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Circle of Security in the Community

Investing in Early Relational Health

Early Relational Health

A Systems Change Perspective

The currency for systemic change is trust, and trust comes through forming healthy working relationships. People, not programs, change people.

Bruce Perry, MD, PhD
Clinician, Author

The term Early Relational Health has gained traction in recent years because developmental science suggests that supporting the development of healthy relationships early in life can impact community health over time. The quality of early relationships impacts children’s success in life: their health, their educational achievement, future employment success, and even relationships with other people in the community. But how do you scale up programs that enhance change in systems and communities so that safe, stable, nurturing relationships are available to all?

Relationships are powerful but often unharnessed forces in our communities. Our team at Circle of Security-International offers tools that focus on children’s early relational health so that communities can harness the force of safe, stable, nurturing relationships. The Circle offers a shared perspective and language about children’s attachment needs and can be used to increase in adults’ capacity to build such relationships. Safe, stable, nurturing relationships lead to the development of a community culture that promotes connection and caring.

For more information on the importance of Early Relational Health and how safe, stable nurturing relationships can impact communities, go to:

illustration of the circle of security

Learn More about the First Nations Australia story.

Systems change is challenging and is an area where few of us have received training. We think lessons learned by global non-profits like the FSG group, which developed the Water of Systems Change model, can help practitioners apply tools like Circle of Security Parenting to support community-wide systems change. In the Water of Systems Change model, the first step is to address mental models to spur change. One of the things that the Circle of Security models provide is an attachment perspective on children’s relationship needs. The Circle is simple and clear--helping a wide variety of individuals appreciate the basics of how attachment works. By providing a useful mental model for understanding the underlying needs that drive behavior, the Circle opens up the possibility of addressing the root causes of “challenging behavior.” Our intervention programs provide the basic relationship tools needed to build a quality of relationship that best supports children in reaching their full potential. And by focusing on enhancing relationships at home and in the classroom, the Circle can be used in various settings to impact early relational health. The First Nations Australia story is an example of a group adopting the Circle model because it connects to their traditional wisdom regarding how caregiver-child relationships create family and community culture while also tying into spirituality and the inter-related nature of everything.

a chart showing how parent confidence has increased by forty seven percent

Learn More about the Heartland of America story story.

To sustain change, it is important to leverage attractors to change. Attractors to change touch people’s hearts while tapping into people’s internal motivation. Rather than expending effort to convince community members to make a change, focusing on attractors to change provides an emotional pay-off, helping to sustain the change. Group-based programs like COSP, for example, can help parents feel less isolated, less stressed by parenting and more satisfied with their family relationships. For example, the Heartland of America story focuses on how a multi-year effort in Nebraska, USA using the COSP program has led to reductions in parents’ and educators’ stress level, leading more providers to be trained and more caregivers to be reached across the state.

Each of our COS in the Community stories contains lessons learned from attempts to leverage one or another Circle of Security intervention to move toward a community-wide approach focused on improving caregiver-child relationships. By reaching more adults from an ever-widening number of disciplines and settings, it is possible to shift the way people in a community view and engage in relationships. This would be community building at its finest.

We encourage you to read our Community Stories and reflect on these lessons learned:

  • It helps to have buy-in for using COS within all levels of an organization. In turn, this allows the organization to have a shared attachment perspective of children’s behavior and adults’ reactions to their behavior. All Our Kin works in 22 states in the U.S. to support high quality services by family-based childcare educators. The story about All Our Kin captures the change in the culture of the organization when a key leader used the Circle of Security Parenting tool.

  • Communities offer a large number of potential settings for spreading COS interventions. The COSP in Mexico City story shares about integrating COSP into a tertiary healthcare setting where both high-risk parents (receiving wraparound care) and the mental health professionals learning to serve those parents are being introduced to a relationship-based approach.

  • In London, an NGO named Connected Lives, an organization that is rooted in a community church, has used COSP as part of the design of an attachment-based, trauma-informed initiative to support parents and partners starting within their catchment area and moving beyond that area over time.

  • In Borås, Sweden two change makers have developed a model that supports the use of the COS-Intensive protocol for parents who have completed the less-intensive Circle of Security Parenting program and need additional help. The clinicians use COS-Intensive to deepen parents’ understanding of their children’s emotional needs and begin individual therapeutic work with them.

  • Parents in prison suffer through disruptions in their relationships with their children. Programs like COSP have been used in various ways with inmates to inform and support parents to connect more deeply with their children. Check out our three stories about work with prison populations in the US and Australia and the dedicated professionals who bring the Circle to what are so often forgotten communities.

  • In New York City, engaging a diverse group of paraprofessionals to lead groups in communities with families from many cultural backgrounds has helped caregivers practice new ways of relating to their children.