Children in foster care live a significantly more difficult life than those who have direct care from their biological parents. Their attachment styles and the process in which they adapt their attachment proves a bit of their hardship as a foster child. After viewing many articles, it was obvious that children in foster care are more prone to having the attachment style of insecure, which is one of the most challenging styles for the child and caregiver to work with. Children in foster care are at higher risk of having insecure attachment styles with their caregiver. However, depending on their relationship with their caregiver and the duration they stay at a particular home, it may be altered.
To reiterate, attachment styles are the relationship a child and their caregiver have adapted to. The three main attachments are secure, avoidant, and anxious/ambivalent. The insecure attachment would be considered a subcategory for the more negative attachments. A particular attachment can affect the way the child feels towards their caregiver, such as, feeling attached, negligent, or completely unstable (Roelofs, Meestars, Huurne, Bamelis, & Muris, 2006). A primary attachment is created along the relationship between the caregiver and child, but it is not limited only between them. As a child get older, their attachment will refer to their ability to be able to attach to others (McWey, 2004). The development of an attachment happens early on and it is possible for it to change depending on the environment and relationship they receive from their caregiver.
Foster care also known as alternative care is a system where children are taken from their families and homes for various reasons, including their safety and protection (Quiroga and Hamilton-Giachritsis, 2016). The children are then placed in temporary homes, which can be institutions, foster homes, or a home of a certified caregiver. Even though children are taken away from their families, it is not always permanent and some children do end up back at their homes. The numbers of children who are involved in foster care play a significant number of the population when it comes to children. As these children spend a notable time with foster care, it’s important that the caregivers that are assigned to these children have the adequate training to provide these children with a strong, secure attachment.
Starting off with some of the younger children who are put into foster care, it was proven that children who enter foster care before twenty-four months of age, were more prone to adapt in a secure attachment style. Children who were put into care earlier have a smaller chance of having an insecure attachment (Smyke, Zeanah, Nelson, Fox, & Guthrie, 2010). This study focused on 3 groups of children who are placed in foster care due to abandonment at a young age. It was a randomized study as two out of the three groups were asked to pick numbers out of a hat to determine their position in the study. The last group were not random and was asked to be a comparison group.
The results explained that when children first entered the care, they were at 65% of disorganized attachment style and about 13% show little to no attachment behavior. However, after a year to three years in foster care, most children are able to make dramatic changes towards their attachment styles (Smyke et al., 2010). The dramatic changes were higher percentages of secure attachment and sense of security. This change was more significant to children who had foster care rather than institutions. Overall, the age that children are first placed into foster care is important in understanding their attachment development and the most flexible time for children to adjust their attachment style would be the first 3 years of their life (Smyke et al., 2010).
Lang, Bovenschen, Gabler, Zimmermann, Nowacki, Kliewer, & Spangler (2016) also found that the security in attachment made significant positive changes during the first year a child is placed. Majority of the children will end up finding success in creating secure attachment bonds. However, it was also mentioned that caregivers do not receive the proper training in order to give their children the support they need. It should be a top value for foster homes to provide children with the support and love they need from the caregiver they are assigned to.
The study was in a form of a longitudinal study, where the Lang et al. (2016) group tried to find significant developmental details in foster children. The average age of the children was about two years old and was recruited upon foster care agencies. Data were collected in three different timeframes, when the children first entered the foster home, six months, and twelve months after. The results showed the increase in security as mentioned, and that within a year, children are able to create an attachment style similar to what they would have with a biological parent, but with a caregiver. Children will enter foster homes with attachment issues but at a young age, it may still be altered with the right help and properly trained caregivers.
Schofield & Beek (2008) found that 90% of the children who enter a foster home during early childhood will have had some sort of abuse and/or neglect in their lives. Since the children have experienced some sort of negative care from their parent, it would mean that the child is in some form experiencing insecure attachment. It was also noted that the children in this study had mothers who had a past of abuse, mental health problems, drug addiction and learning disability (Schofield & Beek, 2008). Overall, these children lacked a secure base because they grew up in an unsafe environment. For those children who have not been able to have a secure base in their past, they would normally have a goal to create a secure base with their new caregiver.
It is also very important to note that the outcome of children’s attachment style is greatly affected by how the foster carer take on their role and properly be a source and support system for these children. Caltabiano & Thorpe (2007) mentioned that in order to have good foster care for children, one of the factors includes the carer’s personal experiences of attachment in their childhood. Many cares who grew up with experiences of adverse childhoods, such as, poverty and abuse, were still able to make a change in attachment style as they became an adult. Most of the time the poor experiences caregivers have while growing up helps them become more relatable to their children and be helpful to identify strengths and weaknesses within a child’s past.
As an example shared by Caltabiano & Thorpe (2007), a female foster carer became sad when her grandmother died during her childhood. She described her parents to be young and irresponsible, her family often times did not have food to eat nor a place to stay. To add onto her sad childhood, her father was in prison at one point and her mother was not able to handle that very well. As she did not receive the proper care from her parents, she found another outlet in her life, her aunt. She provided her a safe, secure base who cared for her and her wellbeing. This example proves that even when a child comes from a family with poor care and neglect, it is possible to change their attachment style and create a more positive outlook in their life.
McWey (2004) also mentions that children who are placed in child care are about ten times more likely to experience mental health problems. In this study, children were monitored on supervised visits from their biological parents and see if there was a connection with their mental health and parents. It was noted that some children who often moved throughout foster care were less likely to form lasting bonds since they felt like people and things weren’t permanent for them most of the time, this which then results in behavioral problems. Most of these children tend to believe that they are the only ones who can provide themselves with care and dependence. The losses that these children experience in their lives are the reason why they are more prone to have an insecure attachment in their childhood.
The number of children who are currently in foster care in the United States is nearly 400,000 and the majority of the children are from California. These children are taken away from their family with a primary goal of keeping them safe from harmful people and environments. Quiroga and Hamilton-Giachritsis (2016) mentioned that the relationship a carer and their child create plays an important role in their development. A properly trained carer should be able to help children alter or change their old attachment styles and for the better of course.
The results of Quiroga and Hamilton-Giachritsis (2016) study showed that children who are in foster care have higher rates of disorganized, insecure attachment and lower rates of secure attachment. 26% rating for secure, 23% for avoidant, 11.8% for ambivalent, and 43.6% in disorganized looking at these numbers it becomes obvious that insecure attachment styles are more common when focusing on children in foster care. However, a disorganized attachment may be a result of a lack of resources for the child from a caregiver. The quality of a caregiver plays a significant role in these children’s lives and it is important that in order to alter their insecure attachment styles that carers receive the proper training. A caregivers quality determines the attachment rating and quality of attachment with children.
Children are put into foster care for their own safety, but not all children want to be put in care even if they are not safe or happy at home. Though when children are put in foster care, they will be unhappy at first but it can be altered. Children who enter foster care at a young age has a high success rate in adapting to a secure attachment style. Children of all ages may be able to change their insecure attachment styles if they are properly cared for and provided with adequate support. It takes a lot of patience to work with children in foster care and it’s important for carers to receive the proper training as well.
Overall, it’s upsetting knowing that most children who enter foster homes are unhappy and unable to cope with their feelings and trouble. On the bright side, the earlier a child enters foster care, the chances are higher in having a more positive outcome. In which a child will be able to recreate their attachment style and have a secure base with their new caregiver. It is important to note that not all foster children will be able to have a secure attachment style as an outcome but for those with proper care and love from a caregiver, it is possible.
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