Attachment goes to court: child protection and custody issues

Forslund T, Granqvist P, van IJzendoorn MH, Sagi-Schwartz A, Glaser D, Steele M, Hammarlund M, Schuengel C, Bakermans-Kranenburg MJ, Steele H, Shaver PR, Lux U, Simmonds J, Jacobvitz D, Groh AM, Bernard K, Cyr C, Hazen NL, Foster S, Psouni E, Cowan PA, Pape Cowan C, Rifkin-Graboi A, Wilkins D, Pierrehumbert B, Tarabulsy GM, Carcamo RA, Wang Z, Liang X, Kázmierczak M, Pawlicka P, Ayiro L, Chansa T, Sichimba F, Mooya H, McLean L, Verissimo M, Gojman-de-Millán S, Moretti MM, Bacro F, Peltola MJ, Galbally M, Kondo-Ikemura K, Behrens KY, Scott S, Rodriguez AF, Spencer R, Posada G, Cassibba R, Barrantes-Vidal N, Palacios J, Barone L, Madigan S, Mason-Jones K, Reijman S, Juffer F, Pasco Fearon R, Bernier A, Cicchetti D, Roisman GI, Cassidy J, Kindler H, Zimmerman P, Feldman R, Spangler G, Zeanah CH, Dozier M, Belsky J, Lamb ME, Duschinsky R (2021)

Publication Type: Journal article

Publication year: 2021


DOI: 10.1080/14616734.2020.1840762


Attachment theory and research are drawn upon in many applied settings, including family courts, but misunderstandings are widespread and sometimes result in misapplications. The aim of this consensus statement is, therefore, to enhance understanding, counter misinformation, and steer family-court utilisation of attachment theory in a supportive, evidence-based direction, especially with regard to child protection and child custody decision-making. The article is divided into two parts. In the first, we address problems related to the use of attachment theory and research in family courts, and discuss reasons for these problems. To this end, we examine family court applications of attachment theory in the current context of the best-interest-of-the-child standard, discuss misunderstandings regarding attachment theory, and identify factors that have hindered accurate implementation. In the second part, we provide recommendations for the application of attachment theory and research. To this end, we set out three attachment principles: the child’s need for familiar, non-abusive caregivers; the value of continuity of good-enough care; and the benefits of networks of attachment relationships. We also discuss the suitability of assessments of attachment quality and caregiving behaviour to inform family court decision-making. We conclude that assessments of caregiver behaviour should take center stage. Although there is dissensus among us regarding the use of assessments of attachment quality to inform child custody and child-protection decisions, such assessments are currently most suitable for targeting and directing supportive interventions. Finally, we provide directions to guide future interdisciplinary research collaboration.

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Involved external institutions

Corambaaf GB United Kingdom (GB) University of California, Berkeley US United States (USA) (US) University of Texas at Austin US United States (USA) (US) Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) CA Canada (CA) University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou) US United States (USA) (US) Seminario de Sociopsicoanálisis A.C. (SEMSOAC) MX Mexico (MX) Université Laval (UL) CA Canada (CA) University of Seville / Universidad de Sevilla ES Spain (ES) University of Zambia (UNZA) ZM Zambia (ZM) Instituto Universitário PT Portugal (PT) Deutsches Jugendinstitut e. V. DE Germany (DE) University of Calgary CA Canada (CA) University of Gdańsk / Uniwersytet Gdański PL Poland (PL) Capital Normal University (CNU) / 首都师范大学 CN China (CN) Maseno University KE Kenya (KE) Université de Montréal CA Canada (CA) University of Sydney (USYD) AU Australia (AU) Cardiff University GB United Kingdom (GB) Université de Nantes FR France (FR) University of Magallanes / Universidad de Magallanes (UMAG) CL Chile (CL) Université de Lausanne (UNIL) CH Switzerland (CH) Simon Fraser University CA Canada (CA) University of California San Francisco (UCSF) US United States (USA) (US) Stockholm University / Stockholms universitet SE Sweden (SE) University of Haifa / אוניברסיטת חיפה IL Israel (IL) University of Delaware (UDEL) US United States (USA) (US) Bergische Universität Wuppertal DE Germany (DE) Yale School of Medicine US United States (USA) (US) University of California Davis (UCDAVIS) US United States (USA) (US) Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) / Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam NL Netherlands (NL) Tulane University US United States (USA) (US) University of Cambridge GB United Kingdom (GB) Leiden University NL Netherlands (NL) The New School US United States (USA) (US) Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC) IL Israel (IL) University of Maryland US United States (USA) (US) University of Minnesota (UMN) US United States (USA) (US) University College London (UCL) GB United Kingdom (GB) University of Bari Aldo Moro / Università degli Studi di Bari Aldo Moro IT Italy (IT) SUNY Polytechnic Institute US United States (USA) (US) Teikyo University JP Japan (JP) Universidad de Talca CL Chile (CL) University of Tampere (UTA) / Tampereen yliopisto (Tay) FI Finland (FI) King’s College London GB United Kingdom (GB) Università degli Studi di Pavia IT Italy (IT) Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU) / University Amsterdam NL Netherlands (NL) Lund University / Lunds universitet SE Sweden (SE) Murdoch University AU Australia (AU) Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) GB United Kingdom (GB) Northumbria University GB United Kingdom (GB) State University of New York at Albany (UNY Albany / UAlbany) US United States (USA) (US) Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS) SG Singapore (SG) Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) / Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona ES Spain (ES)

How to cite


Forslund, T., Granqvist, P., van IJzendoorn, M.H., Sagi-Schwartz, A., Glaser, D., Steele, M.,... Duschinsky, R. (2021). Attachment goes to court: child protection and custody issues. Attachment and Human Development.


Forslund, Tommie, et al. "Attachment goes to court: child protection and custody issues." Attachment and Human Development (2021).

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