degree. Exeter: Learning Matters
BRAMMER, 2010. Social Work Law. London: Longman
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