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Is COSP™ Culturally Responsive?

Asking Questions Rather Than Teaching Techniques


t almost every COSP training, a discussion around how culture impacts parenting breaks out. Of course, this makes sense: culture influences humans (including caregivers and their children) in many ways! At the same time, there is strong evidence that humans, like many other species, are "biologically programmed" to form attachments. Not only do infants across cultures show attachment behavior (at predictable ages), but attachment occurs in many other species as well. And it's not just other primates that attach; specific attachment behaviors have been documented from mammals to birds and even to reptiles and insects!

Like humans, many other species are biologically programmed to form attachments

So if attachment is universal in humans, does that mean culture is irrelevant? Hardly! It's probably important first to think about what the word culture represents and then consider the question of what is meant by a "culturally responsive practice."

Here's an interesting way to visualize how culture influences human beings:

The Cultural Iceberg Model

Infographic showing the cultural iceberg model

The Cultural Iceberg Model. How culture is expressed in explicit ways (e.g., behavior or outward expression of beliefs) and implicit ways (e.g., values and thought patterns). Adapted from the work of Edward T Hall.

One key implication of the "Cultural Iceberg" is that much of the way we experience or express culture is through implicit concepts, attitudes or approaches—ones that we might not even be conscious of. From the Circle of Security perspective, this means that how any caregiver approaches "being the Hands on the Circle" for their children is filtered through their own iceberg. Though we often lump people together into categories (by nationality or ethnicity or race or religion, for example), research makes it clear that these groupings are never unified when it comes to concepts, attitudes or approaches to child rearing! In fact, we humans develop (and change) our attitudes and approaches to many things in our lives based on new experiences.

In our trainings we talk with practitioners about what we call 'the reflective stance.' Finding ways to help people reflect on themselves and their relationships requires acceptance, trust and positive intentionality. It also requires appreciation of the of diverse perspectives and experiences that the caregivers we work with bring to us. One very useful framework for practitioners is the Diversity Informed Tenets created by a group of infant mental health professionals.

We encourage you to learn more about the Diversity Informed Tenets by visiting

Of course, the fact that people can change is key to programs like COSP™. Helping parents understand what the universal attachment needs of children are (e.g, helping parents "see the Circle") may end up reshaping implicit attitudes that are based on experiences—even experiences that were painful or traumatic. But it surely is not that simple! So let's turn to how we might define a culturally responsive program...

The Circle of Security Program is being delivered in many different cultures around the world by facilitators who have been trained in a process that emphasizes asking caregivers questions rather than teaching them techniques. That said, we're not the ones to answer the question of whether our model is culturally-responsive...we think the most relevant information about this question comes from the reflections of the many wonderful Registered Circle of Security Facilitators or Certified COS-Intensive Providers from around the world and from parents or caregivers who have been through the COSP program.

Here is one such reflection which was written on an evaluation of a 4-day COSP training that occurred in 2019:

It came up during the workshop as a suggestion to 'indigenize' this program for First Nations families. I feel as every person born is indigenous, and has the desire for attachment and need for it at every age and stage in life. As an indigenous person, I will have and carry that sensitivity. I feel strongly that the facilitator, and this model, is culturally safe and that there need not be any fine tuning for our people. Also, that (COSP) is an effective way to return our experience as caregivers of First Nation people to the parenting we traditionally had. It is the work of each individual to come to terms with that, not yours, or [COS-International's]

Check out the videos below to hear facilitators and parents talk about the cultural applicability of COSP:

Reflections on COSP and Culture

Javier Zapata, who lives in Georgia, USA, talks about how parents of young children attending government-supported early learning sites, most of whom are from Mexico and Central America, are responding to COSP groups. Javier is particularly pleased at how the COSP program's emphasis on asking parents to reflect on the video content has generated a lot of discussion and interest.

COSP and the Papas en Acción Project

In Northern California, USA, a local non-governmental organization called Safe Passages serves immigrant Spanish-speaking families, many of whom face poverty and discrimination. Together with Carlos Guerrero, MD, LCSW (a COSP Trainer and Coach), Safe Passages has created innovative programs of support and this video features the 'Papas in Acion' (translates as "Fathers in Action") program where young children get coached in 'futbol' (soccer) while their fathers simultaneously meet with Carlos for the COSP program. In this video, Safe Passages team members talk about their services, while some of these fathers share their experiences with COSP, particularly how they find the COSP group to be impactful. No doubt, Carlos's cultural sensitivity and capacity to share the program in Spanish have allowed these men to open up in the way that they share. We're thankful to KTOP (Oakland Public Television) and Safe Passages for leading the production of this video; we also thank both these fathers and their COSP Facilitator for their reflections.

See the full Papas en Acción video here.