NUMBER 706• 18 MARCH • ATTACHMENT
Parent and Child Together (PACT) is a service managed by Barnardo’s Northern Ireland. It has been in operation since 1986, offering residential assessment and 24-hour support to young women aged 16-24 years and their children aged birth to three years. Mothers are referred to the project by Social Services because of a range of concerns about parenting. Many parents would not be given the chance to care for their children if they were not resident in the project. The service provided in the residential unit is intensive and is followed by an individually tailored package of aftercare support to enable parents to settle into the community with their children. Those parents who are separated from their children following assessment are also offered practical and emotional support when they move on from the project. Parents in the project have faced a range of adverse life experiences that can make childrearing difficult. For example, mothers may have spent considerable periods in care, have very limited social networks, experience of domestic violence and have learning difficulties. Some mothers are admitted to the project to enable them to resume the care of their child following a separation.
The PACT team were already aware of the importance of children developing positive attachments to ensure optimal development, and the risks of attachment problems in the children that were coming to the project. However, the literature familiar to the team mainly concerned children older than one year, and often consisted of attachment classifications rather than ways of directly addressing attachment difficulties. As most of the children worked with are younger than one year old, an urgent knowledge requirement was how to prevent later attachment problems through early intervention.
The project benefits from a very experienced and settled staff team, with most staff in post for more than seven years. A potential drawback to having such an established team is that practice continues because “that is how it has always been done”. In an effort to develop and improve working methods, the team were keen to begin to explore how research could inform practice, and improve outcomes for service users. From an ethical perspective it was important to explore current practice against relevant research, to ensure that parents were not being exposed to ineffective methods.
Over the past five years service developments in the project have been based on practitioner research undertaken when various members of the team were involved in further education. This has included the development of an aftercare service. More recently, behavioural assessment tools to address specific childcare issues have been developed, based on recent research from the USA and Canada (McDaniel, 2003). The use of these instruments has had a number of benefits, not least in ensuring that all staff assess consistently and that service users are clear about what specifically is being assessed. These examples were undertaken as part of requirements of academic courses by individual team members. In general, however, practice in the team was based on a range of sources, including practice knowledge, textbooks and information gained from courses.
Some of the potential challenges facing the team in beginning this process included the time needed to implement any changes that arose from the process, access and resources to undertake the necessary reading, and having the skills to critically appraise literature.
TONY NEWMAN & BENNY McDANIEL
Newman, T, McDaniel, B (2005) Getting Research into Practice: Healing Damaged Attachment Processes in Infancy . Child Care in practice, Vol. 11 No 1, January 2005
McDaniel, B (2003) Prevention of neglect. The development of a childcare skills programme for vulnerable parents of young children. Unpublished PhD thesis, Queen's University, Belfast.