Primary Experience – Attachment
The importance of relationships in the work of the Mulberry Bush cannot be overstated.
It is believed to be essential for mental health that the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate and continuous relationship with his mother, or mother substitute, in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment.
(John Bowlby, 1953, Child Care and the Growth of Love)
Providing children with new opportunities to develop meaningful relationships in a safe, secure, nurturing but task focussed environment is the foundation stone of the schools work. It is through these meaningful relationships that the child develops their capacity to learn and grow.
Research has also shown a strong positive correlation between the security of the children’s attachments and their capacity to co-operate with adults, to concentrate on play, to persist at problem solving and to be popular with peers.
(Juliet Hopkins, 1991)
From the point of first contact with the school, working relationships are believed to be key to the successful outcomes for the child. The family team work with the referral process which is designed to engage all stakeholders; family /carers, social services, health, education in working together to support the placement of the child. This engagement is vital in giving the child licence to engage emotionally with the staff and in the work.
The Director visits the child at home prior to their start date to establish a working bond between the family and the school.
The twelve week assessment period is spent introducing the child to the structures, rules and boundaries of the school. The assessment staff house has a higher staffing ratio to enable high levels of individual preoccupation to the individual needs of each child. This level of attentive attunement and the relationship established is used to consciously inform how the treatment plan is individually adapted for each child; a plan overseen throughout the child’s stay by their treatment team (key worker, teacher, psychotherapist, family worker, team manager). All transitions are carefully thought about for each child and so the child, before the end of the assessment period, will be introduced to the staff member who will be their key worker in their new parallel house. This move takes place at around 12 weeks into the child stay.
The key worker’s role is very important in maintaining high levels of pre-occupation with and for that child, ensuring that at no point are their needs overlooked. However, it is not expected that their relationship is a ‘special’ one, although this is often the case because of the child’s experience of being held so closely in mind. The most important/formative relationships may develop with any staff member. Our experience is that children often develop strong attachments to a number of staff members.
The children placed at the school have usually found the intensity of the relationship in a small family unit overwhelming, leading to birth family and foster/adoptive family breakdown. The larger staff team seems to dilute the intense experience of finding a place in a small family dynamic and give the opportunity for both; initially the attachment to a larger number of staff members, followed by the more intense attachment to one or two as the experience of more appropriate and satisfying relationships are survived and even enjoyed by the child. We are clear that these relationships should be, on the adult’s part, consciously thought about and planned. This avoids the staff engaging in relationships with children that may lead to a repeat of previous confusing or unhelpful attachment patterns.
The importance of attachments is seen throughout the child’s placement and powerfully felt during their last year at the school when plans are made for the child’s transition to a secondary school and home.
The opportunity for a carefully planned ending to the child’s time at the MBS is very important. It is often a new experience for the children placed, whose previous experience of ending has been unplanned, chaotic and confusing.