‘Invisible Children? How attachment theory and evidenced-based procedures can bring to light the hidden experience of children at risk from their parents

Benedict Grey, Jeremy Gunson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Child death enquiries over the last 50 years have questioned why what became fatal maltreatment of children has often remained undetected, and thus these children’s lives and experience rendered invisible to the professionals who saw and worked with them. In the UK, the Serious Case Review of Daniel Pelka (Lock 2013), a 4-year-old murdered by his mother and partner, highlighted the ‘invisibility’ of the child, and the failure to question the parental construction of the child’s difficulties. These criticisms echoed those made a decade earlier, in the case of 8-year-old Victoria Climbie, murdered by her great aunt and her partner in February 2000. Lord Laming (2003), who headed the UK Government’s Victoria Climbie Inquiry, puzzled how Victoria could die “abandoned, unheard, and unnoticed” (p.2), despite significant professional involvement from a wide variety of agencies. The same criticisms emerge repeatedly from a long history of such investigations, suggesting the need to dig a little deeper, resisting the perennial pressure to find someone to blame, looking beyond the conduct of individuals or even agencies.
Attachment theory offers a lens to explain how children, parents and professionals may defensively distort and exclude information in response to danger. This chapter will:
1) examine the operation of these defensive processes at three levels; the child, parent/caregivers and the agency.
2) show how understanding of these processes can illuminate the lives and experience of children that might otherwise remain hidden
3) offer suggestions as to what practice informed by this perspective might look like.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSupporting Vulnerable Babies and Young Children
EditorsWendy Bunston, Sarah Jones
PublisherJessica Kingsley Publishers
Number of pages16
ISBN (Print)9781785923708
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2019


  • Child maltreatment, Attachment, parent–child relationships, Meaning of the Child Interview, parental sensitivity, family risk assessment, reflective functioning, inter-subjectivity

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