Attachment research has shown that
favourable child–caregiver attachment patterns established early in life can
contribute to a number of positive outcomes, including higher self-esteem,
resilience, and positive perceptions of romantic relationships in adulthood (Cassidy et al., 2013; Laible et al., 2000).
Bowlby and Ainsworth’s foundational
attachment theory focuses on construction of these child–caregiver
relationships over time, defining secure attachment as an emotional bond that
stems from an innate drive and is nurtured by dependability and responsiveness
(Flaherty & Sadler, 2011). Longitudinal studies
find various stages in the development of attachment to single or multiple
caregivers over time (Ainsworth, 1973; Schaffer & Emerson, 1964).
Schaffer and Emerson (1964) outlined four
distinct phases, with the last two being discriminate attachment and multiple
attachment; results indicated that from seven to eleven months of age, infants
showed a strong attachment to one specific individual, but they began to form
strong emotional bonds with other caregivers other than the primary figure
after nine months of age.
Research with children who have
experienced severe breaks in attachment relationships, such as orphaned and
separated children (hereafter known as OSCs), finds, however, that traditional
ideas of attachment may not adequately reflect the attachment of OSCs to
present caregivers in residential care due to past experience and effects of
traumatic events (Browne
& Winkelman, 2007).
Multiple attachments are important to
consider for OSCs due to the many types of adult and peer social relationships
they encounter in residential care, which may be temporary or inconsistent. An
understanding of attachment and its association with family social
relationships also has implementational value in informing programmes tasked
with the process of deinstitutionalising children. The term
‘deinstitutionalisation’ refers to ‘a movement that advocates the transfer of
people from public or private institutions back to their families or into
community-based homes’ (Stiker,
2020). In the context of OSCs, this requires children in institutional care
to be moved back to their original family settings, to other extended family
caregivers or foster families.
It should be noted that careful
thought around deinstitutionalisation is a process in which the needs of the
child are foremost (UNICEF,
2019), and parents and caregivers are empowered through a
variety of means, including behavioural, educational and mental health support
to construct a safe and stimulating environment for the child and whole family.
Since this study describes evidence
of OSC attachments to multiple caregivers and explores the predictive
relationship between attachment scores to a particular caregiver and the
child’s perceptions of overall family social relationships, it forms a platform
for assessing the needs of the OSCs while structuring a course of action for