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Gareth D Morewood

Attachment revisited - strategies for supporting young people

It is difficult to shift fixed mind-sets from simply seeing and dealing with behaviour, to gaining a deeper understanding of human relationships and, even more importantly, the knowledge and skills to make a difference in the lives of children and their families. Previously I have written about this complex area in two posts; the first part looked at what attachment is, and the second on the reality of attachment issues in schools.

Aspire to Achieve

Last month I was fortunate enough to speak at Aspire to Achieve, a conference supporting vulnerable children and young people in care, hosted by Essex local authority. It was a real pleasure to have been asked to address a large and much focussed audience. I will write separately in SENCology about some of the sessions I delivered and attended over the next few weeks, but I first wanted to highlight the keynote address delivered by Professor David Shemmings, Professor of Child Protection Research at the University of Kent. In Prof Shemmings’ hard hitting but poignant address we were reminded of the impact abuse can have on vulnerable young people. We were reminded of Bowlby describing a ‘secure base’ as a defining element of attachment and how grooming gangs offer that secure base to vulnerable young people in a very sophisticated manner; providing the connectedness that they do not receive where other young people do - from family, friends and school.

Contemporary attachment theory

Contemporary attachment theory is, fundamentally, concerned with the importance of close human relationships. We know from decades of research how important attachment is for mental health and wellbeing, for child development, for many adult relationships and for parenting as well. Good professional practice is also about human relationships. Thus, contemporary attachment theory has much to offer as a framework not only for understanding but for helping and supporting.

Attachment and Relationship-based Practice

The stand-out part of the keynote was not Prof Shemmings talking, but us listening and watching. We spent just over 12 minutes of the half-hour address watching ReMoved, described as ‘a jaw-dropping short film’ which ‘shines light on child abuse and the foster care system’ - it is not an easy watch. However, I think it should be a mandatory part of all training as it is vital we ensure all staff have a greater understanding of the complexities of the young people we work with. Do take a few minutes to watch it for yourself – along with the warning that it is a very hard-hitting short film. [vimeo 73172036 w=500 h=211] High quality training and understanding is important. Share the illustrated guide, Supporting students through understanding attachment, to help your school with training and professional development.

Remember…

‘You might be the only adult who can make a difference in a child’s life’ ‘You have the emotional skills and the resources to make that difference’

Professor David Shemmings, Professor of Child Protection Research at the University of Kent

As with any complex area of need, there is a skill in distilling specific actions and things to do. And, as ever, it is always worth re-iterating that strategies that work for young people with complex needs really do benefit all!

So what can I try in my classroom?

  • Structure: clear & consistent routines, boundaries, task completion, rituals, claiming behaviours
  • Engagement: positive non-verbal & verbal praise, using the child’s name
  • Nurture: soothing, supportive, non-verbal, positive care routines
  • Challenge: learning new skills/small steps/with support and consistency

However complex young people are we must look for positive, solution-focussed approaches that are embedded into a whole-school strategy. This isn’t an easy job but one that requires hard work and a dedicated approach, key elements of which are understanding and training. It is easy to give up and reinforce the negative experiences of a child’s history, the hard part is constantly refreshing and engaging positively in supporting the young person. If all those involved with young people watched the film and read the guide more would want to be involved in supporting them.

Further reading and resources

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