Circle of Security Parenting (COSP)

About This Program

Target Population: Groups of caregivers (parents, foster/adoptive parents, and early learning providers) of infants, toddlers, and children younger than 6 years old; can be used universally or in targeted fashion through serving high-risk populations such as Early Head Start participants, teen moms, or parents with irritable babies.

For parents/caregivers of children ages: 0 – 5

Program Overview

The COSP program is a manualized, video-based program divided into eight chapters during which trained facilitators reflect with caregivers about how to promote secure attachment. The program is designed to be delivered in groups but can also be delivered to individual caregivers or couples. The facilitator pauses the video at designated moments and asks reflective questions from the manual to participants. Key concepts are presented with visuals compiled into a caregiver workbook; together the videos, the handouts/workbook, and the facilitator’s presence and curiosity assist caregivers to explore their strengths and struggles in meeting their children’s attachment needs.

Program Goals

The overall goals of Circle of Security Parenting (COSP) are:

  • Increase caregiver’s capacity to identify attachment needs using the Circle of Security graphic
  • Increase caregiver's ability to read young children's cues
  • Increase empathy for the child
  • Increase caregiver’s capacity to regulate stressful emotional states (their own and their children’s)
  • Increase caregiver’s capacity to provide comfort when their child is in distress 
  • Increase caregiver's capacity to self-reflect
  • Increase caregiver’s ability to read young children’s miscues
  • Decrease negative attributions of the parent regarding the child's motivations
  • Increase parent's capacity to pause, reflect, and chose security-promoting caregiving behaviors
  • Increase caregiver's ability to recognize ruptures in the relationship and facilitate repairs

Logic Model

View the Logic Model for Circle of Security Parenting (COSP).

Essential Components

The essential components of Circle of Security Parenting (COSP) include:

  • Trained COSP Facilitators share the video program with caregivers, pausing to reflect with participants on manualized questions connected to the video content.
  • The video content is built into 8 chapters that are generally covered in 8 to 10 sessions. Each chapter can be completed in 90 minutes in a group context, in individual or couple’s counseling, or in a home visitation setting. 
  • The material is suitable for parents, foster/adoptive parents, or early learning/childcare professionals. However, there is an online course (in addition to the core COSP Facilitator training) for those working with early learning professionals which includes a separate program manual.
  • 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
      • All caregivers struggle at times to meet their children’s needs:
        • Some feel uncomfortable/threatened by their child’s exploration (moving away)
        • Others struggle managing their child’s bids for comfort, protection or connection
        • Some struggle to maintain the bigger, stronger, wiser, and kind stance that defines the secure base and safe haven and instead tend toward being mean or weak when children express their attachment needs
      • Given that attachment security is associated with the caregiver being supportive of exploratory behavior, bids for connection and the need for no-nonsense tenderness, it is important that the caregiver develop the reflective capacity to consider what may hinder or help her/his capacity to respond.
  • The program 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

    Program Delivery

    Parent/Caregiver Services

    Circle of Security Parenting (COSP) 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
    Services Involve Family/Support Structures:

    This program involves the family or other support systems in the individual's treatment: Out-of-home caregivers can also use this program such as early learner providers.

    Recommended Intensity:

    One 90-minute session per week

    Recommended Duration:

    8–10 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
    • School Setting (Including: Day Care, Day Treatment Programs, etc.)
    • Virtual (Online, Telephone, Video, Zoom, etc.)

    Homework

    Circle of Security Parenting (COSP) 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.

    Languages

    Circle of Security Parenting (COSP) has materials available in languages other than English:

    Arabic, Cantonese, Danish, Estonian, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, Norwegian, Romanian, 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:

    Trained facilitator, computer (or DVD player) and projector plus speakers, handouts/workbook for each participant, quiet room with chairs 

    Manuals and Training

    Prerequisite/Minimum Provider Qualifications

    Facilitators have at least an undergraduate degree with qualifications associated with parent education; many have graduate degrees and/or are psychotherapists. Supervisors (called ‘Fidelity Coaches’) are generally licensed mental health providers who have received at least two years of supervision from a Registered COSP Fidelity Coach.

    Manual Information

    There is a manual that describes how to deliver this program.

    Program Manual(s)

    The COSP Facilitator Manual is available only after completing the COSP Facilitator training 

    Training Information

    There is training available for this program.

    Training Contact:
    Training Type/Location:

    Both online (combined asynchronous and synchronous content) and in-person trainings (4 days) are available internationally in English and other languages. Training information is available at: https://www.circleofsecurityinternational.com/register-for-a-training/

    Number of days/hours:

    4-day training; 6 contact hours per day

    Relevant Published, Peer-Reviewed Research

    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. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0954579417000244

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

    Population:

    • 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 basic study design, measures, results, and notable limitations)
    The purpose of this study was to report the effectiveness of Circle of Security-Parenting (COSP) in a low-income sample of Head Start-enrolled children and their mothers. Participants were randomly assigned either to the COSP intervention group or to a waitlist control group. Measures utilized include the COSP 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 a main effect for maternal response to child distress, with mothers assigned to COSP 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 the gender of participants and length of follow-up.

    Length of postintervention follow-up: 2 months.

    Hanlon-Dearman, A., Malik, S., Wellwood, J., Johnston, K., Gammon, H., Andrew, K. N., Maxwell, B., & Longstaffe, S. (2017). A descriptive study of a community-based home-visiting program with preschool children prenatally exposed to alcohol. Journal of Population Therapeutics and Clinical Pharmacology, 24(2), 361–e71. https://doi.org/10.22374/1710-6222.24.2.3

    Type of Study: Pretest-posttest study with a nonequivalent control group (Quasi-experimental)
    Number of Participants: 12 caregiver-child dyads

    Population:

    • Age — Caregivers: Not specified; Children: 2 years 11 months to 5 years 11 months (M=4.1 years)
    • Race/Ethnicity — Caregivers: Not specified; Children: Not specified
    • Gender — Caregivers: Not specified; Children: 10 Males and 2 Females
    • Status — Participants were parents and their preschool children with preschool affected by prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). 

    Location/Institution: Manitoba, Canada

    Summary: (To include basic study design, measures, results, and notable limitations)
    The purpose of this study was to report the implementation, challenges, and results of a community home-based attachment intervention, Circle of Security® (COSP), with preschool children affected by prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Measures utilized include the Parenting Scale, the Parenting Stress Index (PSI), the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale (DASS), and the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). Results indicate that a positive influence of COSP on child behavior and parent efficacy. There was a significant reduction in parent stress that was maintained at 3-month follow-up, and a clinically significant reduction in child behavioral issues was noted. Children showed increased ability to communicate their needs more effectively to their parent. Parents also showed an improvement in their ability to attend to their child’s cues. Limitations include lack of randomization of participants; participants involved in this study represent a small segment of the total population of families who are impacted by FASD; and length of follow-up.

    Length of postintervention follow-up: 3 months.

    Maxwell, A. M., McMahon, C., Huber, A., Reay, R. E., Hawkins, E., & Barnett, B. (2021). Examining the effectiveness of Circle of Security Parenting (COS-P): A multi-site non-randomized study with waitlist control. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 30(5), 1123–1140. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-021-01932-4

    Type of Study: Pretest-posttest study with a nonequivalent control group (Quasi-experimental)
    Number of Participants: 256

    Population:

    • Age — Between 20 and 52 years (M=34.27)
    • Race/Ethnicity — Not specified
    • Gender — 89% Mothers
    • Status — Participants were parents of children aged 0–6 years recruited from four community child and family health organizations. 

    Location/Institution: Two cities in Australia

    Summary: (To include basic study design, measures, results, and notable limitations)
    The purpose of this study was to test the effectiveness of Circle of Security-Parenting (COSP). Measures utilized include the Composite Caregiving Questionnaire (CCQ) and the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS). Results indicate that compared to mothers in the control condition, treatment group mothers reported significantly: (a) improved parental mentalizing and self-efficacy regarding empathy and affection toward the child; (b) reduced caregiving helplessness and hostility toward the child; and (c) reduced depression symptoms, at the end of COSP treatment. There was no difference between groups for change in perceived child difficultness. Within-treatment-group analyses indicated that mothers with older children reported greatest reductions in caregiving helplessness, and mothers with probable clinical depression preintervention reported greatest reductions in hostility and depression symptoms. Improvements in other study outcomes did not differ by depression severity or child age. Exploratory analyses indicated that treatment group fathers showed the same pattern of change as mothers. Limitations include lack of randomization of participants; no fathers recruited into the control condition, so main findings may be specific to mothers; reliance on self-reported measures; study results may not generalize to more socioeconomically disadvantaged population; and lack of long-term follow-up.

    Length of postintervention follow-up: None.

    Zimmer-Gembeck, M. J., Rudolph, J., Edwards, E. J., Swan, K., Campbell, S. M., Hawes, T., & Webb, H. J. (2022). The Circle of Security Parenting Program (COS-P): A randomized controlled trial of a low intensity, individualized attachment-based program with at-risk caregivers. Behavior Therapy, 53(2), 208–223. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beth.2021.07.003

    Type of Study: Randomized controlled trial
    Number of Participants: 85

    Population:

    • Age — Caregivers: 23–64 years (M=35 years); Children: 1–7 years (range 13 months to 7.9 years; M = 3.45 years)
    • Race/Ethnicity — Caregivers: Not specified; Children: Not specified
    • Gender — Caregivers: 85.3% Female; Children: 52.9% Male
    • Status — Participants were caregivers who reported parenting distress and child disruptive behaviors. 

    Location/Institution: Australia

    Summary: (To include basic study design, measures, results, and notable limitations)
    The purpose of this study was to report the effectiveness of the Circle of Security Parenting (COSP) with foster carers. Participants were randomized to COSP or to a waitlist control group. Measures utilized include the Behavioral Assessment System for Children, 2nd edition (BASC-2), the Parenting Practices Measure, the Parenting Stress Inventory–Short Form (PSI-SF), the Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI-II), the Parental Reflective Functioning Questionnaire (PRFQ), and the Experiences in Close Relationships scale (ECR). Results indicate no differences in COSP vs. waitlist participants were found at baseline. Analyses of complete data (35 COSP, 25-26 waitlist) revealed a greater decline in caregivers’ attachment anxiety and negative parenting relative to waitlist, but only attachment anxiety in intent-to-treat analyses. Other improvements were found, but these extended to both the COSP and waitlist conditions and did not differ between conditions. Overall, effects of COSP were small and rarely significant, suggesting the need to consider alternative programs that have evidence of effectiveness when providing services to at-risk families. Limitations include reliance on self-reported measures; COSP was compared to a monitored waitlist, rather than other parenting programs and therefore, the positive effects found may not be attributed specifically to COSP; utilized a relatively new measure of reflective functioning that has not been widely used in prior research; small sample size; and lack of follow-up.

    Length of postintervention follow-up: None.

    Additional References

    Coyne, J. (2013). Parenting from the outside-in: Reflections on parent training during a potential paradigm shift. Australian Psychologist, 48(5), 379–387. https://doi.org/10.1111/ap.12010

    Huber, A., Hawkins, E., & Cooper, G. (2018). Circle of Security. In J. L. Lebow et al. (Eds.) Encyclopedia of couple and family therapy. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-15877-8

    Contact Information

    Neil Boris, MD
    Agency/Affiliation: Circle of Security International
    Website: www.circleofsecurityinternational.com
    Email:
    Phone: (407) 744-3240

    Date Research Evidence Last Reviewed by CEBC: April 2022

    Date Program Content Last Reviewed by Program Staff: January 2021

    Date Program Originally Loaded onto CEBC: July 2014