Attachment theory and change processes in foster care
Despite wide acceptance in the multifaceted field of child care policy and practice, attachment theory has found limited use in examining empirically the circumstances and conditions of special populations of children. This inquiry addresses this limitation by elaborating attachment theory as a foundation for contemporary foster care practice and policy. We focus on how caregiving contexts and the nature of their change selects certain characteristics and behaviors as relevant in explaining a child's risk of placement change in, or exit from, foster care. We use data on a population of 3448 foster children over a 21-year period to test arguments that children's strategies for dealing with change can be both resistant and adaptive, and that self-perpetuating patterns of attachment can contribute to increasing rates of change in children's lives. Results strongly support attachment theory as a transactional theory of change. Placement change not only influences the hazard of exit in the manner predicted but also engenders a “liability of change,” with early change influencing the likelihood of future change independent of contextual and child characteristics. From the perspective of this inquiry, future research that omits information on the history and timing of significant changes in children's lives will be limited in its capacity to explain their current circumstances.
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