I have always liked “professional” books like this, since I am a kinesthetic learner, you know, learning by doing. I hated lecture classes in college and I love going to trainings where they give us case studies in small groups to process. Learning by doing is my thing. This book was the first book that I read about attachment issues of foster children with trauma histories that made sense to me. Maybe it is the way Dr. Hughes wrote it, or the fact that I sat through one of his two-day trainings and heard him tell stories and show film of therapy sessions. Maybe it is the fact that in the book, he tells a child’s story, and a story I can follow.
In Building The Bonds of Attachment, Dr. Hughes follows a foster child through placement in a therapeutic foster home, through the appearance of “challenging behaviors,” and into the therapeutic work the child did with this foster mother. He talks about how the child does not have to be in their “forever” family to shift their attachment style to a more secure style, and how they just need that emotional and physically present and consistent parent. He shows how he supports the foster mother to become that type of parent. And he follows as the foster parent shifts her parenting style to be a better parent to the child—the type of parent this child would actually benefit from. And it is all in the story, as well as the underlying theory of why he helps her do what he does.
Building The Bonds of Attachment was my introduction to helping foster and adoptive parents help the children in their care. But it also showed me that what we have been doing for many years-pushing behavioral therapy at children with trauma and attachment issues-is not the fix we want it to be. The work that is done “in relationship” to a caring, emotionally available and consistent” adult is where growth and healing happen. Dr. Hughes helped me see that training foster parents in relationship work is far more important than teaching them to make behavioral charts or assigning chores or making sure that their backpacks are ready for school.
Rachel Kuhr,the Director of Adoption and Foster Care at JFS, reviews Building The Bonds of Attachment. This is the formative and foundational text for adopted families regarding attachment. Rachel's regularly scheduled Dear Director column will return next month.