Presentation on theme: "Separation and Reunification: Using Attachment Theory and Research to Inform Decisions Affecting the Placement of Children in Foster Care David Oppenheim,"— Presentation transcript:
1Separation and Reunification: Using Attachment Theory and Research to Inform Decisions Affecting the Placement of Children in Foster CareDavid Oppenheim, Ph.D.University of Haifa, IsraelDouglas Goldsmith, Ph.D.The Children’s Center, SLC, UT
2Plan for today Introduction and basic principles of attachment theory One child’s story of attachment, separation, loss – and attachmentMisapplication of Attachment principles in:TheoryAssessmentIntervention
3Attachment TheoryFormulated by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth to account for the impact of early separation and trauma on the childHas revolutionized our views of development, psychopathology, and clinical workIs the most prominent theory today regarding early socio-emotional development
4Attachment Theory Is empirically based and supported by research Is particularly useful in thinking about permanency issues
5Basic Principles: Forming Attachments The child is highly motivated from birth to form and maintain attachments to a few caregiversAttachment has survival valueChildren will do whatever is necessary to maintain their attachments and to achieve securityThe baby uses the attachment figure as a “secure base”
7More basic principles: Attachment Security Attachment figures become “psychological parents”.All babies attach but the security of the attachment depends on the caregivers responses to the childSensitivity: Reading the infant’s signals accurately and responding to them appropriatelyInsightfulness: Seeing things from the child’s point of view; empathic understanding of the child’s experience
10Attachment: Infancy and Beyond Early attachments lay the groundwork for later developmentChildren form Internal Working Models of their attachment relationshipsThe legacy of early attachment is reflected in children’s relationships with others, self-regulation, emotional openness.
11Separations from attachment figures Are challenging for young children – and for all of us!The child experiences separation as a threat to the availability of the secure base.The degree of challenge will depend on the degree of threatOften involves separation not only from the parent but from everything familiar
12SeparationsStrong reactions will occur when separating from nurturant parents - but also from abusive parents!Under certain conditions separations can be traumatic and have devastating consequences.
13Separation reactions Follow the sequence of Protest (anxiety, anger) Despair (sadness, withdrawal)“Detachment” (recovery, renewed interest in the world).
14The Case of Sara Placed for adoption upon discharge from the hospital 5 months of age legal adoption is not completedSara enjoys a loving relationship with her parentsThe parent child relationship is marked by reliable, emotionally attuned, and responsive care
15The Case of Sara Allegations of neglect arise Sara is removed from the home at the age of 10 months
16The Case of Sara Shelter home for four days Second foster home for one weekThird foster home for eight weeksAdoptive home
17The Case of SaraUpon arrival to the adoptive home Sara stares blankly, refuses social interaction, and is oblivious to pain after undergoing a medical procedureBelieving that Sara is available for adoption her name is changed
18The Case of SaraAt the age of 15 months Sara is responding well to her new environmentFirst adoptive family hasn’t seen her for 6 months and want her returned to their care
19The Case of Sara Should she return? Who are the “psychological” parents?Does she remember her first adoptive parents?She’s so young that she won’t remember anything and can be returned without distressSara is a “resilient” child
20The Case of SaraThe internal working model – viewing the world through Sara’s eyesAssessing “risk”Could reunion reactivate feelings of loss?Utilization of second adoptive parents as a secure baseImpact of no contact
21Common misunderstandings: Theory There is a critical period in which attachments are formed.Early childhood is critical, but there is no point when security cannot be damagedA secure attachment provides “inoculation”Secure attachments serve as buffers, not inoculations
22Common misunderstandings: Theory Secure children are resilient and therefore can be separatedResilience involves a relationship between the child and the environment; it is not a fixed trait “in” the childSecurity or insecurity are personality traits.Security is a property of a relationship, not a child
23Common misunderstandings: Theory We can predict children’s development based on their early attachmentsDevelopmental predictions are probabilistic.The balance between risk and protective factors is key.
24Common misunderstandings: Theory Children do not become attached to maltreating parents (or can easily detach from them)Children attach to maltreating parents and separation will be experienced as a lossRemoval must always be seen as a last resort; focus on repair of the caregiving relationshipChildren’s relationships with their mothers are the most importantChildren can develop attachments to several caregivers
25Common misunderstandings: Theory Children do not have memories of their early years, and therefore they do not have lasting impact.Children do not have declarative memories but may have procedural memories encoded in their IWMs
26Common misunderstandings: Observational Assessment An observation in the office or at home can be used to assess the child’s attachmentContexts that are not stressful may reveal very little about the child’s attachmentCasual observations of untrained observers, without the aid of video, and in unstructured situations are of very limited usePleasurable play is an expression of a secure attachmentAttachment is most apparent in stressful situations
27Common misunderstandings: Observational Assessment Clinging or seeking closeness is an expression of a secure attachmentIf desperate, children will cling even to complete strangers, but they will not serve as a secure baseConflict is an expression of an insecure attachmentConflicts are integral to healthy relationships; the issue is their negotiation
28Common misunderstandings: Observational Assessment Protest during separation is an expression of an insecure attachment (or, conversely, of a secure attachment).Protest during separation indicates that an attachment bond exists; it tells us little about the child’s securityIgnoring the caregiver, particularly upon reunion, is a sign of non-attachment (conversely, is “normal”)Avoidant children are attached to their caregivers; the avoidance indicates insecurity, particularly experiences of rejection
29Common misunderstandings: Assessment A secure child has secure relationships with everyoneChildren can have different attachments to different caregiversStrong emotional and behavioral reactions before or after a visit with the birth mother are indications of maltreatment by the birth mother or insecure attachment to the foster parents.These kind of reactions are expected separations reactions and tell us little about the child’s experience
30Common misunderstandings: Assessment Separations and reunions are the only contexts in which attachment can be assessedMay be not very stressful for older children; the issue is activation of the attachment systemWe know how to perform a “Bonding Assessment”We don’t! And what does “bonding” have to do with it anyway?
31Common misunderstandings: Intervention Children do not develop attachments to foster mothersChildren develop attachments to their foster mothers, and their quality depends on the care the mother providesThe intuitive capacities of foster mothers are sufficient“Normally” sensitive mothers often need special help when providing care to foster children
32Common misunderstandings: Intervention Intervention can help children in periods when placement has not yet been determinedIt is extremely difficult to implement psychotherapeutic interventions when the child’s fate is uncertainProblems in the relationships between foster children and their parents are due to faulty parenting/damaged children.Problems are products of relationships, and the key involves helping develop a good “fit”
33Common misunderstandings: Intervention Reminders of the birth mother are distressing; therefore they should be avoided (context: short separations)We should think of what promotes the child’s confidence in the continued availability of the “secure base”
34Common misunderstandings: Intervention Children who do not speak do not understand language. Therefore, talking with them about the transitions they are experiencing is useless (and changing their name is insignificant).Expressive language lags behind receptive language; children understand much more than they can express