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The Internal Representations of Children and Adolescents in Care

This research project is a collaboration between the Anna Freud Centre, Five Rivers Child Care, and Bournemouth Social Services.  The project explores the internal / attachment representations and needs of children in foster care, and in doing so exploring how this population appears on a number of measures including the Story Stem Assessment Profile (SSAP).

We are also carrying out Parent Development Interviews (PDIs) with the foster carers in order to explore parental mentalization.

The study has a longitudinal component to it with assessments with both children and carers repeated at 12 and 24 months irrespective of whether the child is still in placement in the same foster home.  The project will also incorporate a feedback strand to the research whereby the carers will receive oral and written reports based  on the child’s assessments.

The Anna Freud Centre will be involved in training up to 8 Social Workers within Five Rivers and Bournemouth Social Services to carry out both child assessments and parental interviews.   The training is taking place early in 2013 with a view for collecting the first phase of data during the first half of 2013.

Five Rivers Child Care and Bournemouth Social Services have identified 40 children aged 4 to 9 in foster care where consent from both the Local Authority and the child’s birth parents will be sought.

The plans are to analyse the first wave of data from the child assessments (SSAP, Family Drawing Task and a cognitive assessment) and the carer assessments (PDI and questionnaires including the Parenting Stress Index, Dissociation Experiences Scale, Attachment Screening Assessment, Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire).

It is hoped that the follow up assessments will take place early in 2014.

We are currently in discussion with both Five Rivers and Bournemouth Social Services about a parallel study with older children/young adolescents which has a greater focus on mentalization and which would use a new computer-based adolescent version of the story stems.

Dr Saul Hillman *


Published by Anna Freud Centre

Keywords: Attachment, Foster care, Story Stems, Maltreatment, Mentalization


Hodges, J., Steele, M., Hillman, S., Henderson, K., & Kaniuk, J. (2003). Changes in Attachment Representations Over the First Year of Adoptive Placement: Narratives of Maltreated Children. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry 8(3): 1359-1045.

Hodges, J., Steele, M., Hillman, S., Henderson, K., & Kaniuk, J. (2005).  Change and Continuity in Mental Representations of Attachment after Adoption.  In D.M. Brodzinsky & J. Palacios (Eds.), Psychological Issues in Adoption. Praeger, Westport, Connecticut London.

Steele, M., Hodges, J., Kaniuk, J., Steele, H., D’Agostino, D., Blom, I., Hillman, S., & Henderson, K. (2007). Intervening with maltreated children and their adoptive families: Identifying attachment-facilitative behaviors. In D. Oppenheim & D. Goldsmith (Eds.) Attachment Theory in Clinical Work with Children Bridging the Gap between Research and Practice. (pp. 58-89). xvi, 256 pp. New York, NY, US: Guilford Press; US.

Toth, S. L., Cicchetti, D., Macfie, J., Maughan, A., & VanMeenen, K. (2000a).  Narrative representations of caregivers and self in maltreated preschoolers.  Attachment and Human Development, 2 (3), 271-305.

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