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Beyond attachment theory and therapy: Towards sensitive and evidence-based interventions with foster and adoptive families in distress

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Elements of attachment theory have been embraced by practitioners endeavouring to assist foster and adopted children and their parents. Attachment theory articulates the potential risks of experiencing multiple caregivers; emphasizes the importance of close social relationships to development; and recognizes that substitute parents may not always have close relationships with children who have experienced adversities before joining them. Attachment theory offers concerned parents what they believe to be a scientific explanation about their lack of the close, satisfying parent–child relationship they desire. Yet the scientific base of attachment theory is limited both in terms of its ability to predict future behaviours, and especially with regard to its use as the underpinning theory for therapeutic intervention with children experiencing conduct problems. There is a critical need to review the role of attachment theory in child and family services and to consider its place among other explanations for children's disturbing behaviour. An important step towards pursuing alternative approaches is for researchers and practitioners to understand the reasons the attachment paradigm appeals to so many adoptive and foster parents, given the apparent widespread prevalence of attachment-based interventions. Such understanding might assist in the development of adoption-sensitive uses of appropriate evidence-based treatment approaches.

Keywords: adoption; attachment; evidence; foster care; therapy

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Doctoral student, School of Social Work, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA, 2: Lecturer and 3: Emeritus Professor of Social Work, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK 4: Professor Emeritus, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK, and

Publication date: 2005-11-01

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