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Gareth D Morewood

Understanding and supporting pupils with attachment in school

What are attachment needs, and how can SENCOs meet them? Here are some tips for supporting this group of vulnerable young learners.

It's a complex area for SENCOs: young people who have experiences of trauma or stress in early life or whilst in the womb – those with attachment needs.

There is an increasing body of evidence that 21st Century children are more complex than previous generations, as reported by Special Children magazine.

In short, young people are surviving with complex needs; neonatal survival rates and advances in medicine mean that children with more complex needs are sat in our classrooms ('the worldwide neonatal mortality rate fell by 40 per cent between 1990 and 2013' - UNICEF).

An increasing proportion of the population have experienced negative attachment at some point during their early lives. As a SENCO, these young people can be extremely challenging. You will want to ensure that staff remain positive and are using a set of agreed strategies.

Nevertheless, this can be very difficult when a young person is ‘testing to destruction’ their relationships with their teachers. I hope to offer some thoughts and advice after almost 15 years in working to support these vulnerable young people in our mainstream school environment.

What is attachment?

  • Attachment behaviour is there to ensure the survival of the child (originally proposed by Bowlby, 1969).
  • Attachment is an affectionate bond between two individuals that endures through space and time and serves to join them emotionally.
  • Attachment experiences are fundamental to emotional/social/physical/cognitive development.
  • Good early attachments serve to promote resilience to later traumatic (life) experiences
  • The foundation of attachment is the early main carer/child interaction.
  • Its purpose is to enhance survival during infancy and promote adaptive development during the whole life span - based on the central dilemma of human life – the need for closeness and autonomy.
  • Human infants are very vulnerable for a long time and need the presence and protection of carers who can assist in survival for some time.
  • Being safe is the basis of survival.

You can see my Supporting Students through Understanding Attachment guide for more information on attachment and its importance in schools.

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