Child Care and Attachment
For many who come from the tradition of mother-child attachment as an exclusive relationship, a crucial question is: What does child care do to attachment? This section focuses on child care rather than the larger picture of early care and education because the concern relates to long hours out of the home. Preschool, kindergarten, and primary school don’t cause people to worry about attachment for several reasons. The time factor is one. When children leave home for preschool they aren’t gone for as many hours as they may be when in full-day child care. Age is another reason. Children are older when they leave home for preschool, and presumably attachment to family has already occurred. The big worry is when an infant who is still in the beginning stages of attachment spends most of his or her waking hours away from home and family.
From the days of the classic research on orphanages, the term maternal deprivation rings in the ears and sends chills down the spine. Horror stories of old-time orphanages come to mind—babies left to themselves in rows of cribs along sterile walls. The picture is heartbreaking. Those babies had no attachment, few interactions, little power to influence anyone in their lives, a feeling that no one cared about them, and a great lack of any kind of sensory stimulation. No wonder many died and the rest were left impaired. More recent orphanage pictures come to us from Romania and China. Not pretty pictures!
Resistance to creating child care for babies has been strong, but when Clinton signed the welfare reform bill and sent mothers of babies out of the home, that resistance melted. Some still worry about group care for babies—and well they should. It takes special knowledge and expertise to do a good job with babies. Now we know you can’t just line babies up in cribs, change and feed them on schedule, and expect them to be okay while their family members are working.
Luckily we have better models than those old-time orphanages. From Budapest in Hungary comes a different picture. The children thrive in the Pikler Institute, which was mentioned earlier in this chapter. There attachment has been carefully thought through and fits into a comprehensive approach that has been studied by the World Health Organization. According to their results, children who spent their first three years in this residential care nursery end up as adults who show none of the signs of impairment that children from deprived orphanages show. A key factor is the approach taken to attachment described in a book called Loczy: An Unusual Approach to Mothering (David & Appell, 2001).
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