The SAM project

The school attachment monitor aims to identify and help children with abnormal family attachment. The problems associated with insecure attachment impose a significant burden on society. Children who have insecure, especially disorganised, attachment are at much higher risk of social and mental health difficulties including aggressive behaviours. By early adulthood, individuals who were very aggressive as young children cost society 10 times more than their peers and have a mortality rate almost 10 times higher, in part due to increased risk of suicide and violent behaviour, but also due to physical problems such as coronary heart pathologies.

The recently published European Union Roadmap for the Future of Child Health Research (www.childhealth-research.eu) has stated that “Determining how [mental health] can be measured adequately in [young children] to enable identification of those with good mental health vs. those who are at risk for poor mental health is an important task for the research community. Early detection of problem areas is crucial, and therefore, it is essential that monitoring systems are established based on sound indicators”. If we can screen the population to identify individuals with insecure attachment early on, they can be treated and save health and social services large amounts of time and resources.

However, there are no good methods of measuring attachment across populations at present: the SAM project will provide the tools to do this. The costs to society due to insecure attachment are very high. Detecting problems early by facilitating population screening will allow rapid treatment, meaning great savings in healthcare costs, reductions in violence, etc. It will be possible for policy makers to map geographical areas by attachment status and so target resources to deal with problems in an informed way for the first time.

Being able to measure attachment at the population level will mean that, over the long term, policies within a city or country can significantly reduce the problems caused by insecure attachment. The number of trained assessors is limited and assessments take a long time, making the screen of the population of children for attachment problems impossible. SAM will enable to assess many more children without increasing costs. Charities, such as the NSPCC, spend a lot of resources taking care of children who have insecure attachment and its resulting problems. If these problems were dealt with in their early stages, NSPCC could use more of their limited resources tackling other problems that blight the lives of children.