Signs of attachment disorders and social functioning among early adolescents with a history of institutional care

Abstract

Background

Institutional rearing is associated with increased risk for reactive attachment disorder (RAD) and disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED). Disorders of attachment involve disturbances in children’s primary caregiving relationships, and are likely to disturb multiple domains of social functioning.

Objective

To examine associations between signs of RAD and DSED and social functioning in early adolescence.

Participants and setting

Our participants were 110 children with a history of institutional rearing and 50 community comparison adolescents from the Bucharest Early Intervention Project, based in Bucharest, Romania. Participants were assessed at age 12 years (M age in years = 12.80, SD = 0.71).

Method

Signs of RAD and DSED were obtained through caregiver report. Reports of social functioning were provided by caregivers and teachers. General and specific domains of social functioning were identified using bi-factor modeling. A general social functioning factor and four specific factors were revealed: peer conflict, caregiver views as victim, teacher views as victim, and social competence.

Results

Signs of RAD predicted poorer general social functioning (β=-0.36, p < .01, 95% confidence interval [CI] [-.33, -.09]) and poorer social competence (β=-0.38, p < .01, 95% CI[-0.05, -.01]) above and beyond time spent in institutional care and placement disruptions. Signs of DSED (β=-0.38, p < .001, 95% CI[-0.49, -.16]) along with placement disruptions (β=-0.22, p < .05, 95% CI[-.29, -.01]) predicted poorer general social functioning above and beyond time spent in institutional care. Signs of DSED predicted higher scores on caregiver views as victim (β = 0.29, p < .05, 95% CI[0.02, 0.14]) and lower scores on social competence (β=-0.29, p < .01, 95% CI[-.06, -.01]) above and beyond time spent in institutional care and placement disruptions.

Conclusions

Attachment disorder signs in early adolescence are problematic for social functioning, although the manifestation of these social difficulties differs based on whether RAD or DSED signs are present.