What are the potential impacts of insecure (unhealthy) attachment?
One particular type of insecure attachment, insecure disorganised/disorientated attachment6, is associated with aggression in childhood. Violent children are significantly more likely to become violent adults ii.
There is good evidence that difficulties in early parent-child relationships are associated with a range of mental health problems throughout the lifespan. The costs to both the community and the individual are substantial. Early intervention appears to enhance the likelihood of successful outcomes.
Difficulties in school
There is evidence that children who have not experienced early sensitive care struggle to achieve literacy in the early years. Children who have not learned to trust adults and peers are less likely to flourish in an educational environment. Children who have not had necessary motor or sensory experiences may not be school ready. Nurture groups are attempting to address this in the early primary years with some success. However, if this moment of opportunity is missed, learning can become increasingly more difficult. Opportunities to learn basic skills can become less available as children become more alienated from the educational process. For children with attachment problems, transitions can be difficult. The transition to secondary school, where children have to deal with many relationships with teachers, can be a particular problem.
For over 6,000 children in the Republic of Ireland and 2,875 children in Northern Ireland it has been necessary to care for them outside of the context of their biological families. Although there are multiple reasons why this may occur, including bereavement and disability, in the majority of the cases there has been a fundamental failure in the quality of the attachment relationships with primary caregivers. The impact of the early adverse experiences are so profound that difficulties may persist after admission to care. Children in care are also more likely to have experienced trauma of a physical, sexual or emotional nature. Multiple moves within the care system are associated with the persistent attachment and emotional difficulties (Dozier).
There is a substantial cohort of children who are not taken into the care of the state but are living in situations that are characterised by a lack of parental attunement to the degree that child protective services are involved in a supportive non-custodial role. Other children may reach adolescence, or leave care, without the nature of their attachment difficulties ever being understood.
It is important that services are sufficiently resourced in terms of funding and training so as to address such problems as early as possible.