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Circle of Security in the Community

Investing in Early Relational Health

Connected Parenting

COSP in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Communities of Western Australia

Relationship based parenting resources developed by St John of God Social Outreach, part of St John of God Health Care

In 2013-14, while an experienced team of providers from the St John of God (SJG) Social Outreach team were delivering Aboriginal perinatal and infant mental health training across rural, remote and metropolitan communities of Western Australia, it became evident that Circle of Security principles strongly resonated with the participants. During training sessions, the team collectively wondered how they could deepen the connection between COS principles and the verbal and visual language of the Aboriginal communities they served. For Indigenous, First Nations communities in particular, having an element of the Circle of Security Parenting program that connected to the shared verbal and visual language of the community seemed important. The goal was to give Indigenous parents and caregivers a sense that COSP was not just another program imported from the dominant culture; in other words, the team wanted to build on the fact that COSP was already being received as a program that connected to universal elements of the caregiver-child experience.

In 2015, a stepwise process that led to the Connected Parenting resources was started. First, a literature review of relationship based parenting programs for Australian Indigenous parents and carers established the need for a culturally connected and sensitive caregiving resource that incorporates attachment principles. Then, a series of conversations with the team at Circle of Security-International about working together to adapt Circle materials for this population occurred. Next, the SJG Social Outreach team undertook extensive consultation with First Nations people, forming both a reference group and a working group, as well as running a number of focus groups. From there, the team was lucky enough to secure additional federal and state funding to develop what came to be called the Connected Parenting resources.

Important Note: The Connected Parenting team at SJG Social Outreach worked directly with Circle of Security-International (who hold the trademark for Circle of Security related materials) to create the Connected Parenting resources. COS-International does not allow adaptations or changes to Circle of Security related materials without a written agreement that addresses copyright and/or trademark issues. If you have questions about this strict policy, please reach out to us at info [at] circleofsecurityinternational [dot] com.

Members of the St. John of God Social Outreach Connected Parenting team gathered outside and smiling

Members of the St John of God Social Outreach Connected Parenting team, travelled from Perth to provide training and share resources with professionals from Torres Strait Island communities on Thursday Island (Waiben) in Queensland, Australia. The group is gathered around a sculpture of Dugongs, which hold a prominent place in Torres Strait Islander’s cultural protocols.

The centerpiece of the Connected Parenting resources are two handouts that can be used as supplements in delivering the COSP program in Indigenous communities. The Connected Parenting Big Picture visual resource is based on the lived experience of Australian First Nations People spanning more than 60,000 years. This handout puts the Circle of Security concept of “the Hands” at the center of a larger set of circles, highlighting what Indigenous people have always known - the importance of relationships to one another and to country, spirituality and culture as well as the interrelated nature of everything. Connected Parenting recognises that parenting is not designed to be done in isolation. The SJG Social Outreach focus groups attendees and the working group helped refine the content of the handout.

An illustration of the Circle of Security hands

The second handout entitled Connected Parenting Coming Together arose from the focus groups and other conversations zeroed in on as the goal of Connected Parenting: to raise children with self-esteem, who are strong, able to trust and show respect. The Circle of Security concept of being Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind is embedded in this diagram which also emphasizes the need to listen to children, to recognize their feelings, to set clear limits and to find time to play, laugh and talk together.

An illustration of the Connected Parenting diagram

The following two-minute video presents the two Connected Parenting handouts and features several providers talking about how the resources have provided a way to “bring First Nation People's core cultural values back to the surface.”

St John of God Social Outreach Connected Parenting

From Resources to Training

The SJG Social Outreach team that created the Connected Parenting resources saw the opportunity to create a training package for providers interested in using these resources with Aboriginal and other First Nations communities. The feedback was incredibly positive and the demand for training soon outstripped their capacity to deliver face to face training. An eLearning package was developed in partnership with SJG Social Outreach and Western Australian Child and Adolescent Health Service, and was launched in February 2019. Uptake and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and both the resources and the eLearning training has been accessed by over 600 providers across the world. Please visit Connected Parenting if you are interested in the eLearning training.

It has been a hugely rewarding experience for both of us and we attribute the success of the program to a number of factors: supportive management who appreciate the importance of developing mutually respectful relationships (and who afforded us the time to do this); consulting widely; being open to listen and learn; having the project appropriately funded; recruiting passionate staff; working collaboratively with the COS developers; and most importantly, the generosity and willingness of a wide range of people and organizations all wanting to support and enhance outcomes for Indigenous families.

Jane Leung and Jane Doyle

Click here for more information about St John of God Health Care or here to access Connected Parenting.