Who cares? : The role of attachment assessments in decision-making for children in care

Child welfare Out-of-home care Residential care Children New Zealand Pacific Area
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In this practice-based research the use of attachment assessments to assist with decision-making about the placement of children in State care is explored. In Aotearoa New Zealand care and protection legislation emphasises the importance of working with families. The central decision-making forum is the Family Group Conference where families, their support people and statutory social workers come together to work out a plan for children considered to be in need of care and protection. This research focused on conflicted situations where agreement could not be reached about where children should live.The research was structured around one over-arching objective: the examination of a specific aspect of practice, namely the use of attachment assessments in decision-making, with a view to identifying elements of best practice. Within this were three other objectives: an exploration of the impact of attachment assessments on decision-making processes; an exploration of the experience of participants in this process; and an examination of perceived outcomes for children who have an assessment completed. In order to achieve these objectives the historical and cultural context influencing these decision-making processes was explored; the theoretical framework underpinning the use of attachment assessments was critically examined; recent literature on children's experience in foster care was reviewed; the role of assessment in decision-making was explored; and the use of attachment assessments was evaluated from the perspective of social work practitioners.The outcomes of this research indicate that attachment assessments are theoretically sound processes, which provide relevant information that facilitates decision-making in conflicted situations and the achievement of positive outcomes for children. It was, however, found that attachment assessments have an indirect influence by providing a pivotal point in the decision-making process rather than a direct impact. A number of variables influencing outcomes for children were identified and explored: availability of suitable placements; management of contact with birth family; provision of support networks including attention to ongoing cultural connectedness; and support through adolescence. Children's absence from participation in decision-making was highlighted. I conclude with an outline of guidelines for best practice.

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