Attachment refers to an infant's innate tendency to seek comfort from their caregiver. Research shows that attachment is important in promoting healthy social and emotional development. Many parenting interventions have been developed to improve attachment outcomes for children. However, numerous interventions used in routine practice have a limited evidence base, meaning that we cannot be sure if they are helpful or harmful.
This research aimed to conduct a large-scale survey to identify what interventions are being used in UK services to improve child attachment; conduct a systematic review to evaluate the evidence for parenting attachment interventions; and develop recommendations for future research and practice.
DESIGN AND METHODS:
We worked closely with our Expert Reference Group to plan a large-scale survey focused on relevant UK services. We then conducted two systematic reviews. One searched for all randomised controlled trial evidence for any attachment parenting intervention. The second searched for all research for the top 10 routinely used interventions identified from the survey.
The survey collected 625 responses covering 734 UK services. The results identified the 10 most commonly used interventions. The responses showed a limited use of validated measures and a wide variety of definitions of attachment. For the first review, seven studies were included from 2516 identified records. These were combined with results from previous reviews conducted by the team. Meta-analyses showed that, overall, parenting interventions are effective in reducing disorganised attachment (pooled odds ratio 0.54, 95% confidence interval 0.39 to 0.77) and increasing secure attachment (pooled odds ratio 1.85, 95% confidence interval 1.36 to 2.52). The second review searched the literature for the top 10 routinely used interventions identified by the survey; 61 studies were included from 1198 identified records. The results showed that many of the most commonly used interventions in UK services have a weak evidence base and those with the strongest evidence base are not as widely used.
There is a need for better links between research and practice to ensure that interventions offered to families are safe and effective. Possible reasons for the disparity include the cost and accessibility of training. There is also a need for improved understanding by professionals regarding the meaning of attachment.
LIMITATIONS: Although the survey had good geographical spread, most respondents were based in England. For review 2 we were unable to access a large number of papers; however, we conducted extensive reference checking to account for this.
FUTURE WORK: There is a need for robust research to test the efficacy of routinely used attachment interventions. Research could also explore why routinely used interventions are not consistently subject to thorough evaluation; how to embed dissemination, cost-effectiveness, fidelity and sustainability into research; and how to keep clinical practice up to date with research developments.
STUDY REGISTRATION: This study is registered as PROSPERO CRD42019137362. FUNDING: This project was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment programme and will be published in full in Health Technology Assessment; Vol. 27, No. 2. See the NIHR Journals Library website for further project information.
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