Bowlby believed many of these children went on to suffer a range of behavioural, emotional and mental health problems that he felt were in some way connected to their earlier experiences.
In formulating his theory, Bowlby drew on the research of his colleague Mary Ainsworth. Her studies of infants and mothers identified sensitive and responsive care as the vital ingredient in promoting secure infant—parent relationships. She found that care giving helped children to develop a sense of self, to make trusting relationships with others and to have the ability to learn and achieve Lindsay, To Bowlby and his colleagues it seemed that if children were to thrive emotionally they needed a close, continuous, care-giving relationship in infancy.
Bowlby believed that human beings are biologically programmed to seek proximity, safety and security from attachment figures in the face of fear or threat. Removed from their primary care givers, he thought, children go through a cycle of protest, despair and detachment. Bowlby noticed that even when children were returned to their primary care giver, sometimes their anxious behaviour continued.
This has shown that it is possible to distinguish different patterns of attachment of young children towards their parents.
Howe summarises the four different patterns of attachment which Ainsworth identified as:. Each attachment pattern can lead to a different way of relating to other people. We all have different attachment styles carried over from our early experiences and this might affect how we relate to others. Howe suggests that, although attachment theory and other psychosocial approaches are a framework for understanding individuals rather than a specific method for social work intervention, they do have implications for social work practice.
Protective factors include having someone significant who cares about you and the sense that children and adults are able to make of their early experiences. In the next activity you will be reading more about the emotional needs of young children and their reactions when their early attachments become disrupted.
Fagan suggests that children can respond to not having their early needs met in a number of different ways, such as:.
Who looks after a child in babyhood might well be determined by culture and circumstance. Infants can also form attachments to more than one care giver, although these might have different levels of intensity.
Babies seem to start to discriminate between caregivers between the ages of three and six months. They have also allowed us to extend our understanding of the importance of the relationship between responsive early care giving and the development of the human brain.
The brain develops differently depending on what kind of experiences it receives. From the last three months of pregnancy up to two years of age is a crucial time, as this is when the brain is most malleable and when its pathways first form. But neuroscientific evidence also suggests that change is possible throughout the lifespan.
We might never completely erase our previous experiences but we can build new experiences, new expectations and new pathways in the brain Music and Miller, Despite criticisms and modifications, attachment theory remains a powerful influence in social work. As David Howe claims, an understanding of how attachment works can help social work practitioners. For social workers, the role of attachment figures in early childhood requires careful thought, particularly in relation to children in need of protection. However, they must also make careful judgements as to the kind of interventions they make with all children.
These relationships may also have untold implications, both for individuals and the quality of parenting they subsequently offer their own children.
Attachment theory can be a useful framework for understanding and working with individuals at any point in their lives, particularly when they might be going through a change or transition, such as becoming parents themselves. It has also proved a useful approach to working with adults in mental distress, especially those who are trying to make sense of their identities in the face of childhood trauma and abuse Bateman and Fonagy, You can see that a positive sense of identity can go awry for a range of reasons. The factors can be psychological, as in the parent-child example, or sociological and political, as with child refugees.
Cultural and heritage factors can also be significant.
Early work with clients, groups, committees, or projects allows students to begin integrating learning from class and field and it enables field instructors to begin the educational assessment of the student. Series Social Work Pocketbooks. Also to consider. The Intimacy Scale Walker and Thompson, consists of seventeen items assessing intimacy between the elderly respondents and their guarantors, using a five-point Likert scale. Approved Mental Health Practice.
Care regimes and child placement policies are determined by a combination of these factors as well as by social policy. It is easy to make assumptions about service users without recognising that many experiences have contributed to shape them into the people they are. You may need to remind yourself that their identities are as varied and complicated as your own.
A better understanding of how service users see themselves will help you to work with them. Empathy is a skill that is vital in social work for understanding the experience of service users in order to help them more effectively. This is particularly important for those service users whose experiences are very different from your own. Empathy is one of the basic building blocks that you will need to develop a professional social work identity. Later in this learning guide you will consider service user perspectives, and values and ethics.
How people respond to stress and distress depends on their previous experiences and the sense they have been able to make of them. Such misunderstanding can lead you, as the practitioner, to react unhelpfully, and to make things worse. You cannot assume that other people will see things the way you do, or respond in the way that you would, because your feelings and reactions are influenced by your particular life experiences.
How, then, can you go about trying to better understand the experiences and feelings of others? The answer is by developing empathy, something that is less straightforward than it sounds, and which we explore in some detail in this section. One definition of empathy comes from the work of the US writer on counselling and social work, Gerard Egan, who defines empathy as:. These quotes emphasise that the responsibility lies with the professional to make the effort to understand the other person.
However, doing so requires effort and imagination. Sometimes we find that the characters continue to live in our imaginations long after the book has been closed or the film or play ended. In so doing we identify with the characters we meet there and enter into their worlds. Service users frequently tell us that skills of empathy and understanding are relevant in all social workers, including the following:.
It is clear that service users are very quick to sense when practitioners are attempting to understand but are struggling to empathise.
Here is a comment from Kate, a service user at a family centre in Northamptonshire, which illustrates the point very well:. There are a number of reasons why on occasions it may be difficult to demonstrate empathy towards service users. The most obvious is where there is some characteristic the practitioner finds difficult to tolerate. Clearly it is important for social workers, as for all members of the helping professions, to ensure that personal likes or dislikes do not influence the provision of services.
While this example seems straightforward enough, other instances can be trickier, when strongly held beliefs may clash. For example, it might be difficult for a social worker who is strongly committed to anti-racist practice to show empathy towards a service user who is making racist remarks or refusing to accept services from a black or minority ethnic service provider. Another and rather different circumstance might be where the experiences described by the service user are beyond the comprehension of the social worker, and trying to understand them is painful for the social worker.
Hedi Argent has described the experiences of a girl who, as a child refugee, saw one of her companions eaten by a wild animal during a border crossing. I left Sudan at night when I was 10 years old. My brother and I walked to Ethiopia. There were many of us walking. I was carrying bread, water and a kind of blanket. I ate every other day. I also had a knife to kill wolves.
We walked for two weeks. Then we stayed in Ethiopia for a month before coming to England on an aeroplane.
I wanted to go to school. Although Argent did this work with refugees in the s, sadly children and young people today continue to be able to give us accounts of their extraordinary experiences in fleeing their homes to find safety.
Traumatic incidents do happen in times of war and conflict, and yet few practitioners will have any idea what such an experience is like.