COSP™ with Foster Parents – Circle of Security International

Circle of Security Parenting with Foster Parents

Fresh Ways of Thinking About Foster Children's Needs


oster parents typically sacrifice a lot to meet the needs of children who have been maltreated. Being a "temporary" carer can be a tremendous strain, particularly because a large percentage of young children placed in care have developmental or socioemotional struggles. Furthermore, child welfare systems often function without predictability and foster parents may find themselves feeling underappreciated or unsupported. For many reasons, fully committing to a child who may one day be removed from your care is beyond challenging.

The Circle of Security-Parenting program can provide foster parents support, insight and fresh ways of thinking about foster children’s needs. At the same time, many foster parents who are seeking intervention are expecting that the focus of the intervention will be on "fixing child behavior." Instead, the COSP™ program focuses more on the caregiver’s responses to children’s needs than on child behavior and some foster parents may be surprised or even feel blindsided by questions about their own caregiving history. It is critical that we "do no harm" in supporting foster parents!

A new paper has examined the benefits of the Circle of Security Parenting program for foster carers. Published in 2020, this study found that after participating in COSP, foster carers were less stressed and had fewer difficult interactions with the children in their care. They also reported reduced levels of emotional and behavioural difficulties after completing the program. To read more about this research, follow this link:

Visit our COSP vs. COS Intensive page to learn more about COSP Facilitator Training.

Visit our COSP with Foster Parents member page if you are a Registered COSP Facilitator and would like to learn more about best practices regarding working with foster parents.

Portrait of Glen Cooper

Visit the Co-Originators page to find out more about Glen and the other co-founders of Circle of Security International.

"At the heart of fostering is building secure attachments"

—Glen Cooper
Foster parent for 12 years

COSP™ With Foster Parents - Members

The importance of focus on the self

We have learned that applying the COSP™ Program with foster parents can be as rewarding as working with biological parents. It is important to tell foster parents that this will require personal reflection on the self with a focus on their own relationship history. Foster parents will naturally explore relationships with their foster children as well but the deepest understanding regarding concepts such as which needs on the Circle trigger one’s Shark Music comes from considering our relationships with our own loved ones.

Organizing the disorganized effects of foster placement

Placing a child in foster care is a crisis for that child. The child’s crisis can disorganize any family environment; even experienced foster parents have stories to tell about that! There is evidence that foster parents who are able to psychologically commit to the children in their care promote security.* The reflective dialogue that is at the heart of the Circle of Security Parenting™ program helps the foster parent to build a coherent narrative and organize the disorganizing effects of foster placement. For many foster parents, participation in the COSP™ program also enhances their level of psychological commitment to the children in their care.

* Dozier M. (2005) Challenges of foster care. Attachment and Human Development, 7(1): 27-30.

Interested in working with foster parents?
Watch this short "Focus on Facilitators" video for some tips!

Recommendations about supporting foster parents using the COSP™ program:

  1. 1

    Meet  with each prospective foster parent, preferably in person, before starting the COSP™ program and orient them to the nature of the approach. In particular, it is important to tell them that reflecting on their own attachment histories will be one important focus of the program. Furthermore, noting that the COSP™ program is about engaging their inherent wisdom about understanding their children’s needs rather than giving them specific strategies or advice about managing their children’s behaviors. Our freely available short video overviews on Vimeo are useful tools to introduce the program and to get a sense for how comfortable each foster parent is with a reflection-based intervention.

    Click Here  for the videos.

  2. 2

    Engage  co-parents whenever possible. If having co-parents in the group together is impractical or challenging, explore ways that one caregiver can regularly attend and meaningfully share with the other in learning COSP™ principles. It is not recommended to have them alternate on attendance.

  3. 3

    Share  your experiences in a group setting. Group-based work with foster parents allows for participants to support one another. Sharing struggles with others can be powerful. At the same time, most experienced foster parents have experienced serial losses (e.g., children moving in and out of their homes) and intense feelings can arise. We recommend Facilitators use the Fidelity Journal to track their own experiences during groups. Having a co-facilitator can also be helpful.

  4. 4

    Plan  for the future. COSP™ is generally an eight-week program and for some foster families, ongoing support will be required. It is best to have a plan prior to starting the COSP™ program for foster parents who need ongoing support. Many Facilitators are able to do individual or group COSP™ booster sessions—a strategy that can be quite helpful.

  5. 5

    Think  broadly about relationships. Foster parents often focus exclusively on their own relationship with the child. Circle of Security® Parenting™ asks foster parents to think about the child’s relationship with their parent and their own relationship with the parent. When foster parents try to protect their foster children by creating distance from the biological family, this can sometimes lead to being critical of the biological family. This places the child in a place where they have to decide, do I stick up for my parent or side with my foster parent? This kind of triangulation can be overwhelming for foster children. By helping foster parents think more broadly about relationships, including their relationship with the biological family, Circle of Security® Parenting™ enhances security across relationships in the lives of children in foster care.

  6. 6

    Partner   with case workers. Foster parents benefit from having advanced understanding of struggling children’s insecure attachment strategies. The COSP™ facilitator’s impact will be greatest when they are able to reach out to the foster parents’ case workers to create a partnership. Together, the facilitator and the case worker can be the Hands that hold the foster parent so that learning can deepen. Often a major task for the COSP™ Facilitator is to organize the disorganizing effects of the child welfare system. By explicitly partnering with case workers, the facilitator is enhancing the foster parents’ sense of support and safety and thereby enhancing program impact.