Dr Robbie Duschinsky is one of a group of seventy experts from across the globe to argue that there are widespread misunderstandings around attachment research that have resulted in potentially negative consequences for decisions in family courts.
Dr Robbie Duschinsky, Sidney Fellow and Director of Studies in Human, Social, and Political Sciences, and the group of experts joined forces to publish an international consensus statement in Attachment & Human Development that aims “to counter misinformation and help steer family court applications of attachment theory in a supportive, evidence-based direction on matters related to child protection and custody decisions”.
Attachment research investigates the strong affectional bonds – ‘attachments’ – that individuals form to others in order to achieve comfort and protection. Children are born with a predisposition to develop these bonds with ‘attachment figures’ in their lives. This often includes the child’s parents, but many children develop attachment relationships with additional caregivers, such as grandparents. Children often turn to their attachment figures when upset.
The quality of an attachment relationship – how readily a child will turn to their caregiver and accept comfort – is indicated by behaviour suggestive of whether or not they expect their attachment figures to respond sensitively to their signals in times of need. Indeed, the most important predictor of children’s attachment quality is caregiver ‘sensitivity’: the ability to perceive, interpret and respond in a timely manner and appropriately to children’s signals.
Attachment research is applied in many settings, including in family court decision-making regarding child custody and child protection. Court practice needs to follow the best interests of the child, but this can be difficult to determine. There is an increasing focus on the interactions and relationships between children and their caregivers, which in turn has led to interest in using attachment theory and measures to help guide decision-making.
In the statement, the group sets out three principles from attachment research which they say should guide decision-making: the child’s need for familiar, non-abusive caregivers; the value of continuity of good-enough care; and the benefits of networks of familiar relationships.
Dr Duschinsky said: “The decisions reached by family courts can have a major impact on a child’s life, but as we’ve seen, these decisions may be based on incorrect understanding and assumptions. By outlining potential issues and presenting principles to guide the decision-making process, we hope to better inform and hence empower courts to act in a child’s best interests.”
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