Working with Adults
who are Parenting
Families are the focus for considerable social work time and energy. Increasing concern is expressed about levels of neglect and abuse and how best to intervene in these situations. Children's difficult behaviour leads to their referral to social service agencies. Children in out of home care also present particularly difficult challenges. In such cases attachment theory is an invaluable resource for social workers. In this chapter I address the significance of early attachment experience for the developing child, outline the relevance of attachment in these common social work scenarios and conclude with guidelines for assessment and intervention.
Bowlby's (1969, 1973, 1980) concept of inner working models explains the long-term impact of early attachment experiences. Internal working models form the basis for the organization and understanding of affective experience (Bretherton 1985, 1990; Crittenden 1990; Main, Kaplan and Cassidy 1985), as well as helping to make sense of new experiences and shaping subjective reality (Howe 1995), as explained in the introductory chapter to this section. They are constructed from the infant's experience of interaction and Sroufe (1988, p.18) argues that 'Such models concerning the availability of others and in turn, the self as worthy or unworthy of care, provide a basic context for subsequent transactions with the environment, most particularly social relationships.' Although internal working models tend to be self-perpetuating, they are also flexible and can be modified as the result of experience and increasing cognitive capacity (Main et al. 1985). Ainsworth's (1979) original three categories of attachment represent three distinct internal working models. The secure pattern provides the context for optimal development. The two insecure categories represent the infant's capacity to adapt to a less than optimal environment.