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24 NOVEMBER 2008

NO 1377

Attachment

Aristotle argued that happiness for humans is not possible in the absence of reciprocal, affective relationships or friendships (Sherman, 1991). Such relationships for children are only possible in the context of satisfactory attachments which provide for them a secure base from which to explore their environment (Bowlby, 1988). Young people placed in the child welfare system, particularly those in residential care, often experience a system that is problem-focused and intent on physical protection and control, not on the prioritisation of warm reciprocal relationships.

This paper states that young people in residential care whose primary attachments – whatever their quality – have been disrupted, require care that makes reciprocal, affective relationships a priority. For those children who have experienced satisfactory attachments, these need to be maintained. Those who have not had satisfactory attachments in their primary relationships, and consequently have not experienced a secure base, require a “second chance secure base” that yields a sense of well-being and happiness in order to reduce the risk that they may develop pathology in the future. A secure base is a relationship within which a child or youth feels safe, nourished both physically and emotionally, where s/he is comforted when distressed and reassured when frightened. For children placed in the child welfare system who have not experienced a secure base with their primary carers it is essential that social care practitioners aim to form this quality of relationship with them thus providing a second chance secure base. Such practice requires, inter alia, that the social care practitioners have a sound understanding of attachment theory, in particular strategies for promoting attachment, combined with highly developed observation and communication skills (Fulcher, 2002). This paper describes attachment theory and strategies for social care practitioners and uses practice examples to illustrate their application in residential care.

GAY GRAHAM

Graham, G. (2006). Attachment theory and wellbeing for the young person in residential care: The provision of a second chance secure base for the child in crisis. Relational Child and Youth Care Practice, 19, 1. pp. 23-34.

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