Thursday, January 17, 2019: 3:15 PM-4:45 PM
Golden Gate 6, Lobby Level (Hilton San Francisco)
Cluster: Child Welfare (CW)
Suzanne Brown, PhD, Wayne State University
Ruth Paris, Ph.D., Boston University
Attachment is the behavioral system by which infants and very young children engage in proximity seeking behaviors to gain proximity to an attachment figure when in need of protection and support. Through this system of behaviors, and the caregiver's response to them, the child develops internal working models of attachment relationships, networks of memories of important interactions with early caregivers that remind individuals of what to expect in current and future close relationships. Parents' internal working models, developed during their own childhood, exert considerable influence on parents' perceptions (aka representations) of their infant, the parent-infant relationship, and on actual parenting behavior. Negative perceptions of the infant are often associated with parenting insensitivity, indifference, and in some cases child maltreatment. This symposium will highlight four papers that examine attachment related perceptions of infants during the pre- and postnatal periods. Risk and resilience factors for the development of negative parental perceptions of infants, associations between prenatal and postnatal attachment-based representations, methods for assessing attachment based representations, and an intervention to enhance attachment bonds between young mothers and infants will be presented. These papers are united by their strong theoretical orientation, that of contemporary attachment theory which underscores the importance of internal working models or representations of the infant to parenting behaviors and child development outcomes. All authors in this symposium apply concepts from contemporary attachment theory to understand, assess, and intervene with early caregiver-infant relationships, to improve sensitive parenting and decrease risk for child maltreatment. In the first paper, “Prenatal attachment is associated with attachment-related representations at child age 30 months among young mothers,” Medina, Edwards, & Hans examine the relationship between prenatal and postnatal attachment representations of the infant among 182 young adult mothers. They find that prenatal attachment is associated with postnatal representations of the child including acceptance, infant difficulty, and helplessness in the parenting role. The second paper, “Parent's history of childhood emotional neglect is associated with negative attachment-related representations of infants in utero” (Brown, Asher, & Dayton), explores the role of emotional neglect as a risk factor for negative representations of the infant in the prenatal period, as well as social support as a protective factor, with 102 expectant mothers and fathers from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. They find that childhood emotional neglect and current social support are associated with parenting representations, including resentment, sensitivity, and anger. In the third paper, “The development of a new short interview protocol for assessing parental reflective functioning”, Adkins presents a new tool she developed for assessing one aspect of parents' internal working models-reflective functioning (PRF). This measure shows promise as a brief, practical, and sensitive measure for both research and practice. Finally, in the fourth paper, “Infant carrying as an intervention to promote mother-infant attachment: Evidence from an RCT with teen moms”, Williams finds that mothers in the intervention group showed more positive attachment behaviors with their babies than those in the control group. Her findings offer a cost-effective and simple intervention to improve attachment in high-risk mother-infant dyads.
* noted as presenting author
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