Supporting the attachment needs of looked after children in education settings

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Kelly-Marie Underdown
Submitted: June 2015


For decades, researchers have identified looked after children (LAC) as a particularly vulnerable group with regards to both their academic attainment and social, emotional and mental health outcomes (McAuley & Davis, 2009). This is often attributed to the impact of adverse early life experiences on their attachment relationships with primary caregivers. Given encouraging findings regarding the impact of teacher-student relationships on children’s learning and behavioural outcomes (see McGrath & Van Bergen, 2015), in chapter one the current researcher conducted a systematic approach to a literature review examining implications for education professionals in supporting the attachment needs of LAC. Eleven texts were identified which provided implications for staff in supporting students’ learning and behaviour. Furthermore, the texts suggested a possible lack of understanding of attachment theory among education staff; hence, providing a potential training role for Educational Psychologists (EPs). Given the lack of empirical studies identified there is a call for more robust research in this field.

Secondly, the empirical study (chapter two) explored one of the recommendations for supporting LAC in schools; namely, the practice of implementing staff as ‘key adults’ (who are intended to provide an additional attachment figure). As there is a lack of research in this field, the researcher explored the experiences of secondary school staff acting as key adults for LAC in one local authority in south-east England. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with seven participants. Thematic analysis of the interviews revealed a rich picture of experiences captured within five interrelated themes: professional responsibilities; approach to the role; personal perspective; knowledge/understanding of LAC; and the wider school context. The findings provided implications for education professionals (e.g. EPs) in supporting both the policy and practice of key adults working with LAC. Additionally, suggestions were made for researchers to further explore whether this relationship fulfils an attachment function (as intended theoretically).

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