Lucy Stevens - 9th June 2022
Right from the beginning of your journey into fostering, the one word you will hear regular mention of is attachment.
What is attachment theory?
Attachment theory concerns the relationhips between humans. Its most important assertion is that in order to have healthy social and emotional development, young children need to develop a trusting relationship with at least one primary care giver. If, in the early years of life, a child cannot rely on their primary care giver to meet their needs and respond to them, it can lead to attachment difficulties and disorders.
Why is attachment important?
The attachment style we develop has the potential to influence not only our childhood relationships, behaviours, social development and learning and educational development, but also can affect people throughout adolescence and into adult life. It has the very real capacity to influence the life chances and opportunities of the individual and that of their future children.
Attachment theory maintains that the attachment style you develop during childhood affects the relationships you form as an adult, particularly those of a personal, intimate or romantic nature. Your attachment style can also have a significant impact on your resilience, response to stress, mental health and life chances or opportunities.
Why is attachment relevant to fostering?
If children do not consistently have their needs met in early childhood, they learn that caregivers can’t be relied upon. Similarly, if children are cared for by harmful or unsafe adults, this will affect the relationships they are able to form.
The development of healthy attachment is usually promoted and encouraged by parents or primary caregivers. Positive attachment creates neural pathways in the brain which provide a basis for social behaviours. Poor attachment can create trauma which actually inhibits normal brain development leading potentially to a range of social, emotional, developmental and behavioural problems.
Many children who come into foster care will not have had the primary care that leads to secure attachments. As a foster carer, you may see a range of behaviours related to poor attachment:
- Controlling behaviour
- Changeable presentation
- Intense peer relationships
- Frequent relationship breakdowns
- Poor focus/concentration
- Risky behaviours
- Lack of sense of identity
- Testing foster carer
The child’s expectation of the foster carer will be based on the patterns of their early life. They may present with some difficult, confusing and exhausting behaviour. Some of these behaviours may be quite subtle and only truly experienced by the foster carers. This is why it’s so important that foster carers have a good understanding of attachment in order to keep sight of the child within. Otherwise, it is the attachment related behaviours that can dominate and this can reinforce the child’s negative view of him/herself.
The good news
The good news for foster carers, the children and for wider society is that some of the gaps can be filled by the reparative care or consistent presence of a key, positive person. It is not too late to help someone discover their sense of self and to let go and trust.
For foster carers, a lot of this is about being.
Eastern Fostering Services recognise that foster carers need to understand attachment and keep revisiting it as a training topic. We offer regular training on the subject face to face and a range of courses online.