Attachment: Implications for Children’s Courts
• Response to danger protecting infant and enabling social and emotional development
• Critical period in neurological/ emotional development (Schore/Perry)
• Caregiving affects development.
• Sense of belonging fundamental to being human (‘no such thing as a child’)
Young Children’s Motivational Systems
(Bowlby, Zeanah and Boris 2000)
• ‘Secure base’ reconciles safety with learning (Bowlby)
• Attachment: closeness and security
• Exploratory system: learning, mastery
• Affiliative system: sociability
• Fear/Wariness system: monitor/respond to danger
Attachment is Universal
• Cultures’ parenting styles differ in terms of independence, responsibility for parenting and community integration.
• Commonalities in terms of survival, protection, safety, learning.
• Cross-cultural sensitivity is essential if we are to understand and assess parenting
NSW Legislation: C&YP (Care and Protection Act 1998)
• Child’s needs as paramount (Care Act s.9)
• Need for expedition [ibid s.94(1)]
• Permanency planning and final orders v. ‘drift in care’
• Objectives: care and protection re safety, welfare and wellbeing, re capacity of parents or others responsible for them; assistance to them [s.8(a)] … to promote a safe and nurturing environment [s.8(c)]
Children’s Court Clinic Angle
• Language, social and physical development can be understood from attachment perspective
• Attachment as focus for assessment, and solution for infants and children’s problems
• Value of meaningful relationships, multiple attachments (Bronfenbrenner’s social-ecological model: see over)
Social Ecology: it takes a village...
- Relationships as focus for optimal development (Fonagy, Target)
- Emotional relationships understood in context of caregiving and developmental history
- Learn standard methods (e.g., Strange Situation, CARE-Index, Zeanah) but adapt for forensic setting
- No perfect system for our cases, yet we need to be clinically and forensically valid
- Triangulation (history, development, language, behaviour, mental and physical health, parent-child observations reflect on each other)
- Child focused, not ‘natural justice’, or based on assumptions (e.g., that unexplained injuries = abuse, that sexual abuse is necessarily harmful)
- Case history: inc. birth, health/vulnerabilities, traumas, RoSH reports, placements
- Carers’ histories, strengths, needs
- Development (milestones, physical, language, motor, cognitive)
- Social development and observations
- Parenting capacity assessment as systematic approach to understanding needs/resources
Assessment of Parenting Capacity
• Look for the meaning of relationships, from the child’s perspective, not attachment style (e.g., insecure attachments are normal; reactive attachment disorders are not)
• Distinguish affection, affiliation and social behaviour from attachment. What happens when the child needs comfort?
• Be aware of confounding variables affecting observations of children with parents (loss/reunion phenomena – Robertsons)
• Attachment observations are only part of the picture: a comprehensive assessment is necessary.
Parent/Child Interaction Observations
Assessment observation, not a contact visit
1. Preparation, how it starts:
• Who is there, what is the setting?
• How was the child? Tired, unwell, upset?
• How was the parent? Preparation, emotion.
• Reunions and Greetings
– Behavioural Quality of Interactions
• Physical style
• Amount of interaction
• Engagement level
• Child focus
– Affective tone/quality towards the child
• Attitude (implicit and expressed)
• Voice tone
• Eye contact
– Psychological involvement with the child
• Responsiveness to child’s emotions
• Is the child exposed to upsetting behaviours?
• Emotional tone
– Activity level through the visit
– Eye contact
– Coerciveness (attention/aggressiveness)
– Caregiving to parent?
– Tolerance of closeness
– Management of distress
– General impression of attachment
– Child’s distress, protest behaviour?
– Does the parent help the child with the separation?
5. What did this visit mean for the parent?
– Parent’s impressions, understanding
6. What did this visit mean for the child?
– How did this visit compare to contact visits? Ask parent/ escort/ foster carer
– How was the child's behaviour afterwards?
• Fit attachment observations into comprehensive assessment formulation
Placement options: decision flowchart
• Attachments are hard to develop, easy to break
• OoH care children’s social networks are already deprived
• Maximising social connectedness increases resilience
• Good contact visits are good for foster placements
The big question:
Will the Child Benefit from Restoration?
(What is in the child’s best interests?)
• Immediate (unconditional)? or
• Conditional? – Relationship development, treatment, placement, contact: but how likely is this, and can the child wait?
• What environment will be safe, nurturing, stable and secure for this child?
• Contact visits (purpose, safety, with whom)
• Future prospects
• … is not the same as out-of-home care
• … it is to prevent “drift” in foster care from a succession of different placements or temporary care arrangements
• “Temporary care needs to keep alive a plan for permanency, and an opportunity for lifetime relationships” (Maluccio)
• Children's Guardian’s 3 Priorities:
1. Preventing separation of children from home through supports
2. In necessary separations, planning for reunification
3. If 1 and 2 are inappropriate, to plan for adoption or permanent foster care
• The goal is a timely, safe, nurturing, stable and secure permanent placement that meets the child’s needs [Care Act s.9 (2)(f)]
• PP is facilitated by concurrent planning:
– Birth (and extended) family casework, meaningful contact visits, frequent case reviews, saintly foster/adoptive families
– More than one option may be viable, allowing concurrent considerations and backup planning
Maintenance/ Development of Connection to Cultural Heritage
• It takes a village…
• Necessary for everyone [Care Act s. 78A (4)], and particularly for Aboriginal children (s. 13)
• Care circles, family group conferences as a way of mobilising the child’s social-ecological network
Meaningful Contact Visits:
• Require individual assessment and decision-making, careful thought and planning (e.g., ‘Helen’)
• Increase likelihood of reunification, and improve placement stability (multiple attachments are protective)
• Enhance psychological well-being of children in care
• Prevent idealisation of birth family
• Maintain links and cultural identity
• Allow ongoing assessment of child/birth family relationships
• Attachment evolved for infant protection and development
• NSW Care Act and orders reflect attachment theory
• Assessment needs to be careful, culture- sensitive, integrated.
• Relevance of attachment for courts
• Clinic Child/Parent Observation protocol
• Restoration decision tree