Last week, a group of Mentor Scotland’s staff attended the Early Years Attachment and Trauma Conference, organised by Re Attachment. Listening to Dr Suzanne Zeedyk, who has redirected her career to publicise the importance of attachment, we discovered how understanding the early years is vital not only for kinship care, but throughout society.
In a packed church hall in central Glasgow, Dr Suzanne Zeedyk opened by suggesting that “everyone needs to know this stuff.” She allowed the thought to suspend over the diverse audience of adoptive parents, foster carers, kinship carers, social workers and family support workers, before explaining her reasoning: “Because it offers hope and compassion.”
The author of Sabre Tooth Tigers & Teddy Bears, Zeedyk has spent the last three years spreading the word – and stressing the importance – of attachment. Babies arrive connected, she says; this connection shapes brain development; and society as a whole suffers when babies (and adults) don’t feel connected. “This knowledge,” she compels, “helps us rethink humanity.”
She is not alone. In Scotland, the early years movement has blossomed over the last ten years: Parenting Across Scotland, GIRFEC, the Early Years Collaborative are all examples of policy-makers supporting their belief in the importance of early years with sustained investment (something that sets Holyrood apart from Westminster). Sir Harry Burns, Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, is now framing society’s most pressing health concerns – liver and heart disease, alcohol and drug misuse – in the context of relationships and attachment.
We have known about the traumatic impact of loss and neglect for some time – ever since John Bowlby psychoanalysed the effects of separation on British children evacuated during the Second World War. Attachment theory has developed over the years: we now understand how early years attachment and trauma can impact long-term outcomes. Looked-after children, as adults, represent 27% of the prison population, Zeedyk reminds us.
But this knowledge, Zeedyk urges, cannot remain just theoretical. Psychologists have developed attachment theory; but it is redundant if it is not disseminated beyond the scientists, academics and policy-makers to those caring for children with complex needs on a daily basis. “How can you put together a care service with people that don’t know about attachment?”
For kinship carers, who often look after children with insecure or disorganised attachment, there was a message of hope: “trauma is resolvable if we know what we’re dealing with.” If we could equip everyone involved in caring for children with the knowledge about attachment, we would be much better placed to ensure positive outcomes. And this is exactly what Dr Zeedyk hopes to achieve, by training professionals and carers, publishing resources and delivering lectures on attachment.
But she also believes that the importance of attachment is far more wide-reaching – that this information is not just relevant for care services, and that life would be a lot easier, and “more full of hope,” if more people understood attachment. The decisions we make about caring for our children are inextricably bound up with our vision for the society we want to live in. Further, by understanding how our brains are wired, we become more compassionate to the needs and experiences of others – in adulthood, as well as children.
The importance of attachment transcends across society, which is why Zeedyk spoke to over 10,000 people in 2013 alone – police, social work, teachers, nursery staff – anyone who wanted to listen. Looking around the room, where not a seat is empty, is evidence that more and more people want to hear about attachment; and when all these people, from different professions and backgrounds, are talking about the importance of the early years, it is hard to disagree with her assertion: “the world is changing.”
Photo courtesy of @HendryTina (Twitter).