Attachment and coping strategies in middle childhood children whose mothers have a mental health problem: Implications for social work practice

Judi Walsh, Gillian Schofield, Gillian Harris, Panos Vostanis, Femi Oyebode, Helen Coulthard

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5 Citations (Scopus)


Mental health has implications for the quality of relationships within a family, particularly between parents and children, but also between other family and non-family members. Previous research has investigated parental reports of attachment in families with mental health problems, but relationship representations as experienced by these children, especially in middle childhood, have not been so frequently investigated. An understanding of children’s representations of attachment relationships and the different coping strategies that may result is important for social work practice when offering support, not only to the children, but also other family members. Methods of investigating attachment, such as the Separation Anxiety Test, have been used to understand the relationship issues, fears and coping strategies of other vulnerable children, and this study was designed specifically to investigate relationship issues in middle childhood children whose mothers had previously been hospitalized with mental health problems. We found that these children tended to be less emotionally open and secure, and generated fewer adaptive coping strategies than children whose mothers had never had mental health problems. Other themes also emerged from the interviews, such as a sense of trust in the parent–child relationship and the ‘containment’ of fears. Implications for social work practice are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-98
Number of pages18
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2009

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