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Child-Maltreatment-Research-L (CMRL) List Serve

Database of Past CMRL Messages

Welcome to the database of past Child-Maltreatment-Research-L (CMRL) list serve messages. The table below contains all past CMRL messages (text only, no attachments) from Nov. 20, 1996 - December 22, 2017 and is updated quarterly.

Instructions: Postings are listed for browsing with the newest messages first. Click on the linked ID number to see a message. You can search the author, subject, message ID, and message content fields by entering your criteria into this search box:

Message ID: 8786
Date: 2011-01-16

Author:E. Christopher Lloyd

Subject:Re: two questions about common labels

Sheri, Parentification is a term usually associated with family-based models of therapy. It's a process by which a child assumes parental roles and responsibilities with a family system because one or both parents cannot or will not act as a parent. In my experience (I don't know what the research says off-hand), this is most likely because of parental mental health or substance abuse problems, but may also be a result of other individual or systemic pathology. Obviously, parentification is generally regarded as bad as the parentified child is often burdened with tasks they are not ready to handle, experiences significantly greater anxiety, and may come to wield far too much power in the family system. It can be incorrectly applied to children who assume more responsibility in a system because of a large family size, household poverty, or similar circumstance. In this situation, the parent(s) have not abdicated their roles and responsibilities, but rather the situation requires that everyone who can, contribute effort towards maximizing the household's well-being. So older children may help keep house, do some caretaking of younger siblings, and so forth while the adults in the household work (for example). Attachment disorder is a non-clinical (in the DSM system) term that usually refers to a situation in which a child has behavior problems that an observer links to a pathological relationship between the child and his/her primary caregiver. It is, of course, derived from the work of John Bowlby and (later) Mary Ainsworth. Ainsworth and some of her colleagues devised the Strange Situation test to identify a disordered attachment in young children. The problem with the term attachment disorder is that while Bowlby and Ainsworth meant something very specific and well-defined, the concept of attachment has been misunderstood, borrowed, and/or revised by many, many people in its rather short life. As a result, confusion about attachment and attachment problems is quite common. In my experience as a clinical social worker, child welfare workers often do not understand attachment and use the term to mean the child has behavior problems and has a problematic relationship with her/his primary caregiver (usually the biological mother). Rick Barth and some colleagues published a thoughtful paper on the concept of attachment in child welfare. Here's the reference: Barth, Richard P.; Crea, Thomas M.; John, Karen; Thoburn, June; Quinton, David. Child & Family Social Work, Nov2005, Vol. 10 Issue 4, p257-268, I don't necessarily agree with everything in it, but it does address what I think you are interested in. Hope some of this was helpful. Happy reading, Chris --- On Sat, 1/15/11, D F MCMAHON wrote: From: D F MCMAHON Subject: two questions about common labels To: "Child Maltreatment Researchers" Date: Saturday, January 15, 2011, 3:22 PM Two labels that are endemic in child welfare cases are "parentification" and "attachment disorder". These have been around for quite awhile. The source is usually a CPS investigator, a caseworker, or a therapist, sometimes a foster parent, once in awhile an adoptive or step-parent. My question is not really specific, but wondering about your thoughts as to use and/or misuse of these labels. Thanks, Sheri McMahon

Sheri, Parentification is a term usually associated with family-based models of therapy. It's a process by which a child assumes parental roles and responsibilities with a family system because one or both parents cannot or will not act as a parent. In my experience (I don't know what the research says off-hand), this is most likely because of parental mental health or substance abuse problems, but may also be a result of other individual or systemic pathology. Obviously, parentification is generally regarded as bad as the parentified child is often burdened with tasks they are not ready to handle, experiences significantly greater anxiety, and may come to wield far too much power in the family system. It can be incorrectly applied to children who assume more responsibility in a system because of a large family size, household poverty, or similar circumstance. In this situation, the parent(s) have not abdicated their roles and responsibilities, but rather the situation requires that everyone who can, contribute effort towards maximizing the household's well-being. So older children may help keep house, do some caretaking of younger siblings, and so forth while the adults in the household work (for example). Attachment disorder is a non-clinical (in the DSM system) term that usually refers to a situation in which a child has behavior problems that an observer links to a pathological relationship between the child and his/her primary caregiver. It is, of course, derived from the work of John Bowlby and (later) Mary Ainsworth. Ainsworth and some of her colleagues devised the Strange Situation test to identify a disordered attachment in young children. The problem with the term attachment disorder is that while Bowlby and Ainsworth meant something very specific and well-defined, the concept of attachment has been misunderstood, borrowed, and/or revised by many, many people in its rather short life. As a result, confusion about attachment and attachment problems is quite common. In my experience as a clinical social worker, child welfare workers often do not understand attachment and use the term to mean the child has behavior problems and has a problematic relationship with her/his primary caregiver (usually the biological mother). Rick Barth and some colleagues published a thoughtful paper on the concept of attachment in child welfare. Here's the reference: Barth, Richard P.; Crea, Thomas M.; John, Karen; Thoburn, June; Quinton, David. Child & Family Social Work, Nov2005, Vol. 10 Issue 4, p257-268, I don't necessarily agree with everything in it, but it does address what I think you are interested in. Hope some of this was helpful. Happy reading, Chris --- On Sat, 1/15/11, D F MCMAHON wrote: From: D F MCMAHON Subject: two questions about common labels To: "Child Maltreatment Researchers" Date: Saturday, January 15, 2011, 3:22 PM Two labels that are endemic in child welfare cases are "parentification" and "attachment disorder". These have been around for quite awhile. The source is usually a CPS investigator, a caseworker, or a therapist, sometimes a foster parent, once in awhile an adoptive or step-parent. My question is not really specific, but wondering about your thoughts as to use and/or misuse of these labels. Thanks, Sheri McMahon