An unfamiliar face, an unfamiliar environment: Investigating educators’ understanding of their attachment relationships with infants and toddlers in Early Childhood Education and Care settings
Date of Award
Master of Education
School of Education
Professor Caroline Barratt-Pugh
Dr Marianne Knaus
Attachment theory has influenced research, policy and practice over the last six decades, offering a framework for understanding risk and protective factors in early childhood. However, this work has primarily been influenced from a medical health or psychological perspective. Despite the literature highlighting the importance of attachment relationships, there is limited research relating to educators’ knowledge and understanding of attachment theory. The first years of life are considered a sensitive period for attachment development, and with families increasingly utilising formal care for their infants and toddlers, educators are in a prime position to use attachment theory to inform their practices within education and care (ECEC) settings. The aims of this study were to investigate educators’ knowledge and understanding of attachment theory and the practices they use to support the development of secure infant/toddler–caregiver relationships.
Drawing upon an interpretive theoretical framework, this study focused on understanding attachment theory and practice from multiple perspectives through the voices of early childhood educators. Using multiple methodologies such as a mixed method design enhances an interpretive framework. Data was collected via an online survey through a closed Facebook page as well as personal contacts of the researcher, email and snowballing. From this survey, 488 Australian educators responded demonstrating a wide interest in the topic of attachment. One early childhood service was selected to participate in semi-structured interviews. Observations of their attachment practices were documented using the Reflect, Respect, Relate tool. Quantitative data was analysed using Qualtrics software with Nvivo used for qualitative data to code key concepts and emerging themes. A national survey provided a general picture of educator perceptions and practices whilst the observations and interviews supported a deeper exploration into themes emerging from the survey.
Findings highlighted educators’ desire to access further support to understand how to interpret the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and associated documents in relation to attachment theory. The EYLF proposes that children feel “safe, secure and supported” when they develop attachment relationships with educators (Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations [DEEWR], 2009, p. 21). However, little guidance is provided within the framework or accompanying resources about how educators should approach this relationship development. Educators who participated in the study drew upon multiple approaches to support the development of attachment relationships. Their approach varied according to knowledge, understanding and personal experiences of participating in attachment relationships. Additionally, findings indicated that educators require support and access to sufficient knowledge and ongoing professional development relating to attachment theory that is specifically targeted toward ECEC settings. This study is unique in that it investigated the challenges of attachment theory from an educator’s perspective rather than a psychological lens. This research hopes to build upon the existing knowledge of educators and highlight the importance of attachment theory to inform strategic direction and policy development.
Wilson-Ali, N. (2018). An unfamiliar face, an unfamiliar environment: Investigating educators’ understanding of their attachment relationships with infants and toddlers in Early Childhood Education and Care settings. https://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses/2135