Intervening effectively at home and in school to improve children’s social, emotional and behavioural outcomes: an evaluation of nurture group and attachment-based approaches

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Larissa Cunningham
Submitted: June 2017

Abstract

Stable, caring relationships in early life are fundamental to children’s healthy development (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2010). The importance of parent-child attachments is increasingly being emphasised within the wider socio-economic and political context (Meins, 2017), particularly in terms of policy development and intervention. As such, it is pragmatic and valuable to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions derived from attachment theory.

A systematic review of the literature was conducted to examine the efficacy of attachment-based interventions for biological parent-child dyads on children’s emotional, behavioural and relational outcomes. 15 of the 19 studies reviewed reported positive change for children in terms of enhanced attachment security, improved internal mental representations of themselves and their caregivers, increased responsiveness and communication with their caregivers and a reduction in externalising behaviours. However, a number of methodological limitations were identified. These included a lack of objectivity in the measures used and limited follow-up data on children’s outcomes. Accordingly, Educational Psychologists (EPs) should reflect carefully before recommending attachment-based interventions and ensure due consideration is given to other factors which may be impacting on children’s functioning, beyond their attachment style. Directions for future research include the use of longitudinal study designs and the use of more objective measures completed by a range of individuals. A review of qualitative studies as well as consideration of outcomes for parents would also enable an
increased understanding of the mechanisms by which attachment-based interventions may be working.

The empirical paper utilised a mixed-methods design to explore the impact of Nurture Group (NG) intervention on children’s social skills. NGs are a short-term, psychotherapeutic intervention which aim to provide reparative attachment experiences for children within an educational setting (Hughes and Schlӧsser, 2014). The social skills of 16 children (aged between 6 years and 9 years 9 months) were assessed through their verbal responses to hypothetical, challenging, social situations. Teachers also rated children’s social skills in problematic, social situations. The Parent-Child Relationship Scale (Pianta, 1992) was completed by parents to assess whether there were any benefits of NGs to the parent-child relationship. Measures were completed prior to children joining the NG and again 15 weeks later. Thematic analysis of six semi-structured interviews with children was conducted to explore their experiences and perceptions of NG intervention in relation to their social skills. Findings suggested that over time, children used significantly more socially appropriate responses. Teachers’ ratings of children’s social skills also improved, although this change fell just short of statistical significance. There was no change in parental perceptions of the parent-child relationship. Children’s own views of NGs suggested that they enjoyed attending and that NGs helped them improve their social skills. However, children also reported experiencing challenges engaging with peers outside of the NG, particularly on the playground. Implications for practice were highlighted, including the need to think about how practitioners can help to facilitate the generalisation of children’s developing skills beyond the NG context.

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To What Extent Is the Thrive Intervention Grounded in Research and Theory?

Authors: Rosa Gibby-Leversuch, Jasmine Field and Tim Cooke
Published: 2019
Publication: Educational Psychology Research and Practice

The Thrive approach is an assessment and planning based intervention that aims to develop children’s social and emotional wellbeing. Despite the increased popularity of Thrive, there is limited research that has investigated its effectiveness. After reviewing the assessment, training and intervention elements of Thrive and the evidence base for the underpinning assumptions, this article considers the evaluative research. Thrive is rooted in attachment theory and assumes that infant development is vulnerable to disruption by poor attachment experiences and that these disruptions can be ameliorated in later life through the development of secure relationships with school staff. The article concludes that, while Thrive is based on attachment theory, which itself is well supported by evidence, how Thrive applies and interprets this theory is less well supported. There is currently limited evidence of the impact of Thrive on children’s development. Other issues and implications of this critique are also discussed.

Gibby-Leversuch, R., Field, J., & Cooke, T. (2019). To what extent is the thrive intervention grounded in research and theory? Educational psychology research and practice, 5(2), 1–8. Available at: https://www.uel.ac.uk/research/educational-psychology-research-and-practice/volume-5-no-2-2019

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TEP Talks Episode 3: How important is playing with your children?

TEP Talks Episode 3:

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Presenters: Sophie Smith, Lindsay Elder, Kirsty Russell, Beckett Markland, and Stephanie Lewis

References: PBL Podcast Reference List (Play)

Special thanks to Dee Yan-Key for the use of the music ‘Peter’s Party’, from the album Fredric would cry.

Supporting children with insecure attachment in school: the teacher-child relationship as a protective factor against the development of behavioural difficulties in middle childhood

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Beth Turner
Submitted: June 2016

Abstract

Internalising and externalising difficulties in childhood have been linked with negative outcomes in later life including criminal behaviour and mental health difficulties. Individuals who have insecure attachments to caregivers are at a heightened risk of developing such behaviours. A systematic literature search was conducted to investigate whether the teacher-child relationship could protect children with insecure attachments from developing into behaviour difficulties. A total of eleven studies were reviewed and nine indicate that the teacher-child relationship can protect students if they are at risk due to negative caregiving experiences or insecure attachments to caregivers. The methodological difficulties of multi-informant reports and low risk samples were explored. Evidence for a protective effect in early childhood was found in two studies however future research should explore whether this impact persists into middle childhood and adolescence and obtain the child’s perception of relationship quality. Thus the current empirical study investigated whether this protection continues into middle childhood. Participants included 163children (aged 7-12) and their teachers (N=41). Children completed measures of attachment security with a primary caregiver and relationship quality with their teacher. Teachers also reported on relationship quality and rated the children’s internalising and externalising behaviours in school. Results indicate that there is a significant correlation between attachment security and externalising behaviours but not internalising. There is also a significant correlation between teacher-child relationship quality and attachment security. Teacher perception of conflict is the biggest predictor of behavioural difficulties. There was no evidence that the teacher-child relationship moderates the relationship between attachment security and behaviour difficulties in middle childhood. Implications for educational psychology and future research are discussed.

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Does attachment influence learning? An investigation in to the associations between attachment, executive function and academic attainment

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Lindsey Foy
Submitted: June 2016

Abstract

In the field of psychology there is a growing interest in the relationship between early experiences and neurocognitive development (Schore & Schore, 2008). It has been suggested that early attachment experiences influence the development of a group of cognitive processes known as executive functions (e.g. Bernier, Carlson & Whipple, 2010). This thesis investigates the association between attachment styles and executive function in children and adolescents. Chapters one and two focus on different age groups. The literature review in chapter one explores the existing studies that consider this relationship in children aged 12 months to 11 years. A number of methodological issues in assessing the association between attachment and executive function are identified and discussed. The empirical paper in chapter two examines the associations between attachment, executive function and academic attainment in early adolescence aged 11 years to 14 years. Students (N=32) completed an attachment questionnaire, three executive function tasks and an IQ test. The results demonstrated an association between executive functions and academic attainment. However, the associations between attachment and executive functions did not reach significance and attachment was not found to influence academic attainment indirectly via executive function. The findings are discussed in terms of future research and implications for professional practice.

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The effects of the teacher-child relationship and caregiver attachment security on children’s self-concept in middle childhood

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Sarah Delo
Submitted: June 2016

Abstract

A positive self-concept is associated with a number of outcomes including school adjustment, academic attainment and mental health. Literature suggests individual differences in self-concept derive from children’s relationships with significant others such as parents and teachers. A systematic review of the literature exploring the relationship between teacher-child relationships and children’s self-concept found some associations, however, this was not always consistently found. Furthermore, a number of methodological limitations in the studies were noted. Implications for future research were reported and included using multi-faceted measures of self-concept and teacher-child relationships, as well as controlling for the effect of other social relationships (e.g. parents).

To address some of these limitations, this empirical paper examines whether teacher relationships (as characterised by closeness and conflict) are associated with children’s global, academic, behavioural and social self-concept, and whether teacher relationships may buffer children who are less securely attached to their caregivers against negative outcomes, such as low self-concept. 163 children (aged 7-11 years) and their class teachers participated. Questionnaires measured child reports of the teacher relationship, attachment security to their caregiver and self-concept as well as teacher reports of teacher relationship quality. Results found that although there was no evidence for a moderating effect of teacher relationships, attachment security was related to children’s global, academic, behavioural and social self-concept and positive teacher relationships further contributed to children’s behavioural and academic self-concept. Teacher relationships were found not to contribute to children’s global or social self-concept. Implications for future research and educational psychology practice are discussed.

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The universal benefits of a sense of school belonging during adolescence: an exploration of the relationships between parental and peer attachment security, shame and pride

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Alicia Halton-Nathan
Submitted: June 2015

Abstract

A cross-sectional design was used to explore the associations between adolescent attachment relationships with parents, and peers and their sense of school belonging, on the role of self-conscious emotions (shame and pride), within a school context. An adolescent sample of 13-16 year olds (n=121) was recruited from two secondary schools in the South of England. Participants completed a daily online diary to measure shame and pride experiences. Results found that adolescents with insecure parental attachments experienced more shame on a daily basis than their securely attached peers; however, this relationship was significantly moderated by a sense of belonging in school. Adolescents with secure parental attachment experienced more pride on a daily basis. Sense of belonging in school was found to significantly moderate the positive relationship between secure parental attachment and pride. No significant relationships were found between peer attachment and shame and pride. Implications for Educational Psychologists and suggested directions for future research are also discussed.

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Supporting the attachment needs of looked after children in education settings

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

Abstract

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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Pillars of Parenting: Exploring Adoptive Parents’ Lived Experiences.

Assignment type: Research Project (Small Scale Research Project, Year 1)
Authors: Alex Gregory, Nikki Samos, Leanne Curreli, Cath Lowther and Hanna Kovshoff
Submitted: Spring 2017

Flawed social, care and education systems have been linked to a high incidence of social, emotional and behavioural difficulties and lower educational attainment for children who have been looked after (Jackson & Martin, 2004). Rather than failing care and education systems, an alternative theoretical explanation for poorer outcomes observed in looked after children, Cameron and Maginn (2011) propose that these children experience “’rejection’ in general and ‘parental rejection’ in particular” (p. 46). This conclusion is based on Parental Acceptance-Rejection Theory (PA-RT), which highlights the need for children to receive positive acceptance from their parents to avoid negative impacts on mental health and well-being (Rohner, Khaleque & Cournonoyer, 2004). Continue reading

Can neurological research increase our understanding of Attachment Theory and improve school interventions for adolescents?

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Lindsey Foy
Submitted: May 2014

Originally introduced by John Bowlby, Attachment Theory proposes that an infant forms an attachment with their primary caregiver during a sensitive period of development and uses this individual as a secure base from which to explore the world (Bowlby, 1979; Bowlby 2008). The attachment relationship that develops forms a template that the infant uses as a reference for future relationships with other individuals. If a child does not form the appropriate bond with their caregiver they are likely to develop an insecure attachment style. According to a recent publication, forty percent of children in the United Kingdom show signs of insecure attachment (Moullin, Waldfogel & Washbrook, 2014). Insecure attachment has been shown to affect cognitive functioning (e.g. Bernier, Carlson, Deschênes & Matte‐Gagné, 2012) and behaviour (Fearon, Bakermans‐Kranenburg, IJzendoorn, Lapsley & Roisman, 2010). Despite the growth of preventative intervention programmes (Moullin, Waldfogel & Washbrook, 2014) research on supporting children who have already developed an insecure attachment is limited. Bowlby’s work does not consider whether attachment style can be altered once an infant has left their sensitive period of development (Mercer, 2011). This assignment proposes that neurological research within this field of psychology increases our understanding of Attachment Theory when incorporated into a biopsychosocial model of attachment. The assignment aims to explore the contribution that neurological research has to the development of intervention programmes for adolescents with insecure attachment. The findings from this developing area of research will be explored cautiously and the implications for Educational Psychologists will be discussed.

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Attachment in the Classroom: How does a secure teacher-child relationship compensate for the negative impacts of an insecure parent-child attachment?

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Hayley Frisby
Submitted: May 2014

It is largely accepted that insecure parental attachments are likely to impact negatively upon children’s social, emotional, cognitive and behavioural development. It is now thought that a warm and nurturing relationship with a teacher can help to compensate for some of these detrimental impacts. This essay examines the extent to which a teacher-child attachment can buffer for poor attachment histories and how this effect might take place, with consideration of these four areas of development. The applications for an Educational Psychologist, in terms of encouraging and promoting secure teacher-child relationships are considered throughout. The essay concludes that in consideration of the evidence, educational professionals need to increase their awareness of attachment theory and of the nature and impact of the teacher-child relationship, as this is likely to help them to better understand and support the behaviour and needs of children coming from less secure attachment backgrounds. Despite large increases in the research base supporting the influence of teacher-child attachment, many adults working with these vulnerable children in schools remain unfortunately unaware of the power of relationships and of the importance of identifying and intervening with these pupils. Given that roughly four out of ten children are thought to have insecure attachments with their main caregiver (Moullin, Waldfogel & Washbrook, 2014), the significance of these insights and interventions that attachment theory and the surrounding research can provide is clear.

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