Attachment Relationships in Long-Term Foster Care
: The Function and Role of Animals

  • Ben Rockett

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This PhD research investigated the effect of animal presence in long-term foster care through the lens of attachment theory. Previous research has supported the notion that animals may facilitate human-human relationships (Beck & Madresh, 2008; Bernstein et al, 2000; Fine, 2000; Kruger & Serpell, 2006; O’Haire, 2013; Olex, 2003; Sanders, 1999) and improve aspects of relational abilities such as care, empathy, and love (Plakcy & Sackson, 2006; Walsh, 2009a). Other research has suggested human-animal relationships may be beneficial to the facilitation of positive attachment representations and that insecure attachment patterns may be altered through the adjustment of individuals’ working models in relation to their animals (e.g. Kurdek, 2008; Kwong & Bartholomew, 2011; Parish-Plass, 2008, 2013; Sable, 1995; Zasloff, 1996). Empirical and theoretical research has also suggested that along with facilitating human-human relationships, animals may achieve attachment figure status in their own right and enter a human’s attachment hierarchical network (c.f. Beck & Madresh, 2008; Ferry, 2006; Kurdek, 2008; Carr & Rockett, 2013; Sable, 1995; Zilcha-Mano, Mikulincer & Shaver, 2011, 2012). Utilising a reworked version of West at al’s (1998) Adolescent Attachment Questionnaire (AAQ), longitudinal child-diaries and semi-structured interviews, results demonstrated that (a) children were able to form relationships with animals that satisfied the criteria for attachment bonds (Kwong & Bartholomew, 2011) and (b) that animal presence within the long-term foster environment assisted the development of more- secure relationships between the children and their carers through dual processes of softening the environment (Levinson, 1969) and attachment switching (priming attachment preparation through enhanced relational capabilities – Emmens, 2007). Findings suggest that children living in long-term foster care could benefit from being placed with animal companions and have implications for the attachment literature and foster care practitioners.Keywords: Attachment Theory; Relationships; Foster Care; Human-Animal Relationships;
Date of Award16 Apr 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorSam Carr (Supervisor) & Richard Joiner (Supervisor)


  • Attachment
  • Foster-Care

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