Attachment and Adoption
Why is attachment important?
Carrying and attachment
The experiences of adopted children

Attachment is an emotional and psychological bond which connects two people over time and space. 'The attachment bond has several key elements: an attachment bond is an enduring emotional relationship with a specific person; the relationship brings safety, comfort, soothing and pleasure; loss or threat of loss of the person evokes intense distress' (Perry, 2013)​.

A child's very early experiences and relationships have a significant influence on their development and life chances. When a child experiences security and safety within their close relationships it 'allows them to develop both trust for others and self-reliance'. Children with secure attachments are able to 'attain his/her full intellectual potential, develop social emotions, cope better with stress and frustration and increase feelings of self worth' (Fahlberg, 1991).
 
Early relationships also create a template upon which children base future expectations about relationships (Howe, 2011). When a parent meets their child's needs in a reliable, timely and sensitive way the child internalises an image of themselves as loving and worthy and of others as loving, reliable and trustworthy. If on the other hand carers have been cold, hostile, unreliable or unpredicatable the child will develop a negative sense of self and the world around them.

Children with attachment difficulties often suffer from poor confidence and self-esteem and expect rejection and hostility in interactions and relationships. If a child does not have a secure base, they will not feel safe to explore their environment. This impacts on their learning and ability to handle stressful situations. A child who has not experienced true and safe dependence on a nurturing caregiver is unlikley to be securely independent as an adult.


Research is indicating that a significant factor in creating attachment is positive physical contact with the hormone oxytocin playing a crucial role.​ 

'The acts of holding, rocking, singing, feeding, gazing, kissing and other nurturing behaviors involved in caring for infants and young children are bonding experiences.

Factors crucial to bonding include time together (in childhood, quantity does matter!), face-to-face interactions, eye contact, physical proximity, touch and other primary sensory experiences such as smell, sound, and taste' (Perry, 2013). Carrying is one activity which promotes all of these experiences.  

The role of using a sling or carrier in promoting secure attachment has been studied by Anisfield et al (1990). The study found that mothers who had used a sling were more responsive to their infants and their infants were more securely attached at 13 months than those who had been carried in an infant seat.

The study concluded that 'there may be a causal relation between increased physical contact, achieved through early carrying in a soft baby carrier, and subsequent security of attachment between infant and mother'.

Since this study was carried out, a body of new research is giving insight into the biological basis of touch in promoting bonding and attachment which is discussed further here .


Adopted children have not only experienced disrupted attachments in that they have been removed from at least one caregiver, but in the vast majority of cases in the UK will also have experienced a degree of abuse and/or neglect. These adverse experiences can have a significant impact on a child's development.  

Even when placed in foster care from birth, a number of factors can impact on healthy development such as other children with high needs being in placement and the possibility of emotional distance from the carer due to the expecation of loss (Gribble, 2016).

In many cases babies and children also have high levels of contact with birth parents whilst rehabilitation home is attempted. In these cases children are taken back and forth between birth parents and caregivers, minimising the degree to which they can learn to feel secure with either.

The greater the number of moves a child has experienced the more difficult it is for them to trust in the adults around them and feel safe knowing they won't be moved again. 

Once in placement children who have experienced trauma and loss can be very anxious and find any kind of seperation extremely anxiety provoking, even when parents move from room to room at home. They can find new situations and environments extremely overhelming and over stimulating. Children can have difficulty trusting in the adults around them, and even when removed from harm they often don't have a percieved sense of safety. 

Children who have been abused or neglected have often developed survival behaviours such as unhealthy self-reliance, extremely anxious 'clingy' behaviour or indiscriminate behaviours. Adopters often need to help their child revisit earlier stages of development allowing the child to experience the sensitive, responsive caregiving needed for healthy development.