Family court decisions distorted by misuse of key research, say experts


13-01-2021
  Mother and child at sunset  Credit: rauschenberger

Family courts are misunderstanding and misusing research around how children form close relationships with their caregivers, say an international group of experts.

Seventy experts from across the globe argue that widespread misunderstandings around attachment research have hampered its accurate implementation, with potentially negative consequences for decisions in family courts.

In response, they have published 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”.

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.

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 wish to 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.

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Image: Mother and child at sunset

Credit: rauschenberger

Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge

 

The University of Cambridge is acknowledged as one of the world's leading higher education and research institutions. The University was instrumental in the formation of the Cambridge Network and its Vice- Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, is also the President of the Cambridge Network.

University of Cambridge (cam.ac.uk)