Building Stronger Children: Attachment Theory in the Context of Child Protection in Ontario

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McGrath, Karla
Child Welfare , Attachment Theory , Child Protection , Permanency Planning , Attachment , Law
The psychological concept of attachment began to take hold in the 1950s and 1960s. This time period also began a significant period of social and legislative change impacting on the field of child protection. These social science and legal developments have been mutually reinforcing and this thesis examines those developments over the course of the 60 years since Attachment Theory first emerged from the work of John Bowlby. This examination will include a review of the fundamentals of Attachment Theory with a particular focus on the implications of those developmental lessons on the circumstances of children removed from the care of their families due to risk or maltreatment. Following a review of the fundamentals of Attachment Theory, this examination will review the influence of those principles on the laws of child protection in Ontario – through changes in the legislation and through decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada and the Courts of Ontario. Finally, this thesis will examine some of the ways in which the attachment needs of Ontario’s children are being served or failed with regard to both the need for early establishment of permanency for children as well as the continuity of the care arrangements for children up to and including the point at which permanent plans are established. This examination of the legislation and the case law will demonstrate that Ontario has seen a progressive shift away from family reunification as a fixed priority and toward the examination of each child’s individual developmental needs. This includes an acceptance of the application of Attachment Theory and its principles as one significant means of describing those needs and assessing the best interests of children.
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