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Getting to know a young person’s needs

Using attachment theory

Understanding attachment is essential to St Christopher’s work. We use theory and evidence to learn and develop alongside our young people.

We have partnered with academics at the Centre for Abuse and Trauma Studies (CATS) at Middlesex University for a number of years to collect data about the attachment styles of young people in care.

Our assessment tools, co-developed with the team at CATS, help us to identify a child’s needs, target our support and track their achievements – something which no other provider can match.

What is attachment theory?

Attachment theory looks at the way a person interacts and builds meaningful relationships with the people around them. By understanding someone’s attachment style, we can anticipate how they will react in certain situations and provide the right type of support. If a young person displays an insecure attachment style, this can be broken down into one of three categories:

  • ‘Anxious’ (enmeshed or fearful) – high need for company, fear of separation or rejection
  • ‘Avoidant’ (angry-dismissive or withdrawn) – mistrust, constraints on closeness, high self-reliance and anger .
  • ‘Dual’/ ‘disorganised’ (based on a mixed style) – both anxious and avoidant characteristics

Analysis of our pioneering work with CATS has shown a reduction in mixed or disorganised attachment styles, improvement in young people’s ability to relate to others and a decrease in levels of anger, mistrust or rejection.

Partnering with CATS has enabled us to develop bespoke attachment tools that provide reliable, holistic assessments for young people in our care. The tools help us to identify a young person’s needs, target our support and track their progress.

Attachment Style Interview (ASI)

ASI is used with young people coming into our children’s homes with pronounced disordered attachment. It provides a baseline assessment of their relationships to date and shows whether they have a secure or insecure attachment style.

Once an ASI has been completed, our staff use their knowledge to tailor a care plan that will help a young person to overcome any challenges and flourish as an individual.

Q Pack Assessments

The Q Pack is a series of self-report questionnaires that provide an on-going measure of a young person’s well-being. They are made up of three standardised assessments (Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, Vulnerable Attachment Style Questionnaire and Recent Life Events Questionnaire) looking at life events, attachment style and symptoms of psychological disorders.

When a young person moves in with us, they complete a Q Pack with support from their key worker. Their care staff and teachers also fill one in, so we can take on board other professionals’ opinions before deciding the best care plan.

Thanks to this tool we can monitor the effectiveness our support, identify when to make referrals to more specialised services, and continually improve the care we provide to match a young person’s evolving needs.