in the Foster Care System

"When children are removed from their homes due to maltreatment or neglect, the legal system attempts to provide a safe environment while simultaneously developing a service plan for the child to return home. During the time that the children are apart from their parents their attachment to their caregiver may be impaired while, in some cases, the child begins to form a secure attachment to the new caregivers...

Because of its lasting impact on children’s ability to form healthy relationships throughout life, the importance of secure relationship with caregivers cannot be overestimated.  Permanency decisions must take into consideration what is arguably the most significant psychological variable impacting a child’s development: a secure attachment to a sensitive, responsible, and reliable caregiver."

"Separation from parents, sometimes sudden and usually traumatic, coupled with the difficult experiences that have precipitated placement, can leave infants and toddlers dramatically impaired in their emotional, social, educational, and physical development. Multiple foster care placements present a host of other traumas for very young children. When a baby faces a change in placement, fragile new relationships with foster parents are severed, reinforcing feelings of abandonment and distrust.

Even young babies are capable of grief when their relationships are disrupted, and this sadness adversely affects their development. Early secure attachments with a stable primary caregiver play a central role in a young child’s social, emotional, and cognitive development. Children who have experienced abuse or neglect have an even greater need for sensitive, caring, and stable relationships. Placement decisions should focus on promoting security and continuity for infants and toddlers in out-of-home care...

There are several strategies that can help prevent multiple placements. However, these recommendations may involve a change in the operations of the local child welfare system.


  • Make the first out-of-home placement with a view toward permanency. Whenever possible, ensure that the foster family is also a potential adoptive home.

  • Develop a transition plan for any change in placement. Arrange for the sending and receiving caregivers to exchange information and spend time together with the infant or toddler. Make the change in placement gradually as the baby’s behavior is monitored.

  • Provide training and support for foster parents and child welfare staff to help them understand and mitigate the distress experienced by a baby when a change in placement occurs."


“Most children are entering foster care in the early years of life when brain growth and development are most active…Paramount in the lives of these children is their need for continuity with their primary attachment figures and a sense of permanence that is enhanced when placement is stable.  There are critical periods of interaction among physical, psychological , social, and environmental factors.  Basic stimulation techniques and stable, predictable nurturance are necessary during these periods…

To develop into a psychologically healthy human being, a child must have a relationship with an adult who is nurturing, protective, and fosters trust and security…A child develops attachments and recognizes as parents adults who provide…’day-to-day attention to his needs for physical care, nourishment, comfort, affection, and stimulation’.

Interruptions in the continuity of a child’s caregiver are often detrimental…Any intervention that separates a child from the primary caregiver who provides psychological support should be cautiously considered and treated as a matter of urgency and profound importance.

Placement with a relative has psychological advantages for a child in terms of knowing his or her biologic roots and family identity.  It may offer a better chance for stability and continuity of care giving.  However, little is known about the outcomes of kinship placement, and it should not be assumed to offer a superior home environment.

Generally, assignment of custody should reinforce a child’s perception of belonging and should not disrupt established psychological ties except when safety or emotional well-being are in jeopardy.”

“Young children use their attachment figure as a secure base for exploring understanding the world around them. The relationship between child and caregiver lays the groundwork for interpersonal connections throughout the lifespan. When attachment is derailed, children may display confusing behaviors and struggle to trust even loving, safe caregivers.”


“What is TBRI®? This new video answers that very question. It is our hope that the TBRI Animate will inspire parents and professionals across the world to bring deep healing to vulnerable children.”


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Provided by AdvoKids (Gatowski, S., Miller, N., Rubin, S., Escher P.; Maze, C. (2016) Enhanced resource guidelines: Improving court practice in child abuse and neglect cases, Reno, NV: National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. P76. For Endnote References see pp 100-101.)

Goldsmith et al., Separation and Reunification: Using Attachment Theory and Research to Inform Decisions Affecting the Placements of Children in Foster Care, Juvenile and Family Court Journal, Spring 2004

Cohen and Youcha, Zero to Three: Critical Issues for the Juvenile and Family Court, (April 2004) 55 Juvenile and Family Court Journal 2, pp. 16-17.

videos are resources from the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development.