Publication date: October 2019
Source: Children and Youth Services Review, Volume 105
Author(s): Sue White, Matthew Gibson, David Wastell
The concept of ‘disorganized attachment’ has been influential in child protection practice, often taken as a marker of abusive parenting and purportedly linked to a wide range of deleterious outcomes for children. However, there is considerable controversy about the origins and meanings of the classification. This paper examines the assertions and controversies within the primary science, and poses fundamental questions about the robustness, legitimacy and utility of ‘disorganized attachment’ as a concept in child protection assessment and decision-making. It shows that, despite a purported association between disorganized attachment and the quality of the parental care the child is provided, there is little agreement in the scientific community on the transmission mechanism and the link between disorganized attachment and later deleterious outcomes for children is weak. It concludes that whilst attachment theory itself provides a valuable contribution to child protection practice, ‘disorganized attachment’ should be handled with care.