NUMBER 1209 • 13 AUGUST • aTTACHMENT: RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
Effective implementation processes begin with the agenda being agreed with those who have to do the implementing. This raises a typical problem. Questions that researchers like answering are rarely those that practitioners ask; similarly, researchers are not very good at dealing with questions that practitioners actually want answered. The result is invariably a compromise, and the resulting “messiness” is, we would argue, inseparable from the process. Other issues with resource implications may also intrude; in this case, staff expressed a desire to learn more about locating research information themselves. The first step was an extensive dialogue between the research and project teams. This sought to:
- identify a practice question, of importance to children and mothers, which project staff were currently unable to answer satisfactorily;
- agree a strategy to locate, critically appraise and summarise the evidence base, and draw out the corresponding practice implications; and
- explore any associated staff development or resource issues that would be required to complete the agreed task and that would help embed the process in routine practice.
There are many important questions that may be asked of social work practice in general, and attachment issues in particular; unfortunately, not all are formulated in such a way as to be answerable. The development of strong attachments between mothers and children is essential to promote the long-term welfare of children. Mother and child attachment was often highly unsatisfactory in the families with whom the project worked. This was frequently accentuated in situations where the child and mother have been separated at birth due to child protection concerns. Part of the work involves their reconciliation during the later stages of infancy. Judgements about effective attachment are made by project staff on both behavioural and emotional grounds, during intense periods of observation and dialogue with mothers. A “typical” situation where this issue is highly relevant would be where a child has been removed from a mother at birth, and a managed reconciliation is taking place at PACT when the child has reached the age of 6-12 months. The task of the project is to “re-engage” mother and child through the practical application of attachment theory. In many cases, the young women will have experienced an insecure attachment with their own mothers, and this may have included periods in care. Typical attachment-related activities at the project might be:
- help with appropriate feeding;
- maintenance of eye contact with child and appropriate emotional interaction;
- help in focusing on the baby and promoting the baby’s needs above those of the mother;
- work with child care routine; and
- helping mothers to fit their routines in and around the babies and not vice versa.
TONY NEWMAN and BENNY McDANIEL
Newman, T, and McDaniel, B. Getting research in to practice: Healing damaged attachment processes in infancy. Child Care in Practice, 11(1), 81-90