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«Running head: Utilizing attachment measures in child custody evaluations Utilizing Attachment Measures in Child Custody Evaluations: Incremental ...»

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Especially when stressed, he rambles on in his speech, making him difficult to follow. At these times, he expresses his ideas loosely, creating confusion in others.

 His passivity and dependency draw him into escapist fantasies, which are a temporary relief from his feelings of sadness. However, it gets in the way of constructive action and is a particular liability for him, because he makes decisions based on his thinking rather than his feelings. Thinking unrealistic thoughts undermines his ability to take constructive action. In fact, at the end of the evaluation, he chastised himself for having allowed himself to believe for so long that somehow everything would be alright.

 He values collaboration, is interested in others and displays a capacity for accurate empathy.

Paradoxically he does not trust others readily and is especially alert to people and situations that he fears can be dangerous to him. One way to understand these contradictions is that people have to pass a certain threshold of trust, before he opens up to them.

These results point to the following questions about Father‟s parenting ability:

 Will his intellectualization and narcissism make it difficult for him to respond emotionally to signs of his son's distress?

 Would his capacity for empathy and propensity to work on and through his own feelings internally suggest that he could, in moments of emotional difficulty, make accurate inferences about his son‟s perspective? In other words if he reduces his reactivity to his own feelings by working them through, would he then be able to create a psychological space for

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 Would his expectation that people should collaborate with each other enable him to engage in reciprocal play with his son rather than dominate the play or withdraw from it?

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On the MMPI-2, Mother appeared generally defensive, trying hard to look good and to put her best foot forward, a pattern often seen in parents who participate in custody evaluations.

Mother‟s profile was too defensive to draw any reliable inferences about psychopathology. It did, however, provide information about her character, which together with the Rorschach, allows us to posit some plausible inferences about her parenting capacity.

 Mother harbors a good deal of underlying hostility as well as vulnerability to depression. She can be overly sensitive and touchy in interpersonal situations. Impelled to prove that she is right, she tends to justify her actions to others, making it difficult for others to get along with her. She is not very interested in other people, keeps her distance from them, and is not a collaborator.

 Mother is capable of coping with situations she encounters in a flexible manner, by focusing her attention on matters in a way that is neither too circumscribed nor too broad. She has some capacity for introspection; however, her perception and understanding of what is going on around her is often distorted and she does not always think clearly. She uses her feelings rather than her thoughts to influence her decisions. This can work to her advantage, because her perceptions and her thoughts about them often lead her astray.

 Mother was extremely stressed at the time of the testing. Her psychological resources, which

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times, Mother can be very reactive. But in periods of stress, she is far more likely to behave impulsively.

These results point to the following questions about Mother‟s parenting ability:

 Would her flexibility help her to understand her child, or would her distorted thinking interfere with accurate empathy, making it difficult for her to read her child's signals or

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Could her reactivity interfere with her ability to stay attuned to her son‟s feelings?

 Father and Mother are similar in many ways. For example, they each shy away from emotions, leading them to appear distant and emotionally detached. They each experience components of depression. There are times when they can each be reactive, responding with intensity, though it is Mother who is more likely to over-react. She has less ability to contain and regulate her feelings than he does. They also each have individual characteristics that are problematic for the other. For example, Father‟s dependency would make him look to Mother for comfort and nurturance, a demand that would probably annoy her. Mother‟s high level of anger could readily provoke him.

One provisional conclusion or hypothesis we drew from the results of these tests was that on balance, Father could provide Thomas with more attunement than Mother. We then set out to test this series of hypotheses by directly assessing parent-child interaction as well as the parents' attachment-caregiving relationship using three attachment instruments, the Strange Situation, the

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To be sure, traditional home visits or observations of parent and child at play during office visits provide occasions for direct observation, but do not consistently stress the parentchild interaction in a manner requiring some re-equilibration or "repair." Because such stress as observed in the home or office may not be at levels required to activate and thus validly assess the child‟s attachment system and parent‟s interactive responsiveness, such observations may fail to tap into the kind of attachment behavior that it is most important to evaluate (Ainsworth et al., 1978). In contrast, this “disruption-repair” process is purposefully designed into the Strange Situation procedure.

Further, most parent-child observations in traditional child custody evaluations are informal, not standardized, of unknown reliability, and lack systematic scientific validation.

Inferences based on such informal observations depend on clinical judgment, in contrast to nomothetic inferences based on measures of responses to a standardized stimulus. For forensic cases especially, precision and empirical testing that standardized tests offer are preferable to informal clinical judgment.

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Thomas was observed separately with each parent in the Strange Situation. The Strange Situation is frequently described as an “attachment drama,” whereby the child is presented with a systematic series of experiences that were designed to gradually increase his/her stress, need for proximity to and comfort from the parent, and activation of his/her attachment behavior system.

(See other articles in this Special Issue for a more detailed introduction to the Strange Situation Procedure; also Solomon & George, 2008.) To summarize, the child is observed playing with his or her parent in the beginning of the session (low stress). A stranger then comes into the room,

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two reunions with the parent. In the first separation, the child is left with the stranger (increased but still mild stress). In the second separation, the stress is elevated as the child is left alone, then joined by the stranger and then reunited with the parent. The procedure is designed overall to stress the child‟s attachment system only mildly (e.g., episodes are ended if the child‟s level of distress increases beyond his/her own ability to manage it), and is conducted in a manner that conforms to national ethics guidelines. It is coded primarily in terms of behavior during separation and reunion, including such variables as the child‟s proximity seeking, avoidance, and resistance (Ainsworth et al., 1978; Cassidy & Marvin, 1992; Main & Solomon, 1990). This standardized, observational procedure was used to assess the quality of Thomas‟s attachment with each of his parents. The quality of his relationship with each parent is revealed by behavior that demonstrates his ability to use each parent as a secure base from which to explore and learn about the physical and social environment, and as a haven of safety when distressed. This procedure also gives us information on the specific strategies Thomas uses to organize crucial, intimate and highly emotional interactions. Interactive behavior coding is typically done from video tape.

Robert Marvin, an expert Strange Situation judge and one of the originators of the Strange Situation classification procedure for preschool children (Cassidy & Marvin, 1992), coded Thomas‟ Strange Situations in this case. Importantly, as we noted earlier, the Strange Situation enables the evaluator to observe parent child interactions in a standardized and validated context. This has two advantages. First, the presenting situation is the same for both Mother and Father, allowing for more legitimate comparisons. Second, the procedure for observing and coding behavior is based on many years of research and observation across many

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her own impressions of the situation, but can draw on the collective knowledge of a large and diverse research community that has accumulated a large body of knowledge over the past 40 years.

Perhaps the most important insight that the Strange Situation offers has to do with the child‟s competence and ability to adjust to separations as evidenced by the child‟s actual behavior. Consider the following: A child is playing with toys, his parent leaves the room, the child remains with the stranger or is alone, and the child continues to focus his attention on the toys and pays little attention to the parent‟s departure. We might naively conclude that the child is demonstrating independence and the capacity to regulate his own feelings. Indeed, this is exactly what Western child developmental specialists in the mid-20th century concluded based on common sense notions about how “good children” behave (Bowlby, 1951, 1969/1982). Children were told to “be good” and “don‟t cry” when facing stressful situations, such as separation or getting hurt. Attachment theory and research, however, showed just the opposite. Children from all backgrounds and cultures expect parents (or other attachment figures) to take care of them when they are distressed (Ainsworth, 1967; Posada, Gao, Wu, & Posada, 1995).

Developmentalists and clinical child psychologists now understand that young children who exhibit no attachment behavior when a parent leaves them and/or returns in a new situation or with strangers, for example, are in fact inhibiting their attachment needs. While this serves as an emotion-regulation strategy, it is a maladaptive one, having been found to be associated in much research with negative current and future outcomes across a range of developmental domains (see Cassidy & Shaver, 2008).

This failure to show attachment behavior upon separation, and especially on reunion, is

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Marvin, Cooper, Hoffman, & Powell, 2002). The child might move away from a parent and focus on toys upon the latter‟s return because he is inhibiting his own discomfort, distress, and “wired-in” tendency to seek proximity; the parent, unaware of the child‟s successful inhibition, may not attempt to approach and comfort the child. The parent‟s failure to read a cue (“I am distressed as you leave me”) and/or to accept the child‟s “miscue” (“I am sending you a false signal that I am fine even though you left me”) results in a relatively stable, self-perpetuating system or “reciprocal dance.” Rather than the miscue drawing attention back to the child‟s original stressful experience, it reinforces the parent‟s assumption that the child is okay. This only confirms the child‟s belief that the parent is not available when he feels distressed. There is much attachment research over the past 50 years consistent with the conclusions a) that it is the caregiver who leads this reliably measured dance or reciprocal strategy (e.g., Britner et al., 2005), and b) that the pattern usually originated in the caregiver‟s own history of close relationships and emotion-regulation (see Cassidy & Shaver, 2008). The caregiving behavior of both parents, as directly observed in the two Strange Situations, was coded, rated, and classified using the Marvin & Britner Caregiver Classification System (Marvin & Britner, 1995; Britner et al., 2005). A standardized description of the reciprocal, synchronized pattern of attachment and caregiving behaviors for each of these dyads was thus available from the Strange Situation.

In addition to the interaction-based Strange Situation, two assessments were conducted with each parent that measured their representational models or internal working models of their important attachment bonds. One was the Adult Attachment Projective Picture System (AAP).

This assessment presents the parent with an ordered series of picture stimuli portraying attachment events (e.g. separation, illness, being alone). The parent is asked to tell a story about

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attachment history, known to affect later intimate relationships and the quality of that adult‟s current thoughts, feelings, and attitudes regarding intimate relationships. The AAP also provides information about the parent‟s defensive structure and ability/desire to solve relationship-based problems when faced with situations that require providing care, comfort, and assistance to others. This second component is important in recognizing that the parent‟s caregivingattachment relationship with a particular child is not simply a reiteration of the parent‟s experiences from his/her own childhood. These experiences are good predictors for how a parent will respond to stress, including the stress of caring for a child and managing his/her relationship with the other parent. Many individuals who have very difficult and unfortunate histories manage to overcome or “resolve” that history and function very well in close relationships as adults. Research shows that parents who are “flooded” and unable to resolve, or who alternatively “bottle up,” the emotional effects of their early history have disordered and highrisk relationships with their children. But even parents whose thinking about their own attachment experiences is ordered may experience severe problems in providing care for a child who, for example, may be chronically ill, or if the caregiving context is chaotic or hostile (Solomon & George, 2006, in press).

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