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January 13, 2021 Wednesday 04:34:05 PM IST

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

Parent Interventions

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

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.

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.

The experts propose three fundamental principles, based on more than half a century of research, which they argue can be used as a basis for court practitioners:

    The need for familiar, non-abusive caregivers – For child protection practice, for example, this implies that all non-abusive and non-neglecting family-based care is likely to be better than institutional care.
    The value of continuity of good-enough care – ‘Good-enough’ care signifies an adequate level of meeting the child’s needs over time. The group urges family courts to examine and support caregivers’ abilities to provide ‘good-enough’ caregiving, rather than placing children in out-of-home custody with the hope of ‘optimal’ care. Major separations from caregivers constitute risk factors in child development that should be prevented whenever possible.
    The benefits of networks of attachment relationships – Decision-making concerning child custody should assign weight to supporting children’s ability to develop and maintain attachment relationships with both their caregivers, except when there is threat to the child’s welfare and safety or one of the parents wants to ‘opt out’.


(Content Courtesy: https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/family-court-decisions-distorted-by-misuse-of-key-research-say-experts)

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