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Attachment Theory

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Craig Diver

on 11 October 2018

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Transcript of Attachment Theory

This morning we will:

Focus on core concepts of attachment theory
Apply concepts to social work practice
Refer to a critique of attachment concepts

AT provides a vital developmental framework for making sense of behaviour that children, young people & adults present

Informs social work assessments, child profiles, perceptions about needs, vulnerability, ‘matching’
Practice guidance – NMS.
(see DOH, 2000; WTSC, 2015; Public Law Outline 2013; DfE & Ward et al 2014)

'Types of attachment'
AT has been designed into classifications : secure, insecure/avoidant, insecure/ambivalent;disorganised; non-attached
attachment behaviours
Howe (2001: 199) summarised as:

: attunement to the physical & psychological needs of the baby

Parents accept their baby’s whatever its mood & behaviour

Parents co-operate with child’s needs & development

Parent’s remain alert & emotionally available

Your experience

In pairs, think about a
significant attachment figure in your life
If safe to do so, talk about two healthy elements of your relationship.

You have 3 minutes to complete this task
Feedback will be requested

Attachment Relationships :

Babies / young children are biologically programmed to become attached to their parents or significant caregivers.

Parents too are biologically predisposed to bond with their child
Instinctual drive will be influenced by parent’s own attachment experience
(Howe, 2005)

Links to child development
Developmental milestones are vital in shaping your understanding :
Pre-school (under 5 years)
Junior School (5 -11)
Secondary (11 – adolescence)

What are some of the AT indicators of a child’s development ?

See (Sheridan ,1997; Morrison & Anders, 1999, Howe et al. 1999)

Some children will be neglected & rejected

From an early age they will have developed very negative internal working models of self & others.
Frequently believe that they are unlovable & expect that new caregivers will be neglectful or reject them.
They often show these beliefs / expectations in their lack of trust & in their wary facial expressions & behaviour

– although some children may smile as if all is well & attempt to conceal their true feelings of anxiety.

I am not loved or lovable.
My mother/father/caregiver is not consistently loving or protective.
Relationship cannot be relied on to keep me safe.

When babies, children & teenagers have these ideas about themselves & other people, they often look wary & suspicious.

Will find it very hard to trust that a new caregiver will be willing or able to love & care for them.

Mary Ainsworth
Secure Child
I am loved & lovable.
My mother/father/caregiver is loving & available.
Our relationship is reliable so my feelings will not overwhelm me.
A secure child expects that when she cries her / his parent / carer will come, will understand what she is thinking & feeling & will meet her/his needs.
These very positive expectations & beliefs that make up a secure child’s internal working model will carry over into other relationships as she / he gets older.

Attachment Theory :
for social work practice

IWM contains expectations and beliefs about :
One’s own & other people’s behaviours
The lovability, worthiness & acceptability of the ‘self’
The emotional availability & interest of others, & their ability to provide protection.
Put simply, IWM gives a ‘notion of who attachment figures are, where they may be found and they may be expected to proceed’

Beliefs about self :
Attachment characteristics
The child will attempt to remain within protective range of her / his parents. The protective range is to reduce threatening situations.

Secure Base

The presence of an attachment figure creates
for the child.

Encourages confident exploration & play

Core Concept :
attachment behaviour
Attachment behaviour becomes activated when an individual experiences stress.
Bowlby defined child stress as : pressing physical needs – hunger, pain, illness
Subjected to environmental threats of frightening events or attack experiences a relationship problem with attachment figure
Howe (1999 & 2011)

The word ‘attachment’ is used in almost every assessment of children.

Attachment theory can offer a framework for social workers (& others !!) to begin to understand parent / child relationships.

(see David Howe,2011 : Attachment across the Lifecourse) palgrave

Bowlby's framework
According to Cassidy (1999: 5):
“within this [framework], attachment is considered as normal and healthy characteristic of humans throughout the life span”

Aldgate & Jones (2006: 176) comment :
“Attachments, therefore, can last over time & can be formed at any stage of the life cycle”

Ainsworth et al. (1978):
1) sensitivity
2) acceptance / rejection
3) co-operation / interference
4) accessibility / ignoring

Four Elements : caregiving behaviour
Proximity Seeking
Separation Protest
Threats to the continued accessibility of the attachment figure can mean the child will protest in an attempt to avoid separation

Assumes the main care-giver is the mother

Many variables of ‘family life’

Thinking about attachment has shifted
A category system of attachment does not reflect complex circumstances

Bowlby’s & Ainsworth’s theories don’t tell you how to interact but they potentially help you to understand relationship experiences

(Howe, 2005 & 2011)

5 phases

Secure Base

Internal Working Model

Social competence
Child’s behaviour will become more about ‘goal-setting’ – demands on carer to do things

In terms of achieving social competence, it is useful to be able to generate a mental representation of the following:
The ‘self’;
Other people;
Relationship between self & others

(Howe, 1999, Beek & Schofield / BAAF )

Child is free to play & explore

Child thinks – I am safe, caregiver is available

Caregiver thinks- what may the child feel & need ?


State of relaxation

Satisfaction of physical / psychological need

State of high arousal

Child experiences a physical & or psychological need

Arousal-relaxation cycle

Secure attachment =
Consistently responsive, available, secure base caregiver
Ambivalent =
Inconsistently responsive, unpredictably available caregiver
Avoidant =
Consistently unresponsive, distant, controlling or denying child’s attachment behaviour, rejecting caregiver

Helping Attachment Relationships
attunement : emotional reciprocity
Parent / carer thinking & feeling



I am responding sensitively !

Verbal & non-verbal messages

Child’s behaviour

My child is part
of my family


You will potentially be working with people who have experienced adversity.

Their attachment relationships may have broken.

You still need skills to empathise with someone in distress; to challenge their core beliefs about themselves or others.
Building Relationships

Infants / children seek the care & protection of adults in order to survive

Care givers who are reliably available and respond sensitively to their needs provide a secure base

Question :

Working in pairs, identify some of the reasons that inform LA decisions about a child entering the care system.

Three minutes for this.

Feedback will be requested later
Full transcript