An explanation of the relevance of attachment theory to interventions dealing with children in social work
How is attachment theory applicable to social work interventions with children?
Attachment theory enables social work practitioners who work with children to better understand how children relate with their primary caregivers and socialise in their early years. The theory holds that children establish bonds with their primary caregivers and this process impacts their emotional development transition to adulthood (Waters & Cummings, 2000). Most children start showing their first specific attachment to their primary caregivers when they reach six to eight months. At this stage, they tend to develop a fear of strangers and only trust and attach to other key figures in their lives as they grow up (Berlin et al, 2008). An understanding of attachment theory is central when developing social work interventions for the following two major reasons.
Firstly, attachment theory highlights children’s need for a safe haven and a secure base from which they can safely explore their surroundings, and to which they can return when they are in need or feel threatened (Haltigan et al, 2011). This knowledge is central when assessing the needs of children in social work interventions. Each intervention takes into account the fact that children need trusted caregivers who can protect them and provide for their needs in order to prevent neglect and abuse (Kobak & Madsen, 2008). Secondly, social workers also need to gain knowledge about the inner worlds of children and how they relate with those who care for them and the attachment theory enables them to achieve this.
The theory can be used to evaluate the relationship between children and their parents and caregivers, thereby making it easier to uncover cases of abuse or neglect (Howe, 2011). For example, children who express anxiety and fear when relating with their primary caregiver may be victims of abuse or neglect.
Berlin, L.J., Cassidy, J., Appleyard, K. (2008) “The Influence of Early Attachments on Other Relationships”. In Cassidy J, Shaver PR. Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research and Clinical Applications (pp. 113-121). New York and London: Guilford Press.
Haltigan, J.D., Ekas, N.V., Seifer, R., Messinger, D.S. (2011) Attachment security in infants at-risk for autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism Spectrum Disorders. 41 (7): 962–967.
Howe, D. (2011) Attachment across the life course, London: Palgrave
Kobak, R. and Madsen, S. (2008) “Disruption in Attachment Bonds”. In Cassidy J, Shaver PR. Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research and Clinical Applications (pp. 72-78). New York and London: Guilford Press.
Waters, E. and Cummings, E.M. (2000) A secure base from which to explore close relationships. Child Development. 71 (1): 164–72.