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A Study On Attachment Relationships And Quality Of Caregiving on Children In Foster Care



Carassa A.


Zaccagnino M.


Callerame C.


Cussino M.



The growing number of children involved in the child welfare system in recent years has highlighted the importance of addressing the particular needs of the “at-risk” population of foster children from different perspectives. Research groups working in the field of foster care have especially been focused on the risk and protective factors for the foster child’s wellbeing, like the attachment relationship quality with biological and foster parents, traumatic experiences, and the contact between the foster and biological family during foster placement. In the territory of Swiss Canton Ticino, foster care is seen as a preventive instrument to offer practical help in cases where there are social or familial problems or even to be a reparative alternative in the case of crisis. Policy of the Canton Ticino emphasizes the importance for children and young people, placed in a foster family, to find a balanced and serene environment for their growth and, for the foster family, to experience a real form of solidarity in relation to a child or a youth. The foster family is considered as a family alongside, not a replacement of, the other family: in fact, the reunification of foster children with their biological parents is the primary goal of the foster care system in Canton Ticino. In the light of the considerations stressed in the literature, our goal is to shed light on some of the relevant questions regarding this “at risk” population. One of our goals is to investigate the traumatic life events that characterize the background of both children and biological parents in order to identify the risk factors that could interfere with the healthy development of the child. Moreover, we intend to evaluate the “state of mind” regarding past attachment experiences of biological parents and their caregiving systems. Our hypothesis is that we will find a prevalence of insecure states of mind among the biological parents, and that their caregiving will be characterized by less sensitivity and difficulties in the response to the child’s cues. Therefore, in assessing the quality of attachment of the children with their biological parents we expect to find a high prevalence of insecure representations. This could be considered an additional risk factor for the possible psychopathological onset of the children. Our intent is also to investigate the stressful life events of foster parents in order to identify possible traumatic experience that could interfere with the building of the attachment bond with the foster child. It is therefore important to evaluate the state of mind regarding past attachment experiences and the caregiving behavior of foster parents. We hypothesize that foster parents will be characterized by a higher percentage of secure/autonomous states of mind with respect to biological parents and will show a warm and sensible caregiving to the child. Given the importance of a secure attachment relationship as a protective factor for reducing risk for psychopathology in children exposed to severe psychosocial deprivation early in life, our aim is also to assess the child’s attachment representation with foster parents and the presence of psychopathology in the children. We assume that the possibility of a foster child to experience a more adequate and sensitive environment with high caregiving quality in the foster home could increase the likelihood that the child will develop a secure attachment relationship with foster parents. Therefore, we expect to find in foster children a higher prevalence of secure attachment relationship than those established with the biological parents. It is important to recognize and to take charge of the two families involved in foster placement in order to improve the quality of life of the children and to have a successful outcome of the placement; furthermore it is essential to recognize and understand the possible risk factors that may negatively influence the positive outcome of the foster placement. The innovative and relevant contribution of the project lies in the possibility to provide a significant contribution to the understanding of risk factors involved in the practice of foster care in Canton Ticino, Switzerland.

Additional information

Start date
End date
36 Months
Funding sources
Swiss National Science Foundation / Project Funding / Humanities and social sciences (Division I)