Attachment-focused interventions for care experienced children in primary schools
: A design and implementation study of 'The Attach Project'

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis involves a design and implementation study of The Attach Project (TAP). TAP is a school-based, attachment-focused intervention that was developed to improve the academic attainment and psychosocial outcomes for children in care in Northern Ireland. Through the conceptual lens of Design-Based Implementation Research, the current study explored TAP’s ‘implementation as conducted’ so that the programme’s evidence of promise for effectiveness could be assessed and so that the programme could be refined and optimised for possible future implementation.

This mixed methods study involved the use of questionnaires, interviews and focus groups. The sample included 554 school staff who completed a Whole School Training Questionnaire immediately before attending TAP Whole School Training and 84 participants at follow-up, 6-9 months later. Seventy-nine participants who attended TAP Key Adult Training, completed a Training Quality Questionnaire immediately after the training. Observational measures were also employed over six Key Adult training sets. Ten semi-structured interviews were completed with designated ‘TAP Staff’ from six different schools, and four focus groups involving 24 ‘whole school staff’ from four different schools were conducted. Three members of the Children Looked After Education Project- ‘TAP Team’ also completed semi-structured interviews.

The findings indicate that TAP has the potential to improve the social and emotional wellbeing of children in care; facilitating a readiness to learn. Through adequate training and support, significant adults in schools can become attachment figures for children in care and improving school staff’s awareness and understanding regarding trauma and attachment, can facilitate the development of attachment friendly practice in schools and a supportive whole school ethos. However, it is noted that ongoing support is critical to ensuring effective implementation. Furthermore, this type of intervention must be approached with caution, as further relational loss has potential negative implications for this group of children.
Date of AwardJul 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorKaren Winter (Supervisor) & Liam O'Hare (Supervisor)


  • Attachment
  • implementation
  • primary school
  • children in care
  • intervention
  • Northern Ireland
  • TAP
  • The Attach Project
  • DBIR
  • design based implementation research
  • implementation as conducted
  • looked after children

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