The Secure Base Model as Practised at Ferndearle

An attachment/resilience based model of caregiving that promotes security and resilience

The young people that come to Ferndearle have varying degrees of emotional and behavioural problems that stem from the trauma of abuse in early childhood.   These are young people whose traumatic beginnings have invariably resulted in attachment disorders and a damaged early years/primary emotional development which has thereby distorted further developmental stages.

Their chronological ages are consequently far in excess of their emotional, social, behavioural and cognitive development.  This Model believes that this early developmental stage can be ‘re-worked’ through the provision of an alternative and individual secure primary care experience that is able to cater for, and therefore be in tune with, the emotional developmental needs of each child.  Hence the need for them to experience at some level, care and nurture as is congruent with early year’s development of younger children.  This will enable a healing process that facilitates healthy emotional growth and with this, the foundations for the healthy maturation of further developmental stages.

The secure base model from Professor Gillian Schofield – University of East Anglia (UEA) Co-Director of Centre for Research on the Child and Family highlight:

“The Secure Base model provides a positive framework for therapeutic caregiving which helps infants, children and young people to move towards greater security and builds resilience. The model focuses on the interactions that occur between caregivers and children on a day to day, minute by minute basis within the caregiving environment. But it also considers how those relationships can enable the child to develop competence in the outside world of school, peer group and community.
It can be helpful, first, to think about caregiver/child interactions as having the potential to shape the thinking and feeling and ultimately the behaviour of the child.

This process begins with the child's needs and behaviour and then focuses on what is going on in the mind of the caregiver. How a caregiver thinks and feels about a child's needs and behaviour will determine his or her caregiving behaviours. The caregiver may draw on their own ideas about what children need or what makes a good parent from their own experiences or from what they have learned from training. The caregiving behaviours that result convey certain messages to the child. The child's thinking and feeling about themselves and other people will be affected by these messages and there will be a consequent impact on his or her development. We have chosen to represent this process in a circular model, the caregiving cycle, which shows the inter-connectedness of caregiver/child minds and behaviour, as well as their ongoing movement and change."

Professor Gillian Schofield identifies five dimensions of caregiving, each of which is deemed to have related developmental benefit:

Features at the Core of this Model and how this works therapeutically in practice at Ferndearle are further outlined below:

Therapeutic interpersonal relationships 

At the core of the Secure Base Model is therefore a concentration on the carer/child relationships and specifically on the day to day interactions between each carer and the child.  This model understands that these carer/child interactions represent powerful agents of change as they portray specific alternative messages and experiences for the child which over time has an impressive influence in shifting their negative previously held narratives.  This approach positively affects their internal beliefs and feelings about themselves as well as their perception of the world and interactions with others.  As a result, there is a fundamental positive change in development and behaviour.  In particular, young people will develop secure attachment styles of interacting and mature into and through their developmental stages. This provides the opportunity of developing the capacity for their social, emotional and cognitive ages to connect more beneficially with their chronological age.

Therapeutic Parenting

Equally at the core of this model is a recognition that the day to day parenting interactions must be at the level of the needs of the traumatised child and hence, requires trained therapeutic care staff (a vital component at Ferndearle) equipped to deliver care during their day to day interactions which is in tune with the damaged internal world therein.  This training provides staff with comprehension to respond to a child far more appropriately as they will understand the meaning behind all modes of communication.  As a result of this they will respond differently than may be expected in a non-therapeutic context.  This training allows staff to understand the child’s behavioural communications, verbal and non-verbal; to recognise behavioural symptoms of trauma or attachment disorders displayed through any communication on an every-day basis. They are looked after with unconditional warmth and care, something many will not have experienced before. Working in the context of a framework of an assessment of previously unmet need and with this awareness of striving to interact with a child at their developmental (not chronological) stage, enables staff to respond in the moment to the child in an insightful manner, over and over again. This can occur in many different contexts, or in similar or repeating situations depending on the child’s display of needs.  These repetitive, consistent, insightful re-parenting interactions serve as the key therapeutic interventions that bring about emotional and behavioural change and maturation.  Follow the link to obtain insight into Ferndearle’s Therapeutic Training for Staff

Therapeutic milieu for staff and young people

The therapeutic milieu is important in the Secure Base Model and at Ferndearle.  In this context, the milieu is more than a setting or environment; rather it is a healing/maturational culture that:

  • is created and maintained through therapeutic inter-personal relationships that in their existence facilitate and foster a rich sense of belonging for all members of the group/community;
  • builds a strong sense of safety and security. This is created by staff modelling consistent, clear and caring parenting responses that keep all members of the community emotionally and physically contained by the boundaries and routines.  Within this parenting model there is a rich sense of: carer involvement and availability; of insightful sensitivity that enables emotional containment and supports the child to develop the capacity to manage feelings; of unconditional regard/acceptance that fosters trust and develops self-esteem; of modelling participation, co-operation and compromise that enables young people to develop, practice and experience effective social interactions specific to societal codes; taking responsibility for self and for others;
  • enables intellectual and reflective practice development amongst staff where learning from, caring for and supporting each other are inherent within the organisational ethos;   
  • gives a sense of trust that allows all of its members to feel free to confide in others, to live/work and learn together and from each other; 
  • allows group members to risk experimenting with new goals without fear of judgement, censure or reprisals;
  • has clear expectations of collective involvement through the participation of all members in community rules, participation in structured programmes, group living and community life;
  • has consistent structures that facilitate learning and healing including group work, key-work, child and staff focus groups; systemic therapy and individual therapy. Working practices that utilises group meetings and group living to bring about important developmental benefits and change;
  • champions the integration of multidisciplinary professionals working together to maximise holistic development. Works with family and significant others as part and parcel of facilitating healing, maturation and change.