Circle of Security Supports Families

Jun 25, 2021

Dad Bonding with Baby

Children’s Relief Nursery-Gladstone is excited to have received a grant from Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative (OPEC) in Clackamas to expand on their Circle of Security work. The grant, written by Erin Sewell, will enable staff from both Children’s Relief Nursery-Gladstone and Children’s Relief Nursery-Hillsboro to offer two parenting classes over the next fiscal year.

Circle of Security is an international training program developed by three American family psychotherapists to help build parent-child attachment. According to Denise Glascock, program director for the two CRNs, it started as a parenting education class model and is now also a classroom practice based on specific training programs.

“In Circle of Security, the teacher or the parent is the secure base,” says Denise. “When kids feel comfortable and then go out and explore, for example at a playground, they can come back to the parent or teacher as a safe base. If a toddler wants to go on the slide but isn’t quite sure, they may check in with their parent. They may try to get a little more autonomy, and then think I’m not quite ready yet and come back.”

The Circle of Security training helps the parent recognize that when the child comes back, it is important to acknowledge them and help them prepare for their next movement outward, so there is a continuous circle that helps parents and children build secure attachment.

For the CRNs, the teacher’s role is holding the child in the circle when they are at the relief nursery, and when they are home visiting, they hold the family within that circle.

“We started out learning Circle of Security with two local trainers, as did the St. John’s staff. We did 10-hours of training,” says Denise. “Then my two sites did a 4-day all-day training to get certified in teaching parenting classes.”

The parenting classes are typically an 8- to 10-week group with meetings, videos and reflective work over the course. The parents learn how to express themselves with their children in productive ways. Since the program uses simple, clear language, such as “shark music” for getting triggered, it is easy for parents to remember the training tools.

“With the new grant, we’ll be able to teach two parenting classes, or self-reflective groups as I like to call them, over the next fiscal year,” says Denise. “We’d love to offer one in Spanish since I have two bi-lingual staff members. The classes are free to parents because OPEC is paying for them. We were able to do parenting classes during COVID where we combined the two counties, but we didn’t get interest for the remote Spanish one. I’m hoping if we do it in person it could be more successful. If we are still remote, we may do two in English.

“I feel that the shift we’ve made is to keep that Circle of Security lens in the forefront,” she said. “It’s become natural language we’ve integrated into our classrooms and home visits.”

Denise said that it is great to hear the parents use the term ‘shark music’ since it demonstrates a strength-based way of working on your triggers.

“It’s fun seeing it in person, where the kids start out with the teacher, run off to play and then come back for reassurance. It’s neat to see that in action.”

The model is zero to 8 years old, and LifeWorks NW CRNs have kids birth to 5. But according to Denise, the circle doesn’t stop. Even when your kids are adults, the circle never ends.

“It’s been about three years since we were formally trained, but it’s been great for our staff to see that this is something we’ve done all along. Relief nurseries exist to be that secure base for children and families. That was a big epiphany for staff. It makes sense, we just have much more relatable words for it now. We’re very grateful to Clackamas County for the grant; they are a good supporter.”