The Chief Medical Officer’s report

This report highlights that infants who develop a secure attachment have improved positive interactions during play by the age of one year. Insecurely attached infants are at greater risk of problems in emotional development, and children with very poor attachment experiences are at greatest risk of failure to thrive in early years and behaviour problems, lowered self-esteem and schooling difficulties in childhood and adolescence.

Research has suggested a link between deprivation, the body’s hormonal response to stress during pregnancy and in children and subsequent risk of ill health, which may explain the biological links between adverse and chaotic early life and subsequent high risk of poor physical and mental health. This is particularly important in the area involved in social behaviour.

For some children, forming bonds and attachments may not be easy – for example, looked-after children, children living in chaotic families and children whose parents are incarcerated. Building and encouraging bonding and attachment to develop stable relationships with a parents or where more appropriate carer or professional can help improve outcome for the most vulnerable children.

The impact of impaired bonding in early childhood varies. Children who have been unable to interact in infancy are not able to learn how to form relationships which can cause severe social problems throughout life. Children who have some degree of impaired bonding and attachment during early childhood can experience a range from mild interpersonal discomfort to profound social and emotional problems. In general, the severity of problems is related to how early in life, how prolonged, and how severe the emotional neglect has been.

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