Child protection and disorganized attachment: a critical commentary

Sue White, Matthew Gibson, David Wastell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
247 Downloads (Pure)


The concept of‘disorganized attachment’has been influential in child protection practice, often taken as amarker of abusive parenting and purportedly linked to a wide range of deleterious outcomes for children.However, there is considerable controversy about the origins and meanings of the classification. This paper examines the assertions and controversies within the primary science, and poses fundamental questions about the robustness, legitimacy and utility of‘disorganized attachment’as a concept in child protection assessment and decision-making. It shows that, despite a purported association between disorganized attachment and the quality of the parental care the child is provided, there is little agreement in the scientific community on the transmission mechanism and the link between disorganized attachment and later deleterious outcomes for children is weak. It concludes that whilst attachment theory itself provides a valuable contribution to child protection practice,‘disorganized attachment’should be handled with care.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104415
Number of pages8
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
Early online date9 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019


  • Child protection
  • Attachment theory
  • Disorganized attachment
  • Parenting
  • Decision-making


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