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Decreasing rates of disorganised attachment in infants and young children, who are at risk of developing, or who already have disorganised attachment. A systematic review and meta-analysis of early parenting interventions

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JournalPLoS ONE
DateAccepted/In press - 22 Jun 2017
DatePublished (current) - 14 Jul 2017
Issue number7
Pages (from-to)e0180858
Original languageEnglish


BACKGROUND: Disorganised attachment patterns in infants have been linked to later psychopathology. Services have variable practices for identifying and providing interventions for families of children with disorganised attachment patterns, which is the attachment pattern leading to most future psychopathology. Several recent government reports have highlighted the need for better parenting interventions in at risk groups.

OBJECTIVES: The objective of this review and meta-analysis was to evaluate the clinical effectiveness of available parenting interventions for families of children at high risk of developing, or already showing, a disorganised pattern of attachment.

METHODS: Population: Studies were included if they involved parents or caregivers of young children with a mean age under 13 years who had a disorganised classification of attachment or were identified as at high risk of developing such problems. Included interventions were aimed at parents or caregivers (e.g. foster carers) seeking to improve attachment. Comparators included an alternative intervention, an attention control, treatment as usual or no intervention. The primary outcome was a disorganised pattern in childhood measured using a validated attachment instrument. Studies that did not use a true Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT) design were excluded from the review. Both published and unpublished papers were included, there were no restrictions on years since publication and foreign language papers were included where translation services could be accessed within necessary timescales.

RESULTS: A comprehensive search of relevant databases yielded 15,298 papers. This paper reports a systematic review as part of an NIHR HTA study identifying studies pre-2012, updated to include all papers to October 2016. Two independent reviewers undertook two stage screening and data extraction of the included studies at all stages. A Cochrane quality assessment was carried out to assess the risk of bias. In total, fourteen studies were included in the review. In a meta-analysis of these fourteen studies the interventions saw less disorganised attachment at outcome compared to the control (OR = 0.50, (0.32, 0.77), p = 0.008). The majority of the interventions targeted maternal sensitivity. We carried out exploratory analyses to examine factors that may influence treatment outcome but these should be treated with caution given that we were limited by small numbers of studies.

CONCLUSIONS: Parenting interventions that target parental sensitivity show promise in reducing disorganised attachment. This is limited by few high quality studies and the fact that most studies are with mothers. More high quality randomised controlled trials are required to elucidate this further.

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© 2017 Wright et al.

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