Social work’s fingerprint on the evolution of attachment theory: Some essential knowledge for care practice


  • Shirley-Ann Chinnery University of Auckland



attachment theory, foster care assessment, care practice social work, secure-base, adult attachment, care quality


INTRODUCTION: Social work practice knowledge was seminal to the evolution of attachment theory. This disciplinary connection is little known to many social work practitioners. This article seeks to remind care practice social workers specifically of this association, as the social work skills upon which early attachment knowledge was premised remain important to contemporary care practice.

METHOD: Through a three-part discussion, this article aims to deepen care practice social workers’ understanding of attachment theory and its practical relevance for care practice assessment. The first section outlines the watershed moments of the theory’s development. The second highlights social work’s connection to this development. The third and final section reviews the construct of the internal working model and its value for distinguishing emotional differences in an adult’s relational biography.

FINDINGS AND IMPLICATIONS: A key care practice goal is to facilitate the healthy growth and development of children and young people who have been placed in foster care due to maltreatment. A growing number of attachment researchers have found that the internal working model of a child’s new caregivers, with respect to attachment, is an important element in the revision of the child’s internal working model of relationships (Pace & Zavattini, 2011). Thus, care practice social workers need to pay close attention to relational facets in prospective caregivers’ assessments as some literature suggests that practitioners struggle to understand the role attachment orientation plays in the care relationship (Bick & Dozier, 2008).

CONCLUSIONS: This article highlights and elaborates upon the utility of attachment theory for present-day care practice and argues that a deep understanding of this theory is likely to be instrumental to achieving better relational outcomes in foster care. This knowledge is foundational to conceptualising the different relational expectancies that prospective foster parents might bring to a new relationship.

Author Biography

Shirley-Ann Chinnery, University of Auckland

Shirley Ann Chinnery is a Senior Lecturer within the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Auckland. Her research fields are developing reflective capacity in prequalifying social work students through mindfulness; foster care, assessment and attachment. She is currently undertaking her PhD.


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How to Cite

Chinnery, S.-A. (2016). Social work’s fingerprint on the evolution of attachment theory: Some essential knowledge for care practice. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 28(3), 79–90.



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