Attachment goes to court: on attachment in family courts

In 2021 more than 70 attachment researchers published the (open access) consensus paper titled: Attachment goes to court: child protection and custody issues, Attachment & Human Development, DOI: 10.1080/14616734.2020.1840762 (with French and Spanish translations, and more to come)

The paper argues that attachment measures developed for research in larger samples cannot be used in diagnostics of individual cases. But three core evidence-based attachment guidelines may be applied in court procedures, clinical and social work, and in policy: 1) children need stable and continuous parenting/caregiving arrangements, separations should be prevented except when maltreatment is observed; 2) children are entitled to get ‘good-enough’ parenting by non-abusive and non-neglecting parents, but they are not entitled to parenting that serves the ideal of the child’s ‘best interest’; 3) children (and their parents) need a network of attachment relationships including the (grand-)parents, other family members, and professional caregivers to fall back upon in times of (di-)stress.

Tommie Forslund, Pehr Granqvist, Marinus H. van IJzendoorn, Avi Sagi-Schwartz, Danya Glaser, Miriam Steele, Mårten Hammarlund, Carlo Schuengel, Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg, Howard Steele, Phillip R. Shaver, Ulrike Lux, John Simmonds, Deborah Jacobvitz, Ashley M. Groh, Kristin Bernard, Chantal Cyr, Nancy L. Hazen, Sarah Foster, Elia Psouni, Philip A. Cowan, Carolyn Pape Cowan, Anne Rifkin-Graboi, David Wilkins, Blaise Pierrehumbert, George M. Tarabulsy, Rodrigo A. Carcamo, Zhengyan Wang, Xi Liang, Maria Kázmierczak, Paulina Pawlicka, Lilian Ayiro, Tamara Chansa, Francis Sichimba, Haatembo Mooya, Loyola McLean, Manuela Verissimo, Sonia Gojman-de-Millán, Marlene M. Moretti, Fabien Bacro, Mikko J. Peltola, Megan Galbally, Kiyomi Kondo-Ikemura, Kazuko Y. Behrens, Stephen Scott, Andrés Fresno Rodriguez, Rosario Spencer, Germán Posada, Rosalinda Cassibba, Neus Barrantes-Vidal, Jesus Palacios, Lavinia Barone, Sheri Madigan, Karen Mason-Jones, Sophie Reijman, Femmie Juffer, R. Pasco Fearon, Annie Bernier, Dante Cicchetti, Glenn I. Roisman, Jude Cassidy, Heinz Kindler, Peter Zimmerman, Ruth Feldman, Gottfried Spangler, Charles H. Zeanah, Mary Dozier, Jay Belsky, Michael E. Lamb & Robbie Duschinsky (2021) Attachment goes to court: child protection and custody issues, Attachment & Human Development, DOI: 10.1080/14616734.2020.1840762

French translation: La prise en compte des liens d’attachement dans les tribunaux compétents en matière familiale : Protection de l’enfance et décisions de résidence dans les situations de séparation parentale. Devenir.

Spanish translation: El Apego Va a Juicio: Problemas de Custodia y Protección Infantil1. Anuario de Psicología Jurídica.

In the November 2018 issue of Infant Mental Health Journal 4 open access papers were published on the (non-)sense of using measures derived from the work of Pat Crittenden (‘Dynamic-Maturational Model’) in family court disputes and individual diagnoses. We compared the DMM classification systems of attachment with a map of the world sensu Borges:

Jorge Luis Borges (1946; 1999) wrote in his one page story “On Exactitude in Science:

“In that Empire, the art of cartography reached such perfection that the map of one province alone took up the whole of a city… . In time … the Colleges of Cartographers set up a Map of the Empire which had the size of the Empire itself and coincided with it point by point . . . . Succeeding generations understood that this widespread map was useless and not without impiety they abandoned it to the inclemencies of the sun and of the winters. (p. 90)


van Ijzendoorn_et_al-2018-Infant_Mental_Health_Journal ON EXACTITUDE IN SCIENCE- A MAP OF THE EMPIRE THE SIZE OF THE EMPIRE

Consensus statement on disorganized attachment
In 2017 a consensus statement on “Disorganized attachment in infancy: a review of the phenomenon and its implications for clinicians and policy-makers” was published in Attachment and Human Development. The paper is open access, and its abstract follows here:


Disorganized/Disoriented (D) attachment has seen widespread interest from policy makers, practitioners, and clinicians in recent years. However, some of this interest seems to have been based on some false assumptions that (1) attachment measures can be used as definitive assessments of the individual in forensic/child protection settings and that disorganized attachment (2) reliably indicates child maltreatment, (3) is a strong predictor of pathology, and (4) represents a fixed or static “trait” of the child, impervious to development or help. This paper summarizes the evidence showing that these four assumptions are false and misleading. The paper reviews what is known about disorganized infant attachment and clarifies the implications of the classification for clinical and welfare practice with children. In particular, the difference between disorganized attachment and attachment disorder is examined, and a strong case is made for the value of attachment theory for supportive work with families and for the development and evaluation of evidence-based caregiving interventions.

Consensus statement by:
Granqvist, P., Sroufe, L. A., Dozier, M., Hesse, E., Steele, M., van Ijzendoorn, M., Solomon, J., Schuengel, C., Fearon, P., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M., Steele, H., Cassidy, J., Carlson, E., Madigan, S., Jacobvitz, D., Foster, S., Behrens, K., Rifkin-Graboi, A., Gribneau, N., Spangler, G., Ward, M. J., True, M., Spieker, S., Reijman, S., Reisz, S., Tharner, A., Nkara, F., Goldwyn, R., Sroufe, J., Pederson, D., Pederson, D., Weigand, R., Siegel, D., Dazzi, N., Bernard, K., Fonagy, P., Waters, E., Toth, S., Cicchetti, D., Zeanah, C. H., Lyons-Ruth, K., Main, M. & Duschinsky, R. (2017). Disorganized attachment in infancy: a review of the phenomenon and its implications for clinicians and policy-makers. Attachment & human development, 1-25.

Some interviews

‘Children suffer… that’s what drives me’. Interview by Sutton in the Psychologist 2004

“Love” Hormone as Drug for Social Disorders?

Sutton in The Psychologist on ECP keynote 2013 by Van IJzendoorn

Wall Street Journal September 2013 interview with Marinus van IJzendoorn

Published in Child Development Perspectives: Methylation Matters, see pdf under Methylation.

Our correspondence on GENE-BY-ENVIRONMENT EXPERIMENTS was published in Nature Reviews Genetics.

Van IJzendoorn, M.H., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M.J., Belsky, J., Beach, S., Brody, G., Dodge, K.A., Greenberg, M., Posner, M., & Scott, S. (2011) Gene-by-environment experiments: A new approach to finding the missing heritability. Nature Reviews Genetics 12, 881-881, DOI: 10.1038/nrg2764-c1.

Some interviews can be found in the attachments below, one on the Holocaust in a Slovenian national newspaper, and another on differential susceptibility in Bild der Wissenschaft.

Our paper on OXTR and parenting in SCAN was among the top-five highly cited papers in this journal according to the editor, Lieberman, see attached correspondence. Because of our recent meta-analysis on OXTR and human behavior we are now in doubt about the replicability of this earlier finding. See Bakermans-Kranenburg, M.J. & Van IJzendoorn, M.H. (2013). A sociability gene? Meta-analysis of oxytocin receptor (OXTR) genotype effects in humans. Psychiatric Genetics, 24, 45-51.doi: 10.1097/YPG.0b013e3283643684

We also conducted a meta-analysis on experimental studies with intranasal oxytocin administration (‘A Sniff of Trust’ in press with Psychoneuroendocrinology) showing that feelings of trust are elevated but that the expected lowering of out-group trust was not confirmed.

Genetic differential susceptibility demonstrated in an educational intervention study, see

See wikipedia on differential susceptibility: