The relationship a child forms with their primary caregiver influences how a child relates to, feels about, and perceives the world around them and the relationships they will form later in life. The importance of these early attachments in childhood development is something that shouldn’t be underestimated.

If a child is given an appropriate level of love, support and attention, they generally feel safer, more confident and secure to explore the world on their own. However, children who don’t receive adequate love, support and attention from their caregivers often develop insecure attachments. 

At Orchard Fostering, we believe knowing more about attachment styles is a useful way of understanding your foster child’s behaviour and how they relate to their caregivers. Whether you’re interested in long-term or short-term foster care, understanding attachment styles will enable you to better support them and help them in working towards a more secure, healthy attachment style. Remember, there’s also plenty of support and training available from Orchard Fostering to help you. 

If you’re interested in foster care, please reach out to Orchard Fostering today. We’re available on the phone or via email – you can also fill out a form directly on our contact page.

What is attachment theory in foster care?

Attachment theory is gaining increasing popularity as a way to understand our relationships and behaviours. Developed initially in the 1950s and researched extensively since, two researchers John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth discovered that the way in which infants’ needs are met by their caregivers significantly influences their ‘attachment strategy’ throughout the remainder of their lives. 

In child psychology this is a useful tool in better understanding children’s needs and behaviours. In foster care, where children may have had more challenging upbringings and received less attention or care than usual, it’s particularly important to understand the impact that this can have on the way foster children navigate their relationships. 

There are four attachment styles that have been identified in this research. However, it’s important to note that attachment styles are not set in stone but can change and develop with the right care and supports. 

What are the attachment styles? 

Secure attachment

This is the healthiest form of attachment and develops when a child has a secure foundational relationship with their primary care-giver. A child develops a secure attachment style when they feel comforted by the presence of their caregiver. Children feel protected and trust that they have someone to rely upon. Generally, they prefer their caregiver over strangers and are comfortable exploring new environments with their caregiver nearby. In adulthood, this translates into higher self-confidence, the ability to maintain long-term healthy relationships and being able to trust others and ask for help.

Anxious attachment

Children who fall into the anxious attachment category tend to be more insecure and appear ‘needy’. This style of attachment is usually caused by inconsistent caregiving where children fail to trust their needs will be adequately met and therefore feel unsure about their worth or ability to be loved. A foster child with anxious attachment may also suffer from separation anxiety

Children who have developed anxious attachment styles normally suffer from low-self esteem and need more explicit signs of love, reassurance, and affirmation than other children. They tend to become more distressed when their caregiver leaves and seeks out their attention more often because they mistrust their caregivers feelings. Later on in life, people with this attachment style tend to question their own worth in relationships and appear more needy than other attachment styles. 

Avoidant attachment 

Avoidant attachment is one of the insecure attachment styles. Children who fall into this category will avoid their caregiver and won’t seek their comfort in times of distress. Often, these children won’t automatically prefer their caregiver over a stranger as the stranger may in fact be better at providing for their needs. 

Avoidant attachment is formed when the child doesn’t trust their caregiver to consistently provide support and love. Later in life, people with avoidant attachment styles are more likely to have challenges in maintaining intimate relationships. They tend to be more closed off to relationships and have trouble finding and keeping connections with others in their life. 

Disorganized attachment 

Disorganized attachment is the least common form of attachment and usually occurs when a child’s primary caregiver is particularly inexperienced or has physical or mental health issues that prevent them from being receptive to the child’s needs. In this style of attachment, a child desires love and care from their caregiver but is simultaneously afraid of them. This is because in this scenario, when a child displays a need for comfort they’re met with a negative response for example, having their needs dismissed, ignored, discouraged, or punished in some way. This manifests negatively in later life with conflicting desires and actions. Someone with this attachment style will both desire to be loved and cared for but be incapable of accepting that love and support from another due to fear.


The initial learnings a child makes about their place in the world from their primary caregiver have a profound impact on the way children continue to experience relationships. The good news is that these behaviours are learned which means they can also be unlearned. With enough support, love and attention, children with insecure attachment styles can develop secure attachment styles and a healthy foundation from which to grow and develop.

If you’re interested in foster care, please reach out to Orchard Fostering today. We’re available on the phone or via email – you can also fill out a form directly on our contact page.