Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Collaborating to support secure attachments for all Scottish children

The Early Years Collaborative

They believe they have a strong evidence base about what works and with the appropriate methods can ensure that every baby, child, mother, father and family in Scotland has access to the best supports available.

According to a learning session by the Early Years Collaborative "We are all born with attachment seeking behaviours such as crying, clinging, imitation and smiling. These behaviours are designed to keep carers close ensuring that the baby`s needs for survival, safety and sensitive care are met."  More controversially they make the point that failure of the attachment process in the first two years could be catastrophic for children: neurologically, physically, emotionally, socially and psychologically.

Whilst no-one would deny the importance for survival of attachment behaviours for babies, the claim that attachment issues  in the first few years of life are easily defined and determine once and for all the long-term development of children is not an uncontested view.  Yet there are many organisations working with the Scottish Government who push forward these ideas.  For example, Scottish Attachment in Action (SAIA) say they have played a key role alongside partner organisations in placing attachment onto the political agenda and have contributed to fundamental policy and legislative changes.  (See the proposals that named persons should be involved with unborn babies.)

Scottish Attachment in Action 

"In February 2014 representatives from the SAIA Advisory Group were included in the invitation from NHS Health Scotland and the Scottish Government to the first meeting of a national round table discussion on attachment. The purpose of the round table was to develop a collaborative approach to supporting secure attachments for all children in Scotland."
The Scottish Attachment in Action (SAIA) is a multi-professional group constituted in August 2009.  It is committed to promoting better experiences of attachment in the Scottish population and effecting positive changes in social policy, education and mental health. The group believes that altering the existing understanding of, and attitudes towards attachment, is essential for improving Scotland`s current record on poor health and socially destructive behaviours.
In other words, behind Scotland`s poor health record the true culprits are the parents who fail to bond with their babies. It is estimated by the Sutton Trust that four out of ten children experience attachment issues. Extreme as this view is, it has become part of the prevailing political ideology.  


Ben Goldacre: Evidence based education
It might be wondered how there could possibly be a collaborative approach to supporting secure attachments for all children in Scotland since attachments exist between children and their carers within families.

The SAIA provides a clue by referring to an evaluative project carried out in the Jeely Nursery in Castlemilk over a three-year period between 2007 and 2010. "The purpose of the Jeely Nursery project was to meet the particular needs of children exposed in their earliest years to highly adverse social and economic circumstances, including the experience of living with parental substance abuse and addiction. The Jeely Nursery project developed a collaborative strategy that involved children, nursery staff and parents together in ways that helped to build the emotional resilience needed by children to overcome adversity."

So a collaborative approach to support secure attachments has shifted to a collaborative approach to build emotional resilience in children - not quite the same thing. You have to ask why the authorities are studying children in this way instead of tackling the highly adverse social and economic circumstances that are supposed to have produced the problems in the first place? It is difficult to say, because it is unclear whether or not the small group of children being studied remain with their original families.

But it does not end there.  A further project builds on the Jeely Nursery research by working with two primary schools. The main aim of the project is not only to support those children with attachment issues who have moved on from the Jeely Nursery, but to develop a sustainable model which will develop the capacity of teachers to identify and support any children with attachment issues. The project focuses on working with the schools to develop and extend existing practice and to map this practice onto current support structures, procedures and national policies, namely Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) and staged intervention."

"The next phase of the project which began early in 2012, involved replicating this model of support with all teachers and support staff in both schools... An important finding at this stage of the project was that teachers were beginning to recognise and respond to children who previously would not have been noticed or would perhaps have been dismissed on account of behaviour."

Teachers have been trained to observe certain behaviours as `attachment issues` who then go on to see `attachment issues` in other children. The researchers say: " The responsibility that all teachers have towards every child is at the heart of GIRFEC and it is this connection between practice and policy which we are continuing to build on."

But really should teachers be diagnosing `attachment issues` - or any other type of non-academic issue for that matter -  in order to engage in collaborative support work in the classroom?  Supposing they get it wrong?  Supposing attachment theory has overplayed its hand which is most likely the case?  It would be difficult for any family to disengage from the staged interventions and bang would go their privacy. Perhaps that`s the idea !

Newsletter June 2014

The SAIA are holding a network seminar `Why attachment matters for all ` on 27 March 2015 where they will be looking at `Research from the Jeely Piece Club.`

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