Tonier’s Story – Circle of Security International

Tonier's Story

An Example of Early Research


(Photo: Yi-Chin Lee/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

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N 2003, Glen, Kent and Bert worked with Jude Cassidy and her colleagues to apply the still developing Circle of Security Intensive program in a remarkable setting—a women’s prison outside Baltimore, Maryland, USA. The Tamar's Children project was actually a jail diversion program—the goal was to focus rehabilitation on helping women overcome their histories of trauma, substance abuse and shattered relationships. Expecting mothers were enrolled in their last trimester and expected to stay in the program until their newborn was one year of age. One of the twenty such mothers in the study was a woman named Tonier Cain, whose incredible life story is captured in the award winning documentary, Healing Neen, which can be found at toniercain.com.

Tonier Cain and her 14 year old daughter, Orlandra in 2018; Tonier entered prison during her pregnancy with Orlandra and credits the Circle of Security Intensive model for helping her connect with Orlandra and turn her own life around.


The Tamar’s Children study made it clear that the Circle of Security Intensive program was relevant to even the highest risk parents. Tonier, for example, had been imprisoned more than 60 times, was a homeless prostitute and crack addict and had already had 4 children removed from her care when she enrolled in the Tamar’s Children project.

In this video, Tonier describes her life to that point with Circle of Security's Neil Boris.


Tonier Cain talks with COSI’s Research Liaison and Medical Director, Neil Boris, about her life before enrolling in the Tamar’s Children project and participating in the Circle of Security Intensive program.



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WENTY mothers like Tonier completed treatment and, following their ​intensive​ treatment (which included both COS, individual trauma-focused therapy and substance abuse groups) were assessed with their 12-month-olds in the Ainsworth Strange Situation procedure, the gold standard for assessing attachment at this age. Fourteen of the 20 infants (70%) were classified as securely attached to mother. This rate of security at 12 months is significantly higher than rates typically observed in samples of mothers who have the extreme level of risk that Tonier and her cellmates had. In fact, 70% security is slightly above the rates typical of low-risk, middle-class samples. Furthermore, only four infants (20%) were classified as insecure/disorganized, the insecure subgroup with highest risk for psychopathology. This rate of disorganization is significantly lower than that found in at-risk samples, and it is identical to the rate that is typical of low-risk, middle-class samples.


Reference for the Ainsworth Strange Situation study:

Cassidy, J., Ziv, Y., Stupica, B., Sherman, L. J., Butler, H., Karfgin, A., Cooper, G., Hoffman, K. T., & Powell, B. (2010). Enhancing maternal sensitivity and attachment security in the infants of women in a jail-diversion program. In J. Cassidy, J. Poehlmann, & P. R. Shaver (Eds.), Incarcerated individuals and their children viewed from the perspective of attachment theory. Special issue of Attachment and Human Development.



Tonier credits the Circle of Security Intensive model as one key factor that helped save her life. In the following video, she talks about her experience with Circle of Security, and how the concept of Shark Music — a key Circle of Security concept — is something she thinks about every day​:


Tonier Cain talks about some of the key concepts from Circle of Security that helped her most. She details how past traumatic experiences created Shark Music for her as a parent; and how the concept of Shark Music helped her manage parenting in a new, healthier way.



Watch this video to learn more about Shark Music


Being-With and Shark Music