Attachment Disorder in Orphanages

boy not listening to parent holding ears

Attachment Disorder
listening style

The Attachment Disorder problem is the elephant in the room ignored by the international orphanage system, the foster parenting system and the adoption system/industry. This is systematic. This denial is found in Poland, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Sweden and the United States. There are individuals in these systems who understand and try to deal with the problem, but generally speaking there is a denial of Attachment Disorder.

Attachment Disorder is probably the most common underlying cause of emotional and behavioural problems in the Polish orphanage system. It is easier and cheaper to medicate a child into compliance than to take the children’s dysfunctional attachment seriously. We believe that treating the cause and not the symptoms is the best way to treat any emotional disorder. We also believe the condition is serious for the individual, even when it is sub-clinical, or does not fit the standard diagnosis perfectly.

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Signs of attachment disorder are frequently seen in the behaviour of younger children in orphanages. Many visitors to an orphanage think small children running up to them and hugging, holding their hand and craving attention are children’s starved of love. While the children are starved for love and attention, running up indiscriminately to strangers and hugging them is a pathological behaviour. This love starved behavior is followed by the child heading off in some direction apparently oblivious to the adult they had just hugged so lovingly. It is like they have an on-off switch.

Simplified, attachment disorder is caused by the lack of ability to trust. To tell someone who is unable to trust, “Trust me!” is like telling a blind person to “Look!” Trust is something most of us are born with. A young infant does not learn to trust, the infant trusts by default. It is through experiencing neglect and abuse that the child learns not to trust.

Attachment Disorder symptoms are defined by a set of dysfunctional social behaviors resulting from the child being unable to form secure attachments to its caregivers. The child needs to trust and feel safe, yet is feaful and unable to trust. This causes an internal conflict and confusion. If left untreated this behavior will continue into adult life and affects family relationships, social interactions and workplace relationships. There is even a risk it will develop into personality disorders, like Borderline Personality Disorder.

Attachment Disorder in adults has disastrous results with serial relationship problems, and especially with mothers who have Adult Attachment Disorder, as they are unable to bond with their own babies. This perpetuates the attachment disorder problem into the next generation. Many of the children in the orphanage system have a parent who was raised in the orphanage system, and even a grandparent.

Unfortunately Attachment Disorder is not in the forefront of psychology/psychiatry today, as the modern fashion of focussing on the biological model has taken over. The biological model in modern psychiatry leads to relying on medication to blunt the child’s aggressive or obnoxious acting out behaviour, rather than deal with the deep emotional trauma that is causing the child’s stubborn and rebellious conduct.

The main reason is simply that it is easier to diagnose something that medicates the child into compliance rather than deal with the child’s emotional trauma. Adoption agencies, and the institutional orphanage systems do not have the resources to deal with this attachment problem. Adoption agencies avoid this topic, as it would affect their whole business model. Orphanages are understaffed and under resourced meaning that the staff would be quickly burned out emotionally if they would reach out to a child showing attachment disorder symptoms.

Children learn positive life-skills intuitively through interaction with significant adults whom they trust and in overhearing conversations among adults. These opportunities do not exist in the orphanage system, which is geared to care for the children’s physical needs, but lacks resources to help these children heal emotionally and psychologically. The staff have limited resources. Any criticism of the system should be directed at short-sighted politicians focussed on the next budget and the next election, instead of the next generation. Attachment Disorder is one of the more difficult disorders to deal with in an institutional orphanage setting as it requires one-on-one bonding with a carer.

Agape Trust needs support to be able to help young people who have been raised in the orphanage system to adjust to a life outside the institution and lead meningful lives in their communities.

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An adoptive father’s lessons learned about Attachment Disorder