Attachment theory: Caregiver-child attachment and healthy human development in children ages three or older, who have been placed in foster care or adoptive families


Several studies have shown that the relationship established between a child and its caretaker (parent or guardian) will have a significant influence in the subsequent psychological development of the child.  There is statistical empirical evidence to support this thesis.  A negative attachment pattern can lead the child to psychiatric as well as emotional disorders.  These negative influences can be physical abuse, sexual abuse or neglect.  But recent progress in the field of pediatric psychology has thrown light on Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy techniques, which when applied at an earlier stage, can mitigate the negative behavioral and thought patterns of the child and pave its path of recovery.  Such therapeutic approaches also help the child develop proper and healthy attachment with its caretakers.


There are many studies that support the thesis that the subsequent development of a child is determined by inherent infant personality as well as parental caretaking behavior.  Children with traumatic past experiences including physical and emotional abuse are more vulnerable to developing abnormal psychological dispositions later on in life.  Taking a child away from its biological parents and under the care of foster parents is a very delicate process.  If the transition is not done consistent with up to date psychological findings in the field of child psychology, the consequences could affect the child’s ability to achieve developmental milestones.  The group of psychiatric disorders that afflicts this vulnerable group is broadly classified under Reactive Attachment Disorders.  Most of these disorders arise from “trauma-attachment problems” (the most severe of which is the separation of a child from its mother).  In other words, “the trauma experienced is the result of abuse or neglect, inflicted by a primary caregiver and disrupts the normal development of secure attachment” (Morrison, 1997).

Let us consider some vital statistics first.  Nearly two in hundred children born in the United States are adopted by foster parents.  But more importantly, approximately two thirds of those children suffer from symptoms of attachment disorder.  Usually these symptoms manifest themselves as undue aggressive behavior leading to violence as well as emotional problems such as “personality disorders, including antisocial personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and psychopathic personality disorder” (Morrison, Goodlin-Jones, et. Al.,1997).  Moreover, these children are at a higher risk of withdrawing from society and develop a low sense of self-esteem.  Some of them can suffer lingering illnesses such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Sexually abused children are at a greater risk of developing anxiety and depressive disorders later on in life.  This includes the whole spectrum of Depression (Major Depression, Bipolar Depression, Dysthymic Depression, etc) as well as fall into self-destructive habits such as alcohol abuse, recreational drug use and anti-social activities.  The afflicted are not only a hazard to them but to the society at large.  Hence, in this context, a viable therapeutic approach to mitigating the causes of “attachment disorders” is called for.  This is especially urgent in these times when the adoption of children into foster homes is on the increase and child neglect is in ascendancy as a result of corporate careerism of parents (Imamoglu, 2007).

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