Permanency is maximising a child’s stability and identity through relationships and connectedness.
Research confirms that permanency in child protection increases the positive outcomes for children in care. Children who have experiences of connectedness, stability and permanency are more likely to have a strong sense of identity and have strong and numerous lifelong relationships—and therefore achieve positive life outcomes.
Attachment theory provides a theoretical basis for understanding the importance of permanency planning for children involved with the child protection system.
Children who receive consistent, loving, responsive and nurturing caregiving are more likely to develop secure attachments. Researchers have found that children who have had the opportunity to develop secure attachments tend to have more positive educational and social outcomes, be more independent, have a stronger sense of self, and have better mental health.
There are largely four accepted patterns of attachment:
- Secure attachment. A child will become upset when separated from their caregiver and show a sense of joy when the caregiver returns. The caregiver has created this sense of security usually by responding quickly and consistently to a child’s needs and the child has learnt to expect this response. A child with a secure attachment will seek out their caregiver when they are frightened or need comfort and reassurance.
- Ambivalent attachment. A child will become extremely upset or distressed when separated from their caregiver. When the caregiver returns, the child may be seen to respond in two ways: either having a clinginess to the caregiver, or avoiding and not wanting to have contact. The caregiver is often found to have given the child inconsistent responses to their needs and been neglectful. A child with an ambivalent attachment will show anxious behaviours, may not want to explore far away from a caregiver, or may cry more.
- Avoidant attachment. A child will not show a connection to a caregiver. The caregiver has often punished the child when they were seeking help and this is often seen in child abuse and neglect cases. A child with an avoidant attachment will not show a preference between a primary caregiver and a stranger when given a choice.
- Disorganised attachment. A child may appear confused, disoriented or not be able to speak about what they want. The caregiver has often been a source of comfort for the child; however, they have also been the primary source for significant fear. A child with disorganised attachment will run to a caregiver and then immediately retreat, and can become upset when this behaviour is spoken about.
Children who are involved with the child protection system are at increased risk of attachment issues because of the likelihood of their experience of abuse or neglect from a parent or caregiver. Therefore, the link between attachment and permanency is important.
Children need opportunities to develop positive and secure attachments with significant others. If they cannot be safely parented by their parents, then they need to have opportunities to develop positive relationships with others. Responsive and sensitive caregiving can assist in repairing attachment difficulties with time and care.
Further information about attachment can be found in Part 2: Permanency: Working with Children.
Attachment equals connection.
This video outlines the importance of attachment and how developing an understanding of it for each child enables us to provide relevant and timely support.
Stability and continuity
Children need stability in order to thrive. Relational and placement stability have been recognised as important factors in enhancing outcomes for children.
Children who experience instability or constant change, like many children in out-of-home care, can have compromised wellbeing, attachment, self-esteem, identity and access to education and health care (Ward, 2009).
Related to stability is the concept of continuity. Children need the opportunity to experience continuity in the activities and systems they are involved with.
For example, it can be beneficial for a child in care to enjoy continued attendance at the same school or sporting club and have the opportunity for contact with significant others such as aunts, grandparents, friends and pets. Maintenance of existing positive connections and activities can also assist children to manage transitions (McIntosh, 1999).
Identity formation is another reason for promoting permanency planning. A child’s sense of self is intimately connected to the nature of their interactions with significant others. Positive interactions can lead to a positive sense of self and identity (Tilbury & Osmond, 2006).
Separation from family, grandparents, friends and community can impact on a child’s sense of who they are. Children often learn about themselves from these sources.
Children in the child protection system are at risk of becoming disconnected or receiving negative perceptions of self. ‘ … such children may have a partial or confusing picture of how they came to be where they are and where they belong.’ (Tilbury & Osmond, 2006, p. 267).
This can be particularly so for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care who may not have opportunity to develop understandings of their spirituality, cultural heritage, connections and Aboriginality (Tilbury & Osmond, 2006).
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