Attachment Assessments

What is an Attachment Assessment?

An Attachment Assessment is a comprehensive assessment that evaluates the quality of the caregiver-child relationship, the strengths and challenges of the caregiver, and how well the child uses the caregiver as a secure base/safe haven. An Attachment Assessment provides only one critical piece of information in an overall evaluation: the quality and nature of the caregiver-child dyad using research based and widely accepting scientific procedures to make the determinations. The purpose of this assessment is to provide information on the child’s development and recommendations to assist with a smooth adjustment to the current custody situation and promote a child’s healthy development.

Why have an attachment assessment?

An Attachment Assessment provides information about the quality and nature of the caregiver-child dyad – information that is an integral piece of information when determining the cost/benefits of maintaining/disrupting a parent-child relationship.  Upon understanding the quality and nature of the caregiver-child dyad, parents and judges will be better prepared to make decisions regarding specific residential schedules and child-related decision-making procedures for the child of that family.
Attachment Assessments are beneficial when parents are in mediation, when mediation closes and the situation moves to the next level, disputing custody and access arrangements or when they have very serious concerns about the child and/or the parenting ability of one or both of the parents.

What is involved in an attachment assessment?

An Attachment Assessment involves gathering information from a variety of sources.  A comprehensive assessment may include single interviews of caregivers, video-taped parent-child observations using the Strange Situation Protocol, observations in the home using the Q Sort, and/or video taped observations in the home. Other tools may be used when deemed appropriate. All tools are research based and deemed “Gold Standard” by professionals in the attachment and child development literature.

The following is a brief summary of what an attachment assessment will include:

  • an assessment of the quality of the caregiver – child relationship;
  • an assessment of the relationship between each child and parent in different settings on multiple occasions;
  • cost benefits of maintaining/disrupting caregiver-child relationship
  • recommendations for making the relationship disruption between child and caregiver more smooth and with less trauma to the child and improving the quality of the caregiver child relationship supporting the best interests of the child

 other is warranted or requested:

  • a comprehensive review of collateral information (interviews, reports, court documentation)if warranted;
  • psychological and cognitive testing if warranted;
  • mental health assessment if warranted;
  • Other as deemed necessary

Ages of Child Assessed and Special Circumstances:

An Attachment Assessment may be used with children between the ages of 0 months to 6 years old. While not assessing attachment between 0 and 12 months, research has shown that measures can be obtained regarding maternal sensitivity that later predicts a child’s attachment pattern.

Should caregivers live in a rural area, other professionals may be trained in administering some of the assessment tools. They will administer and video tape the results and submit them to the assessors. The Strange Situation Protocol will have to be done at the assessment site. Should reliability of the data be questionable, the assessor may request the caregivers come in or may be done through the use of video – conferencing.

What evidence supports the use of these protocols in the literature?

Since it’s introduction in the late 1960’s, The Strange Situation protocol is the most valid, reliable and widely used assessment protocol for assessing attachment in the research literature. Reliability of the protocol is 80%+. The Q Sort is the other goal standard for assessing attachment in the literature. All assessors have been deemed certified and reliable in the protocols and have extensive training and experience administering and interpreting the data.

What are the types of questions that an attachment assessment can answer?

Here are some sample questions that this type of evaluation will answer, but not limited to the sample questions:

  • What are the child representations and expectations about the availability, responsively, and safety of the current caregivers?
  • How confident is this child in his caregivers ability to provide a haven of safety to return to and a base of security from which to explore from?
  • How does the discord in the relationship affect the caregivers’ ability to:
    • support exploration
    • expressed delight
    • scaffold the child
    • share joint attention
    • watch over the child
    • be available  and responsive
    • welcoming comfort the child
    • protect child
    • organize the child’s internal emotional world
    • co-regulate the child
  • What are the risks, vulnerabilities, and buffers in the attachment caregiving relationship?
  • How any given arrangement affect influence the child’s developing mind?
  • What kind of arrangements will lead to a growth facilitating versus growth inhibiting environment?
  • Who can best fulfill the crucial role of predictable, consistent, and emotionally available primary caregiver?
  • who can be intuitively sensitive to the child’s emotional needs that are communicated in a nonverbal way?
  • Who can act as a psycho-biological regulator of infants emotional states?
  • What types of emotional experiences provided by each parent will optimize the experience–dependent maturation of the right  Hemisphere of the infant/child’s brain?
  • At what point in time are different experiences needed?
  • What are the certain experiences which this child will be exposed to any care arrangement which are so negative on development that it would be better to withdraw the child out of that context?
  • What does it take for this child to make a relationship with both parents?
  • Is a 50-50 placement in the child’s best developmental interest? If not, why?
  • What would the long term effects be of an arrangment that does not meet the child’s developmental needs?
  • Currently, what is the child at risk for regarding furture mental health based on the child’s attachment pattern?
  • If at risk, what can serve as a buffer and a new trajectory for healthy average, development for this child
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