Attachment theory evidence not admissible in care order case, judge rules

A judge has criticised the attachment theory evidence submitted by a local authority trying to prevent a care order being dismissed

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A judge has heavily criticised a local authority and said that attachment theory is not admissible as expert evidence in a case regarding the discharge of a care order.

Judge Mostyn, said Carmarthenshire council and foster carers for an eight-year-old boy who had been in care for two years had opposed a birth mother’s application in a “trenchant manner” and made “generalised criticism” of her parenting.

“Indeed, it was very hard to pin down within the swathes of text what exactly was being said against the mother,” Mostyn said.

He criticised the attempted use of attachment theory, submitted in a report by an independent social worker, to justify the child remaining with his foster carers because of the strength of the child’s bond with them rather than returning home, which the mother wanted.

The local authority relied on the strength of the attachment and no track record of hands on parenting by the mother and her partner as evidence why the application to dismiss the order should not succeed.

Mostyn said for expert evidence to be admissible in civil proceedings it must be:

  • Contained within a recognised body of expertise governed by recognised standards and rules of conduct relevant to the question which the Court has to decide; and
  • Of such a nature that a person without instruction or experience in the area of knowledge or human experience would not be able to form a sound judgment on the matter without the assistance of a witness possessing special knowledge or experience in the area.

He therefore ruled that evidence on attachment theory could not be admitted as expert evidence, and seemed to the judge to be “no more than a standard welfare officer recommendation” being made by the authority.

He added the recommendation did not “place any weight at all on the principle of proportionality, or on the right to respect for family life, as explained by me above, let alone on the positive duty of the local authority to take measures to achieve a reunification of the blood family”.

He concluded that he did not think that evidence was admissible, and added it provided “no assistance”.

‘Entirely wrong’

“It seems to approach the question from the entirely wrong end, namely by asking whether there is any good reason why the stable placement with the foster parents should be disturbed. The law is clear, however. The relevant question is instead: is there any good reason why the mother cannot resume the care of her child,” Mostyn said.

He concluded: “In any future case where it is proposed that expert evidence of this nature is adduced I would expect the court to determine the application with the utmost rigour, and with the terms of this judgment at the forefront of its mind.”

In a piece for Community Care, attachment theory expert Professor David Shemmings said the use of attachment is not “irrelevant” but, used properly, “contemporary attachment theory and research can offer powerful insights into parent-child interactions”.

He said attachment theory and research is best used “when aimed at helping family members understand some of the complexities of what’s going on; but too often, it seems, attachment theory is used as a stick with which to beat them”. 


At a previous review hearing for the care order, the judge had ordered a six-month period of contact between the mother and the child, however the foster parents responded “very uncooperatively and antipathetically” to it.

He added that the local authority’s evidence against the mother was “extremely long” and included “generalised criticism”. It lacked “any concrete examples of where and how the mother’s parenting had been deficient”.

“The objections to the success of the application are inconsequential, trivial and insubstantial and have been, in my judgment, advanced to give effect to a predetermined end.”

He concluded that the care order should be dismissed, and replaced it with a one-year supervision order to ensure the child’s return to his mother’s care is successful.

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7 Responses to Attachment theory evidence not admissible in care order case, judge rules

  1. Catherine June 28, 2018 at 11:44 pm #

    I find this ruling a breath of fresh air. Children turn into teenagers and then into adults. To go through into adulthood having been separated and not brought up by people who you look like sound like who you are related to forever having to explain why you don’t look like your care givers. Being prejudged on behaviour being overanalysed because you are considered “damaged” or “vulnerable”. Society loves young children who are ” looked after” but as soon as that child becomes a teenager or young adult they are judged as a bad sort assumptions are made. Looked after children/ teenagers experience enormous prejudice. Don’t assume readjusting to living back with your genetic family is ever going to be as hard as going through life trying to fit in to a non genetic situation. It is also well known that many placements break down. I cannot express to you how it feels to look face to face with genetic members of your family and for the first time hear someone who talks like you, who smiles like you who has mannerisms nobody else you know has. To have someone tell you what your first words were.To realize you have been denied a normal conventional life. So many adults who have been through the care system have mental health issues and that is because the older you get the more you realize how professionals have made decisions which have ensured you are labelled judged and your life has immediately been made complicated.Society needs to change a great deal before looked after children will have normal fully nurtured and non judgemental experiences. It is vital to keep children safe from violence but emotionally it’s one thing to have a bad relationship with your own genetic family but having a bad relationship with someone who is not genetically related to you is far more likely to break down beyond repair. Another huge error is isolation of the child from extended family and friends. In fact in order to become a looked after child you pretty much lose everything you know. As an adult you would think very hard about moving to Australia but you still have the ability and autonomy to make that choice and to retain contact with those who are important to you. This is what it is like for a child but they have no choice no power or autonomy to keep what is important to them and probably sometimes the inability to express what they want and feel. Anyhow I think theories are just that and meant to be questioned. It can be easy to be persuaded by pseudo psychology by organisational culture by fear by social pressures but as long as there are always people around willing to question and challenge then hopefully the best conclusions will be made.

    • AnnaJo July 17, 2018 at 11:15 pm #

      As an adopter of two beautiful boys, who fortunately for them “look like” us, I am deeply disturbed by your attitude and pray that you do not come into contact with people like me who provided a loving yet “non genetic” situation for their children, in your everyday role. You claim that teenagers who do not live with their birth families face discrimination and judgement, which I do not disagree with, yet it appears that the one with the most significant prejudice is you. To claim that removing a child from birth family is denying them “a normal conventional life” is staggering as children are not removed from their birth families that are providing a “normal conventional life” in any example I have ever come across; unless we have a fundamental difference in understanding of what normal and conventional actually means.

      Incidentally, I believe that in every instance, the priority should be keeping families together but to seemingly suggest that returning children to birth families, despite not knowing the specifics as the “best conclusions” is purely based on your firmly held beliefs . I agree with most commentators on this post that on the evidence given in the article the judgment made was the correct one but I hope that you and several other posters on this site over the last few months realise how much you debase and insult our families and I will use these words to help me understand the prejudice my sons will face as they enter adolescence and beyond (providing our home doesn’t break down first as we do not share DNA- I’ll let you know).


  2. Meme June 29, 2018 at 9:53 am #

    YES!!!! A judge with common sense and a sound knowledge of the law as it pertains to children’s right!

  3. Kath Davis June 29, 2018 at 2:53 pm #

    Well what a breath of fresh air to hear such common sense from the Judge, what a shame, that the same common sense approach isn’t followed in every scenario, then there would be far fewer traumatised children in the care system, it’s one thing to genuinely keep a child safe from harm initially but to actually create trauma for them long term for what can only be described as spurious reasons is rather disturbing.

  4. Just A carer June 29, 2018 at 3:45 pm #

    Well – I can see both sides of the picture but its not all black and white. Some parents are sadly lacking full stop and thats why the child is removed in the first place and end up in care – enter the likes of me – who deal with such children who are dragged through all sorts of hell because the ‘parents want’ and the ‘parents can’ – where are the childrens rights when the children don’t want this? When they are traumatised with every contact and play up for days after – are ill and crying when they split from the only ‘care giver’ they know?!

    The law is an ass and the system fails the very people it is supposed to support and the people who place these little ones in the very system that is there to protect them just make them more confused and traumatised, using the law to their own ends and the child is left dangling and messed up, and the care giving family is left distraught and strained with no support – the system fails – full stop!

    How anyone can cheer such a decision is obviously very blinkered – or very one sided!

    • Joseph Griffin July 6, 2018 at 3:45 pm #

      As a parent of a recently diagnosed ASD teenager my son is now in a placement 50miles from his friends and contact with both them and myself have been restricted heavily due to his behaviour following contact. Whilst under investigation for parental abuse my son was excluded from school due to mental health, that what the exclusion letter stated. I have been trying to get help for him since 2015, in 2016 he was found unconscious at school, self strangulation. If that had been an adult something may have been done relatively quickly. Instead we received a few camhs appointments, school were uncooperative to the extreme. As his anxiety increased his ASD became very PDA, but although LA and school knew of this situation regarding assessment no support came. My child is 50 miles away from all he knows and loves because the pressure of the last 3 years broke me. I’m not a perfect parent, but neither my son nor myself deserve this treatment. Yeah sure, I can officially complain and believe me when I say its in the pipeline. But the emotional trauma of this situation has resulted in my son now being a school refuser, still a self harmer, still needing therapy and still being ignored.

  5. maria July 16, 2018 at 9:27 pm #

    LA’s need to stop removing/taking kids into care & causing more trauma to them! More supervision orders need to be made instead of care orders & children need to be placed with family/close friends instead of foster carers! No kid likes being in care or living with strangers or being isolated from their families & their identity, culture & heritage taken away from them!