The Assessment of Relational Risk in Early Parent-Infant Relationships

  • Research Project Team

    Michelle Sleed

    Supervisors: Peter Fonagy, Pasco Fearon

    Contact

    Michelle.Sleed@annafreud.org

  • Background

    This thesis provided an in-depth methodological study of the assessment of risk in early parent-infant relationships via caregivers’ representations of their infant and their relationship with them.

  • Aims

    Evaluation of several methods for assessing the quality parent-infant relationships Development and evaluation of a newly developed coding system for assessing risk in parents’ representations of their relationship with their infant: the Assessment of Representational Risk (ARR)

  • Methodology

    Three approaches to the assessment of relational risk were examined in detail: parent-report questionnaires, parental Reflective Functioning (RF), and a newly developed coding system for assessing risk in parents’ representations of their relationship with their infant: the Assessment of Representational Risk (ARR). The validity and reliability of these measures were investigated in high- and low-risk parent-infant samples in relation to socio-demographic factors, parental psychopathology, adult attachment, and parent-infant interactions.

  • Results

    Parent-report methods were found to be problematic for the assessment of parent-infant relationships in clinical samples. Mothers’ ratings of their infants were strongly related to their own level of distress and unrelated to observer or clinician ratings of infant interactive behaviour. The Reflective Functioning and ARR coding systems, both of which are applied to parents’ narratives about their relationship with their babies in semi-structured interviews, provided meaningful, reliable and valid tools for assessing the quality of the parent-infant relationship in various ways.

    The ARR identified three typologies of parental representations of the parent-infant relationship that may impinge on the parent-infant relationship: Hostile, Helpless and Narcissistic. These representations modified the prediction of later parent-infant interaction from parental reflective functioning and adult attachment style. The Assessment of Representational Risk is an easily accessible new tool for parent-infant assessments that provided a useful adjunct to the RF coding system. The methodological, theoretical and clinical implications of the findings were discussed.