Circle of security is an innovative, first-of-its-kind early intervention program designed to alter the developmental pathway of parents and their young children. Glen Cooper, Kent Hoffman, and Bert Powell from Marycliff Institute in Spokane, Washington and Robert Marvin from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia are currently designing this unique, evidence-based program.

The Circle of Security intervention protocol is a 20-week, group-based, parent education and psychotherapy intervention designed to shift patterns of attachment– caregiving interactions in high-risk caregiver–child dyads to a more appropriate developmental pathway. All phases of the protocol, including the pre- and postintervention assessments, and the intervention itself, are based on attachment theory and procedures, current research on early relationships, and object relations theory. Using edited videotapes of their interactions with their children, caregivers are encouraged: 1 to increase their sensitivity and appropriate responsiveness to the child’s signals relevant to its moving away from to explore, and its moving back for comfort and soothing; 2 to increase their ability to reflect on their own and the child’s behavior, thoughts and feelings regarding their attachment–caregiving interactions; and 3 to reflect on experiences in their own histories that affect their current care-giving patterns.[1]

This is a parent education and psychotherapy intervention designed to shift problematic or 'at risk' patterns of attachment – caregiving interactions to a more appropriate developmental pathway. It is stated that it is explicitly based on contemporary attachment and congruent developmental theories. Its core constructs are Ainsworth’s ideas of a Secure Base and a Haven of Safety (Ainsworth et al 1978). The aim of the protocol is to present these ideas to the parents in a ‘userfriendly’, common-sense fashion that they can understand both cognitively and emotionally. This is done by a graphic representation of the childs needs and attachment system in circle form, summarising the childs needs and the safe haven provided by the caregiver. The protocol has so far been aimed at and tested on preschoolers up to the age of 4 years.

Its four core principles are; that the quality of the child parent attachment plays a significant role in the life trajectory of the child, that lasting change results from parents changing their caregiving patterns rather than by learning techniques to manage their childs behaviors, that parents relationship capacities are best enhanced if they themselves are operating within a secure base relationship and that interventions designed designed to enhance the quality of child-parent attachments will be especially effective if they are focussed on the caregiver and based on the strengths and difficulties of each caregiver/child dyad.[2]

There is an initial assessment which utilises the 'Strange Situation' procedure, (Ainsworth 1978), observations, a videotaped interview using the Parent Development Interview (Aber et al 1989) and the Adult Attachment Interview (George et al 1984) and caregiver questionnaires regarding the child. The childs attachment pattern is classified using either Ainsworth or the PAC (Preschool Attachment Classification System). The therapy is then 'individualized' according to each dyads attachment/caregiver pattern. The programme, which takes place weekly over 20 weeks, consists of group sessions, video feedback vignettes and psycho-educational and therapeutic discussions. Caregivers learn, understand and then practice observational and inferential skills regarding their childrens attachment behaviors and their own caregiving responses.

Circle of Security is being field tested within the 'Head Start'/'Early Head Start' programme in the USA. According to the developers the goal of the project is to develop a theory- and evidence-based intervention protocol that can be used in a partnership between professionals trained in scientifically based attachment procedures, and appropriately trained community-based practitioners.[1] It is reported that preliminary results of data analysis of 75 dyads suggest a significant shift from disordered to ordered patterns, and increases in classifications of secure attachment. The process of validation is not yet completed.

Currently two new parent education approaches are being field tested. Designed as a way to bring the COS model to a larger audience of parents, these protocols are now available to parent educators and clinicians who seek to offer this user-friendly approach in a brief 8-10 session approach (group or individual contact). More information is available at

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Marvin, R., Cooper, G., Hoffman, K. and Powell, B. "The Circle of Security project: Attachment-based intervention with caregiver – pre-school child dyads". Attachment & Human Development Vol 4 No 1 April 2002 107–124 [1]
  2. Cooper, G., Hoffman, K., Powell, B. and Marvin, R. "The Circle of Security Intervention; differential diagnosis and differential treatment. In "Enhancing Early Attachments; Theory, research, intervention, and policy". Edited by Berlin, L.J., Ziv, Y., Amaya-Jackson, L. and Greenberg, M.T. The Guilford press. Duke series in Child Development and Public Policy. pp 127 - 151
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