Building Attachments in Communities:
Attachment Sensitive Interventions

Symposium Program:

Attachment Theory was born from the terrible disruptions to children and their families caused by World War II. The British government asked Dr John Bowlby, through the World Health Organization, to recommend ways to improve the mental health of those separated and homeless children who had been sent to the countryside to protect them from aerial bombing. Instead of feeling safer in the country, these children often ran back to the city attempting to find the security and safety of proximity to their parents. Studying these children allowed Bowlby and colleagues to understand the effects of separation and loss of attachment figures on children, and to propose ways of lessening them.

Attachments are special relationships in which we invest our physical and psychological safety. (Bowlby and his colleagues have argued that infants are biologically disposed to seek proximity to primary attachments, especially in times of danger.) For infants, the quality of their Attachment experiences (to primary caregivers) is particularly significant; it influences brain development, and the sense of security we will come to develop in ourselves. Attachment experiences, (secure or insecure), also influence our later abilities to relate to others, to parent our own children, and to cope with trauma over our lifetime.

Early Attachment experiences are, therefore, essential to mental health, social development and the quality of social relationships. Furthermore, we continue to need Attachments throughout life - from cradle to grave. Yet, according to Bowlby, even though many societies value Attachments and comprehend their role in the health of individuals and communities, "paradoxically" some the world's richest societies ignore their importance. (Bowlby, A Secure Base, 1993). Evidence for this disregard can be found in the low public esteem and support of parenting and childcare; in patterns of social exclusion; in the limited resources for family and mental health provisions; and in governmental sanctions on violations of Attachment relationships arising from, say, economic development strategies, war, torture, dispossession, and migration policies. The long-term effect of these attachment disturbances can be costly to ourselves and our communities.