Circle of Security provides new outlook for parent education
As a single mother of three, Yolanda is used to a hectic house. She has two young girls, ages 5 and 18 months and a teenage son, 16, who lives with her part time. But as she began to struggle to meet the needs of her children, she reached out for help and was referred to MCH Family Outreach in Albuquerque, N.M.
Becky James, case manager at MCH Family Outreach in Albuquerque, first met Yolanda in November 2015 when they began in-home case management through the Family Solutions program. Yolanda needed support and after conflicts with her son, who has unique needs due to developmental delays, lost custody and faces an uphill battle in regaining her parental rights and healing the relationship. James has been there to support Yolanda through the process while also helping her to release some of the guilt she felt from the situation.
During that time, James attended a new training being offered by MCH Family Outreach for a parent education program called Circle of Security (COS). The program helps parents understand and meet the needs of their children while also recognizing how their own feelings can help or hinder their ability to recognize and react to those needs.
“Because I know Yolanda so well and we have these deep conversations about her kids and what she’s struggling with, I knew she would love this,” James said. “I thought it would be a good fit for her.”
Circle of Security was developed by three doctors in Spokane, Wash., who have devoted more than 30 years of their clinical practice to translate complex clinical concepts and research into protocols that can be used with families. COS is based on attachment theory and research that shows “secure children exhibit increased empathy, greater self-esteem, better relationships with parents and peers, enhanced school readiness, and an increased capacity to handle emotions more effectively when compared with children who are not secure.”
Through the model, COS shows parents that as children go out and explore the world around them, parents provide them with encouragement and a secure base or safe haven for when they return to them. The program helps parents understand their child’s emotions and be there to support them by providing comfort, protection and helping them organize their feelings. COS also helps parents recognize their own triggers that make them feel unable to deal with a situation and provide them with tools to overcome these triggers in order to handle their child’s need. The program says there is no such thing as a perfect parent and “‘Good enough’ is good enough.”
“There are so many quality parent education models available, but what I enjoy about COS is the simplistic message of connection,” explained Brooke Davilla, director of MCH Family Outreach in Waco. “It’s not about creating perfection 100 percent of the time. It empowers parents to remain connected while navigating their parenting journey.”
After working with James for eight more weeks to go through the COS curriculum, Yolanda learned to better recognize her children’s needs and understand her reactions to their emotions by looking back into her own childhood.
“I think it helped me understand some of the issues my mother struggled with and maybe I could forgive her more,” Yolanda explained. “When she would leave, it was so hurtful for me. But she just couldn’t handle it. She didn’t know Circle of Security. Hopefully I can do better.”
Throughout the process, Yolanda felt hopeful as her confidence grew as a parent and she felt equipped to handle disagreements with her son who now lives with her and her daughters every other weekend.
“I think I’ve been able to be calmer when dealing with him,” Yolanda said. “With Becky’s support, I feel like I am closer to a resolution. We now have a court date and I’m hopeful. At least I started the process. I was afraid before, I think.”
“Yolanda was courageous enough to reflect, and that’s a big piece of Circle of Security, to look at things that you need to work on and the moments you could’ve done better and talk about it,” James said. “That’s huge. You don’t get that with all families – there’s fear and shame around things and I felt like we were able to work past all that and there’s no better way to grow.”
“The COS program creates a safe environment, void of shame, where participants can reflect honestly about parenting experiences from their past as a child and their current role as a parent,” Davilla said. “The felt safety created within the group promotes self-awareness and hope.”
Davilla and her staff at MCH Family Outreach in Waco have implemented COS into individual case management as well as in group settings for both English and Spanish speaking families. Families have had a positive response to the classes.
“As a mother of three children, I could see that it was difficult to communicate with them, give them support and understand their needs,” said Isaura, who recently went through Waco classes with her husband Hilario. “Something was missing and we were practically isolating ourselves as a family. There wasn’t anyone to give me advice until I found this program that gave me the foundation we were looking for that helped us understand the different needs of our children and get better at meeting those needs.”
MCH Family Outreach in Waco also started a group for adoptive parents who are seeking parent enrichment. In addition to Waco and Albuquerque, MCH Family Outreach offices in Abilene, Lubbock, Killeen, Corpus Christi, and Tyler are currently working with community partners to host COS groups while all offices are utilizing the program in case management.
Alicia Carter, director of MCH Family Outreach in Albuquerque, began a class in September at Saranam, a local housing and education program for homeless caregivers founded by Central United Methodist Church using estate funds from Frances Thaxton Ash in 2001. Every two years, Saranam accepts a group of homeless caregivers who are committed to completing their education and are provided with a furnished apartment, food, and any other needs as they complete their degree or certification and life skills training. Studies show that an increase in education can have a significant impact on earnings. Saranam hopes to provide generational change by giving parents a chance to step out of poverty.
Carter’s group was accepted into Saranam in August and will attend COS classes for eight weeks. Each group member is a mother to children of different ages, but all were able to see how they could benefit from COS and voiced their hopes as a parent during the class.
“I hope my daughter won’t end up like I did,” said one mother of a 2-year-old. “I felt like no one was listening. I want her to know that this is her life and she’s in control. I want her to not feel like an outcast.”
“I’m looking to learn how to gain authority and respect,” said another mother of teenagers. “When they have been with me in the past, it’s been fun and games but that’s not real life. Now I need to be an authority figure and establish rules.”
Carter said COS is a training that can help any parent feel more confident in their parenting because of its basic foundation.
“It can help families across the board,” Carter said. “It’s powerful. And it is because we’re all hardwired for that connection, no matter what your background, our socioeconomic level, our education or what part of town we live in. We all need that. It’s a great way to share that message and share a way to meet that need in all of us.”
MCH Family Outreach is continuing to look for ways to bring Circle of Security to more families in the communities. Carter believes COS can have a strong impact on society as a whole by helping to heal families.
“I think sometimes our culture tries to steer us away from what we know about caring for our children and this really helps get back to the basics of creating a space where all feelings are OK,” Carter said. “It’s just about how we organize them and as a parent our role is to guide and let our children lead us and keep a good balance of that.
“I think there’s real power in the parent having their own healing and passing that healing on to the next generation and breaking those generational cycles,” she said. “What an amazing opportunity. You want better for your kids and their kids and their kids after, and what a relief to have some training and some tools to do that.”