What is Attachment Disorder?


Attachment disorder is something a foster carer may need to deal with, but what is it and how are carers supported to help children and young people let go of the past and embrace their future?

Foster carers work with children and young people to provide a safe and stable home life. But sometimes, this isn’t enough. There needs to be therapeutic intervention, alongside patience and commitment to help children process issues from the past.

What is attachment disorder?

From their moment of birth, a baby develops a close bond with its caregivers, in most cases, their parents.

This attachment is the very thing that leads us to feel safe and we go on to learn about the world around us, knowing that our parents will be there for us.

Now take that away – what is left? A child is unable to form a bond with their primary caregivers if their parent is absent, physically and/or emotionally.

Children who are taken into care may have been neglected, abused or suffered a traumatic situation that leads them to be unable to form bonds with people who step in to be their primary caregivers: their foster carers.

They may also struggle to form bonds and attachments like other children or young people, such as close friendships at school or appropriate relationships later in life.

Who may be affected by attachment difficulties?

The disorder typically develops at an early age with research and studies into attachment difficulties continually throwing new light on the subject.

Children who have suffered abuse, neglect, separated from caregivers or who live in the care system are at high risk of developing difficulties.

These are general examples but in fact, attachment difficulties between caregiver and child can happen in any situation.

What do attachment disorder and difficulties ‘look’ like?

Children struggling with attachment difficulties may have problems…

  • Expressing and controlling anger – they may express it through tantrums or acting out or, may mask it under socially acceptable behaviour, such as hugging too tightly.

  • Making eye contact – in children, difficulty making eye contact can be a sign of many issues, one of which may be attachment difficulty.

  • With a need to control – their desire to feel in control of a situation can mean a child is disobedient and argumentative.

  • With self-monitoring – this is our understanding of when or why our behaviours need to change. For those children with bonding difficulties, this is more difficult.

  • Showing affection – a foster child with attachment difficulties may show little affection or not respond to it.

  • By seeking affection in the ‘wrong’ people – such as acting inappropriately with adults other than their caregivers

  • Showing remorse or regret – an underdeveloped conscience is also a sign of bonding difficulties.

What does this mean for foster carers?

It seems like a long and daunting list of ‘symptoms’, suggesting that foster children who display signs of attachment disorder are numb and unresponsiveness.

But with the right training and support, foster carers work with children and young people to process the past and form the attachments and bonds that we all need in life.

It takes time, commitment and perseverance. It takes patience, as well as know-how and experience to reach a child struggling to find their place in the world and to love and trust again.

And it can be done, as fostering families have shown!

Foster Care Associates is a well-known fostering agency. Long-established in offering fantastic support to foster carers and the children in their care, why not connect with them via social media or attend an information roadshow?


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