Circle of Security Parenting (COS-P)

About This Program

Target Population: Families with children younger than 6 years old in high-risk populations such as child enrolled in Early Head Start, teen moms, or parents with irritable babies

For parents/caregivers of children ages: 0 – 5

Program Overview

The COS-P protocol presents Circle of Security content in eight chapters using a manual for the provider, handouts for the parents, and a DVD that explains and shows examples of all concepts presented. The facilitator stops at designated moments and asks reflective questions to participants. The core concepts of the program are:

  • The caregiver serves as a secure base from which the child can explore and as a safe haven to which the child can return for connection in times of stress
  • Some parents feel uncomfortable/threatened by their child’s exploration (moving away), whereas others have these negative feelings instead in response to their child’s attachment wishes (bids for connection)
  • Given that a child thrives when the caregiver is relatively responsive to both attachment and exploratory behavior, it is important that the caregiver develop the reflective capacity to consider what may hinder or help her/his capacity to respond.

Circle of Security – Home Visiting-4 (COS-HV4), a modified version of this program, is rated on the CEBC in Parent Training Programs and two other topic areas.

Program Goals

The overall goals of Circle of Security Parenting (COS-P) are:

  • Increase security of attachment of the child to the parent
  • Increase parent’s ability to read child’s cues
  • Increase empathy in the parent for the child
  • Decrease negative attributions of the parent regarding the child’s motivations
  • Increase parent’s capacity to self-reflect
  • Increase parent’s capacity to pause, reflect, and chose security-promoting caregiving behaviors
  • Increase parent’s capacity to regulate stressful emotional states
  • Increase parent’s ability to recognize ruptures in the relationship and facilitate repairs
  • Increase parent’s capacity to provide comfort when their child is in distress

Essential Components

The essential components of Circle of Security Parenting (COS-P) include:

  • Providers cover the material consisting of 8 chapters at one chapter per meeting for 8 sessions. Each chapter can be completed in 90 minutes in a group context, in individual counseling, or in a home visitation setting.
  • The chapters are:
    • Welcome to Circle of Security Parenting
    • Exploring Our Children’s Needs All The Way Around the Circle
    • “Being With” on the Circle
    • “Being With” Infants on the Circle
    • The Path to Security
    • Exploring Our Struggles
    • Rupture and Repair in Relationships
    • Summary and Celebration
  • Each chapter on the DVD provides the theory and examples of parents interacting with their children and reflecting on the material. There are designated places to stop and engage parents in reflective dialogue regarding what has just been presented. A series of reflective questions are suggested in the manual for each designated pause.

Program Delivery

Parent/Caregiver Services

Circle of Security Parenting (COS-P) directly provides services to parents/caregivers and addresses the following:

  • Parent of child with problems with:
    • Emotional regulation
    • Impulse control
    • Disruptive behavior
    • Aggression
    • Withdrawn/detached

Recommended Intensity:

One 90-minute session per week

Recommended Duration:

8 weeks

Delivery Settings

This program is typically conducted in a(n):

  • Adoptive Home
  • Birth Family Home
  • Foster / Kinship Care
  • Outpatient Clinic
  • Community-based Agency / Organization / Provider
  • Group or Residential Care


Circle of Security Parenting (COS-P) includes a homework component:

At the end of each week parents are asked to remember an example of the days lesson and share it at the beginning of the next meeting.


Circle of Security Parenting (COS-P) has materials available in languages other than English:

Danish, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish

For information on which materials are available in these languages, please check on the program's website or contact the program representative (contact information is listed at the bottom of this page).

Resources Needed to Run Program

The typical resources for implementing the program are:

A room, a DVD player with a screen, and chairs

Education and Training

Prerequisite/Minimum Provider Qualifications

Undergraduate degree and in the field of providing parent education. Supervisors are licensed mental health providers who have completed this training, completed the basic 10-day intensive training, and received at least one year of supervision from one of the Circle of Security originators.

Education and Training Resources

There is a manual that describes how to deliver this program, and there is training available for this program.

Training Contact:
Training is obtained:

Sign up on web page, provided in states with organizations that wish to sponsor

Number of days/hours:

4-day training; 6 contact hours per day

Relevant Published, Peer-Reviewed Research

Horton , E., & Murray, C. (2015). A quantitative exploratory evaluation of the Circle of Security-Parenting program with mothers in residential substance-abuse treatment. Infant Mental Health Journal, 36(3), 320-336. doi:10.1002/imhj.21514 

Type of Study: One group pretest-posttest
Number of Participants: 15


  • Age — 22-44 years
  • Race/Ethnicity — 11 Caucasian, 3 African American, and 1 Asian
  • Gender — 100% Female
  • Status — Participants were women in a residential treatment for substance abuse.

Location/Institution: Georgia

Summary: (To include comparison groups, outcomes, measures, notable limitations)
The aim of this study was to conduct a evaluation of the effectiveness of Circle of Security-Parenting (COS-P), with mothers in residential substance abuse treatment and (b) to examine what demographic variables, including other risk factors for child maltreatment, may influence the impact of the program with these mothers. Measures utilized include the Emotion Regulation Questionnaire (ERQ), the Parent Attribution Test (PAT), and the Parenting Scale (PS). Results indicate that mothers who attended the majority of group sessions showed greater improvements on all three variables. Participants who attended some of the sessions showed some improvements on the measures, but participants who did not attend the group sessions had no improvements, and on some measures, declined significantly. Further analyses of demographic data indicates that participants with more education, no personal history of child maltreatment, less time in the residential program, and lower social desirability scores demonstrated more positive outcomes. Limitations include lack of randomization of participants, small sample size, and lack of long-term follow-up.

Length of postintervention follow-up: None.

Cassidy, J., Brett, B. E., Gross, J. T., Stern, J. A., Martin, D. R., Mohr, J. J., & Woodhouse, S. S. (2017). Circle of Security–Parenting: A randomized controlled trial in Head Start. Development and Psychopathology, 29(2), 651-673. doi:10.1017/S0954579417000244 

Type of Study: Randomized controlled trial
Number of Participants: 141


  • Age — Children: 3-5 years, Adults:21-31 years
  • Race/Ethnicity — Children: Not specified, Adults:106 African American, 17 White, and 13 Other
  • Gender — Children: Not specified, Adults: 100% Female
  • Status — Participants were women whose children were enrolled in a Head Start program.

Location/Institution: Baltimore, Maryland

Summary: (To include comparison groups, outcomes, measures, notable limitations)
The present study is a randomized controlled trial of Circle of Security-Parenting (COS-P) in a low-income sample of Head Start-enrolled children and their mothers. Mothers were randomly assigned either to the COS-P intervention group or to a waitlist control group. Waitlist control group mothers were invited to attend COS-P sessions and received the same compensation as intervention group mothers. Measures utilized include the COS-P Facilitator Checklist, the Session Goals Rating Form, the Facilitative Behaviors Rating Form, the Coping with Toddlers' Negative Emotions Scale (CTNES), the Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS), the Child Behavior Checklist 1.5 – 5 (CBCL), the Experiences in Close Relationships Scale (ECR), and the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D). Results indicate that a main effect for maternal response to child distress, with mothers assigned to COS-P reporting fewer unsupportive (but not more supportive) responses to distress than control group mothers. There were, however, no main effects of intervention for child attachment, executive functioning, or behavior problems. Limitations include generalizability due to gender of participants and length of follow-up.

Length of postintervention follow-up: 2 months.

Additional References

Coyne, J. (2013). Parenting from the outside-in: Reflections on parent training during a potential paradigm shift. Australian Psychologist, 48, 379–387. doi: 10.1111/ap.12010

Contact Information

Bert Powell, MA
Phone: (509) 455-7654 x27
Fax: (509) 455-4112

Date Research Evidence Last Reviewed by CEBC: September 2018

Date Program Content Last Reviewed by Program Staff: January 2018

Date Program Originally Loaded onto CEBC: July 2014