A Safe Place – Attachment and Bonding
We all need and long for a safe place – a location or person giving us space to wholly be ourselves and find comfort. Most people realize that they need relationships in which safety and freedom of identity exist. Clinicians call this attachment and bonding.
But what happens when we lack a place of security and protection, especially at a young age? Attachment and bonding being to break down. Louise Michelle Bomber recently wrote about attachment design and issues in childhood development for a charity in the UK, Home for Good. Home for Good shares many of the values of CIF, as it aims “to make adoption and fostering a significant part of the life and ministry of the Church in the UK.” While Ms Bomber’s article is focused on Christian communities, it holds value across cultural, socioeconomic, and religious bounds.
When the Family Unit Collapses
CIF works with children who have lost the very thing best designed to keep them safe; whether because of death, abuse, abandonment, poverty, or a host of other reasons, they have been left without families.
As a result, these children struggle with attachment issues. Bomber writes, “… relational disruption in early childhood can lead to children feeling extensive distrust and a fear of vulnerability, avoiding intimacy at all costs.” On top of this, the trauma they experience affects their brain development, psychological development, and even has links to extreme physical health issues. Yes, even illness can be significantly linked to early childhood trauma.
That’s why we work to keep children in loving families, trying to overcome whatever hurdles are in the way of that outcome. If the hurdle is poverty, CIF strives to provide income-stabilising ideas and stability to families. If a child can stay in their birth family, they can maintain the healthy attachments they already have with parents and siblings.
However, if death or unhealthy situations separate a child from their parents, we work to provide children with a long-term family-placement where they can form new bonds, feeling safe and loved, and have freedom of self-expression while growing and learning.
Attachment and Bonding and Boundaries
Depending on how long a child has been exposed to trauma, as well as each their genetic and mental make-up, they can have trouble attaching and bonding with a new family. Ms Bomber’s suggests, first and foremost, honoring boundaries set by the adoptive or foster parents. It may be unhelpful for children to have to deal with too many significant adults in their lives, as the lines around family roles – Who is my parent? Who cares for me? – may become blurred. Bomber writes, “In some cases it may be appropriate for you not to particularly engage with some children, as their parents or carers may be seeking to limit the amount of relationships the child is developing in order to help the child build good attachments with the significant people in their lives.” At the same time as CIF provides care and support to the children we work with, our first goal is for them to view their carers as the most important adults in their lives, so we aim to walk the difficult balance between “present and supportive” and “hands off”.
Ms Bomber has also written a second article on smoothing a child’s transition into a new family unit. While not every one of her suggestions is appropriate to the context in Cambodia, most of the principles she talks about are cross-culturally appropriate, and we appreciate her willingness to share her expertise. You can read more of her work if you hit the links below.