Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Attachment theory

We are informed on the Scottish Government website that the "Early Years Collaborative is a coalition of Community Planning Partners - including social services, health, education, police and third sector professionals - committed to ensuring that every baby, child, mother, father and family in Scotland has access to the best supports available. It's the world's first national multi-agency quality improvement programme."

One of their objectives is to shift the balance of public services towards early intervention and prevention by 2016 and to sustain that change to 2018 and beyond. They claim to have a strong evidence base for the efficacy of early interventions which derive from research on attachment and child development. In order to break the cycles of deprivation and poverty they make the point that:
A renewed emphasis on the period between early pregnancy and 3 years old is needed to reflect the evidence that this is the period with the greatest bearing on outcomes and a critical period in terms of breaking cycles of poor outcomes.
They are in agreement with the campaigning group, Scottish Attachment in Action (SAIA):
Scottish Attachment in Action (SAIA) is an interest and campaigning group committed to promoting better experiences of attachment in the Scottish population and effecting positive changes in social policy, education and mental health. We believe that improving the existing understanding of and attitudes towards attachment is essential for altering Scotland`s current record on poor health and socially destructive behaviours.
This is a very demeaning view of Scottish parents who are held responsible for failing to form attachments to their children and so causing the country`s social and economic problems.

As well as being over simplistic, this view allows the government to shift the blame for current social and economic problems on to parents, rather than to recognise that poverty is not just a matter of individual decisions, but arises from macro-economic forces beyond the control of individuals which only governments can address.

It also reveals a skewed and out-of-date understanding of child development.

`Moving on from Bowlby` has blogged extensively about attachment and child development theories. Although the extracts do not refer to the Scottish government website specifically, they address the thinking behind the Scottish government`s policy:
At first, I found it difficult to put my finger on exactly what it was about these texts that made me uneasy. After all, they recognize that child development involves the complex interaction of many factors, they’re comprehensive in scope, and children’s welfare is at the heart of their agenda. [She goes on..]
The model is policy-based rather than evidence-based, despite claims to the contrary. If it was evidence-based it would be framed in terms of child-development as a whole. This would include an evaluation of the physical factors involved in individual development, the root causes of children’s needs and the socio-political context that determines which children are in need and what their needs might be.
The model is based on biological knowledge that pre-dates WWII. ... Old knowledge isn’t necessarily wrong, but research has moved on since then. The model of child development proposed by the texts doesn’t seem to recognize this.
I can understand why practitioners working in child protection focus on the emotional and social aspects of a child’s development and why attachment theory has intuitive appeal. But attachment theory and social and emotional development aren’t synonymous with child development per se.
My understanding of the term child development is that it refers to every change that a human being undergoes between conception and adulthood; genetic, anatomical, physiological, emotional, cognitive and social. It would be unreasonable to expect everyone working with children and families to be experts on every aspect of development, but since all aspects are interrelated, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect them to have an accurate overview of all aspects.

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