Objective: This article outlines an approach to assessing the quality of relationships between young foster children and their carers. These children are at high risk of disorganised attachment relationships and of developmental psychopathology given their relational experiences prior to and in care. During a semi-structured play interaction the emphasis is on identifying behaviours of clinical interest. This can be complex given the likelihood of atypical or unexpected behaviours expressed within relationships.
Method: The paper draws on literature on the clinical application of attachment theory to the assessment of relationships and on the authors' experience of developing and delivering an assessment and intervention service for children aged 0 to 5-years-old within a mental health service for children in foster care. Clinical material is used to illustrate and develop the issues.
Conclusion: The case for including a semi-structured observational procedure as part of a comprehensive assessment of foster children and their carers is outlined. This is argued to have more clinical utility than formal approaches to attachment classification. The benefits of including a semi-structured and relational approach to clinical assessment of foster children are outlined along with the need to be cautious in the use of attachment related terminology when formal assessments have not been undertaken.