Foster care decisions involving babies must take into account infant attachment to parents, caregivers

Department of Human Services, advocacy group for infants partner on policy statement

Lansing, Mich. Oct. 15, 2014 – Separation from parents or caregivers can be particularly traumatic for infants and toddlers – threatening their emotional, social, physical and intellectual development.

With that in mind, the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health (MI-AIMH) today announced a joint policy statement that calls for child welfare workers to take into account the importance of infants’ attachment relationships as they make decisions about foster care or permanent homes.

The state agency and the advocacy group for infant mental health also agreed to best practice recommendations for handling placements of babies.

The policy and recommendations call for mitigating the effects of separation by:

Placing infants and toddlers with foster parents who are interested in adoption if the babies are not expected to be unified with their parents.

  • Providing babies with familiar objects from their homes – such as a blanket, sheet or teddy bear – to ease the transition by providing a sense of security.
  • Providing services by infant mental health specialists as needed.
  • Maintaining connections between foster parents, adoptive parents and the baby if the baby is adopted after developing an attachment to foster parents.

“The Department of Human Services is committed to providing quality care to our most vulnerable population – infants and toddlers who are in the child welfare system,” said DHS Director Maura Corrigan. “We welcome the opportunity to partner with the Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health. We need to use the scientific knowledge about early childhood development to make meaningful decisions about placement, visitation, services and permanent homes for babies.”

Representatives from DHS, MI-AIMH, the Michigan Department of Community Health and State Court Administrative Office developed the policy and recommendations.

“Scientific study has confirmed that secure and stable attachment relationships provide the foundation for healthy development across the life span,” said Deborah Weatherston, executive director of MI-AIMH. “It is every baby’s birthright to experience care that is nurturing and leads to an attachment relationship that promotes social and emotional health. To the extent that we as clinicians and policymakers can support the growth of early attachments through our work with or on behalf of infants and toddlers in foster care, it is our shared responsibility to do so.”

In 2013, 32 percent of the children entering foster care in Michigan were under age 3. Infants who are less than three months old when entering foster care remain in care 50 percent longer than older children and are far more likely to be adopted rather than reunified with their biological parents.

For additional information about MI-AIMH, please visit www.mi-aimh.org or call 734-785-7700.