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Breaking the Cycle of Abuse and Neglect: Attachment in the Context of a Therapeutic Child Care Center for Maltreated Children

  • Author(s): Byrne, Cristal Lynn
  • Advisor(s): Mistry, Rashmita S
  • Howes, Carollee
  • et al.
Abstract

Infants and toddlers the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society are more likely to experience abuse and neglect than children from any other age group. Among myriad other negative developmental outcomes, the experience of maltreatment places children at an increased risk of developing an internal working model of relationships that reflects an insecure, or a disordered attachment relationship pattern. It has been well established that maltreated children are able to develop secure attachment relationships with alternative caregivers (e.g., foster parents, family-members) and that preschool-aged maltreated children are able to develop secure attachment relationships with their childcare teachers. It has also been well established that childcare environments characterized by high levels of caregiver sensitivity, involvement, and positive emotional climate as well as low teacher-child ratios promote the development of secure attachment relationships between teachers and children. However, given the lack of early intervention in the form of therapeutic childcare services for our youngest survivors of maltreatment, the development of secure attachment relationships between maltreated infants and toddlers and their childcare teachers has yet to be investigated. Therefore, this case study of a therapeutic childcare agency for maltreated children documents attachment relationship development between maltreated infants and toddlers and their primary childcare teachers over time and describes the therapeutic childcare context in terms of structural and process quality as well as supports available to teachers. Findings support prior research that suggests that maltreated infants and toddlers, like their non-maltreated counterparts, can develop attachment relationships with their childcare teachers in the context of a childcare program characterized by teacher sensitivity, involvement, and low teacher-child ratios. Distinct trends in teacher-child attachment behavior as well as relationship patterns emerged over time. Further research is required to determine if these trends and patterns can be replicated with a larger and more diverse sample.

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