Uses of the Model

The Secure Base model can assist all professionals who work with children and families to think about the strengths and difficulties of caregivers and their children. The model may be adapted to be used with the full range of caregivers, including birth parents, kinship carers, foster carers, adoptive parents and residential workers. It is applicable to children and young people at any stage of development and with the full range of abilities.

Some applications of the model are as follows:

The assessment of prospective foster carers and adopters

This section provides guidance on the use of the Secure Base Model when assessing prospective foster carers and adopters. Click here for a printable version of this page. 

The model provides a framework for considering the skills and capacities associated with offering therapeutic care as part of family life in foster care and adoption.

The five dimensions of the model may each be discussed with prospective foster carers and adopters. Consideration will need to be given to their skills and capacities within each dimension. There are particular capacities required during the early stages of a placement or for short term placements and additional issues to be considered for long term fostering or adoption. Evidence of caregiving capacities can be sought in the previous and current life experiences of the applicants. Areas for further training and or additional support can be highlighted. Occasionally, if there is very little evidence of the capacity to provide a secure base, this might contribute to the evidence to support a negative recommendation.

It may be helpful to use a diagram (The Secure Base Model) and brief description of the Secure Base Model to assist applicants in their understanding of the skills and capacities that they will need to evidence.

The secure base model



We know that the best environment for children's healthy emotional development is one in which they can take for granted that nurture, comfort and protection are readily available from caregivers when needed. This provides a secure base for exploration and allows children to begin to trust in themselves and others.

To provide a secure base, caregivers must be both physically and emotionally available. They must respond promptly, both when children and young people need closeness and protection and also when they are ready to move away and explore. They must have the capacity to reflect on what the child might be expecting from adults and then think flexibly about ways in which they can demonstrate to the child that they are reliable and trustworthy.

When assessing prospective caregivers it is important to help them to consider their capacity for physical and emotional availability as individuals, as a couple and as a family. This assessment must take into account the capacity to adapt to the different needs of individual children and the likelihood that children in care will find it difficult to trust.

Issues for exploration in assessment

  • The applicants' own experience of receiving/providing secure base availability, in childhood and adulthood, and the extent to which traumatic events and issues of loss and separation have been successfully resolved in the mind of the individual.
  • The extent to which applicants can demonstrate capacities for openness, availability and trust within their existing close relationships.

Early stages/short term placements

  • The amount of physical time /emotional availability that the applicants have freely available to focus on the child's needs – this includes time to think and plan, time to respond to the child freely at key moments of the nurturing routine – mealtimes, bedtimes, before and after school etc. But also emotional space/energy to be an actively available and responsive caregiver.
  • The balance of this against time/emotional commitments to other family members, work, partnerships, interests etc.
  • Financial implications of this degree of availability and implications for financial support.

Additional issues for long-term fostering and adoption

  • The potential time/emotional needs of other family members, including the carer's own parents, 5, 10, 15 years in the future.
  • The carer's own career and life hopes and plans.
  • The understanding of the long term impact of early harm, the lengthy timescales involved in recovery and the likelihood of setbacks at crucial developmental stages (e.g. move to High School, exams, leaving school, moving towards independence etc.).


The capacity to tune in to the child, to be interested in what is in the child's mind and to see the world from the child's point of view is key to helping children to manage difficult feelings and behaviour. Caregivers must try to understand and make sense of what the child is thinking and feeling. They need to be able to form flexible theories about this, so that they can respond sensitively and use a variety of techniques to help the child to ‘make sense of himself'. Caregivers must also support the child in experiencing and expressing the full range of emotions, but help him to manage and regulate them so they do not become overwhelming.

Additionally, caring for a troubled child can elicit a range of strong and often mixed feelings in the caregiver and it is important that these are acknowledged and discussed. Strong feelings in the caregiver may link to past or current relationships, but if feelings are overwhelming they can disable the caregiver just as they may disable the child.

Issues for exploration in assessment

  • The capacity to stand in the shoes of others/to think about what others might be thinking and feeling and be interested in the meanings behind behaviour.
  • The capacity to think about and discuss a range of feelings.
  • The capacity to manage own feelings and behaviours - and to see the connections.
  • The capacity of all family members to show feelings appropriately and manage them in the best interests of the group.

Early stages/short term placements

  • The capacity to think about and reflect on the range and mixture of feelings that a child might experience in the early stages of a placement. These might include loss, dislocation, shock, fear, relief, excitement, disappointment, pleasure and so on.
  • The capacity to think about and reflect on the reasons for certain feelings emerging and the links between feelings and behaviour in the child.

Additional issues for long-term fostering and adoption

  • The capacity to connect with own feelings and behaviour at different life stages, especially adolescence.
  • The capacity to tune in/stand in the shoes of young people who have experienced separations, loss and maltreatment in their early lives and to accept that the implications of difficult early experiences may be lifelong.


In order to restore or develop their self-esteem, children need caregivers who can accept them for who they are, for both their strengths and their difficulties and regardless of their differences or personalities. This level of acceptance will enable caregivers to identify and support their child's talents and interests, helping the child to fulfil potential and feel good about himself.

If caregivers are to build self esteem in this way, they must first be able to accept themselves, to feel comfortable with the people they are and to reflect this model of self-acceptance back to the child.

Families who have an ethos that ‘nobody is good at everything but everybody is good at something' are well placed to identify and promote even the most deeply buried or unexpected abilities of their fostered or adopted children. At the same time, they can model that it is ‘OK' not to win/ or be successful at everything.

Issues for exploration in assessment

  • Indicators of positive self-esteem (acknowledgment of strengths and difficulties) in the applicants.
  • The capacity to reflect on times of low self-esteem, recall feelings and behaviour, what helped or hindered recovery.
  • Acceptance, enjoyment and capacity to embrace differences in culture, class, religion, ethnicity.
  • The capacity to identify and the commitment to support talents and interests.

Early stages/short term placements

  • The capacity to understand that low self-esteem might be ‘masked' by boasting, unwillingness to take part in things, grandiosity etc.
  • The capacity to actively work on demonstrating acceptance/building self esteem

Additional issues for long-term fostering and adoption

  • Capacity to convey messages of acceptance that are comfortable and acceptable to children of different ages and with different needs.
  • The capacity to connect with the issues that affect self-esteem in teenagers – identity, genetics, future pathways, peer pressure etc.
  • The capacity to be creative in providing opportunities for self-esteem building that are comfortable and acceptable to a range of different young people.
  • The capacity to sustain own self-esteem when under stress, and sustain/adapt own interests and activities over time.


In order to help children to feel effective and competent, caregivers must think in terms of working together and forming a co-operative alliance. Children and young people may present as too powerful and controlling or they may feel powerless, and unable to assert themselves.

In all cases, caregiving will involve setting firm boundaries but being prepared to negotiate within them and actively creating situations in which children and young people can make positive choices and decisions and be appropriately assertive.

Caregivers, therefore, must be able to enjoy co-operation and have at their disposal a range of approaches to achieve compromise. This will lead them to structure the child's environment so that there are plenty of safe opportunities for choice and autonomy.

To achieve a co-operative approach, caregiver will need a good understanding of themselves and the extent to which they need to be in control or find it hard to be in control. The capacity for self-reflection is, therefore, also important in this area.

Issues for exploration in assessment

  • The applicant's own early experiences of feeling effective and competent (and ability to provide convincing examples).
  • The applicant's own experience of how control and co-operation were negotiated in their family of origin.
  • Evidence of co-operative relationships or working towards compromise in the applicant's current life – within partnerships, wider family, or community.
  • The applicant's capacity to be collaborative and co-operative within the assessment process itself.

Early stages/short term placements

  • The capacity to recognise the child's need to feel effective and competent – and to work towards promoting this, even in very small ways.

Additional issues for long-term fostering and adoption

  • The capacity to accept that a young person might need to experience age appropriate independence while at the same time, having their younger child's needs met.
  • The capacity to provide additional support to help young people to be appropriately assertive in relationships and situations outside the home.
  • The capacity to accept developing autonomy and that young people may make inadvisable choices.
  • At times of conflict, the capacity to provide clear and honest feedback to the young person, both about the consequences of their actions and the position of the carers.
  • The capacity to stay with a young person who appears rejecting and hostile and to hold in mind the longer term significance of themselves as a secure base for that young person in the future. Providing messages of hope, concern and interest at these times requires carers with particular resilience and ‘stickability'.
  • The capacity to think about the potential impact on all family members if issues of co-operation become difficult later on.

Family membership

A sense of family membership begins from birth and is important for healthy development. Adopted children and those in long-term foster carer are members of more than one family and will need to achieve a dual family membership which both allows them to benefit from the practical and emotional support of their adoptive or foster family but also allows a comfortable and realistic sense of both the strengths and the limitations of their birth family network.

In all cases, caregiving families must have the capacity both to absorb new members, often children whose backgrounds and experiences are very different from their own and to be thoughtful, reflective and open towards the child and the birth family.

Issues for exploration in assessment

  • The capacity of the applicants' family to admit new members, but also to be flexible enough to allow those members to pass to and fro (physically and emotionally) across the family boundary as needed. Examples may be found of including non-family or extended family members in the past.
  • The extent to which the family system communicates openly with other systems – schools, community groups, special interest groups, friends and neighbours.
  • The attitudes of the family to the world outside the family boundary – is it regarded as safe and trustworthy or threatening and hostile?
  • Tolerance of difference in beliefs, values, expectations. The extent to which family membership is dependent on shared values.

Early stages/short term placements

  • The readiness of all family members to shift their positions in order to accommodate children coming into the family.
  • The capacity to accept that the child may not be ready or able to commit themselves emotionally to a new family when this family is unknown to them and their birth family membership is all they know.
  • The capacity to offer sensitive messages of foster family membership while at the same time, understanding and respecting the child's sense of birth family membership.

Additional issues for long-term fostering and adoption

  • The capacity to continue to offer unconditional foster / adoptive family membership to children and young people who may or may not have similar interests, personalities and abilities.
  • The capacity to accept that the question ‘which family do I really belong to?' can emerge and re-emerge over time and to accept that many fostered and adopted young people have intense and complex feelings of responsibility, anger, idealism, longing or guilt regarding their birth families.
  • The capacity to support a young person to actively explore birth family relationships, as a part of the process of making sense of the past.
  • The capacity to stay connected and offer messages of interest and support, even if relationships are hostile or at risk of breaking down.

Assessing the capacities of caregivers


The Secure Base Model may be used alongside standard assessment procedures to assess the capacities of caregivers to provide a secure base in a wide range of circumstances . The Secure Base Interview is a key resource to help with this.

The interview can be used with the full range of caregivers, including birth parents, ‘connected people' carers, foster carers, adopters and residential workers. The interview is relevant for the care of children and young people of all ages.

The Secure Base Interview provides a means of exploring, with the current caregiver(s), their approaches to the child's needs within the five dimensions of caregiving. This approach places relationship between the child and the caregiver at the centre of the discussion.

Within each dimension, the caregiver is asked for a specific example of an incident which illustrates the child's needs and capacities . Then the caregiver is asked to think about why the behaviour might have occurred, what they did about it and how they felt about it.

An outline ‘script' for the interview is provided, but this should be adjusted to use language that is clear and understandable to the caregiver.

Guidance on the Analysis of The Secure Base Interview is provided.  Click here for a printable version of this page.

The interview can be used in a range of contexts and serve a variety of purposes . For example:

  • When children and young people are thought to be in need or at risk. The interview can highlight the needs and strengths of the child or young person and the capacities of the caregivers. It can identify areas for further development and support.
  • At the beginning of a fostering or adoption placement. The interview can be used to help foster carers and adopters to tune in to the child's needs. It can identify areas for further development and support.
  • As part of the routine supervision of foster carers. The interview can help to set and monitor goals for the child's development and to develop the caregivers' capacities.
  • As part of the foster carer(s)' annual review. The interview can highlight caregiving capacities and identify areas for further development and support.
  • When fostering or adoptive placements are in difficulties. The interview can highlight the needs and strengths of the child or young person and the capacities of the caregivers. It can identify areas for further development and support.
  • In residential settings. The interview can help to set and monitor goals for the child or young person's development and to develop the keyworker/staff group's caregiving capacities.

It can be helpful to show a diagram of The Secure Base model to the caregiver as a guide to what will be discussed in the session. The Secure Base Model.

Additional resources

The Secure Base Interview

The Analysis of the Secure base Interview

The Secure Base Developmental Checklist 0 - 18 months - provides detailed questions to support the assessment of children's security at different emotional and chronological ages.

The Secure Base Developmental Checklist 19 months  - 4 years

The Secure Base Developmental Checklist 5 years - 10 years

The Secure Base Developmental Checklist 11 years - 18 years

The Attachment Handbook for Foster Care and Adoption

Some frequently asked questions about using the Secure Base model

One of the reasons for producing this website is that we are aware that local authorities and practitioners who are using the model to support their work with foster carers, adoptive parents, looked after and adopted children and young people, birth parents find it helpful to have access to practical materials as well as information and guidance. The site also gives us the opportunity to provide links to international resources, so that work with the model in other countries can be supported.
It may be useful to start with a particular dimension identified with the caregiver, but we think that the model is most productive if all elements of it are covered. This is because all of the dimensions are connected and it is hard to completely separate any single one. For example, building self esteem will involve accepting the child for who he is, but is also likely to involve the caregiver being available to the child, sensitive to how the child is feeling and working co-operatively with the child. Self-esteem may also be promoted through feeling ‘part of the family' and through a family culture of acceptance of strengths and limitations.
Yes. People of all ages need to be able to rely on a secure base to support their exploration and as a safe haven to be there for them at times of stress and anxiety. In fact young people in transition to adulthood are particularly in need of an identifiable secure base as they face new challenges. The key issue is the capacity of the caregiver to communicate messages of availability, sensitivity and so on in ways that are acceptable and age appropriate for the young person.

Yes. The concept of a secure base is not culturally specific and all children will benefit from positive caregiving across all five of the dimensions proposed in the model. However, it may be that different cultures have different family patterns, such that members of the extended family, for example, are actively involved in the care of a child and may also become an active part of the child's secure base.

There may be additional issues related to developing a strong and positive sense of ethnic and cultural identity for caregivers of both white and BME children within each dimension. For example: dealing with various types of prejudice, including racism may require additional emotional and physical availability, particular sensitivity may be needed to tune in to the feelings of a child who has been dislocated from their cultural background or who has little information about their heritage. Careful attention will need to be paid to helping all children to gain knowledge of and feel pride in their culture and ethnicity as this is key to positive self-esteem.

Even where children have more extreme difficulties in close relationships, the principles of this model still apply. What has to be born in mind, however, is that when caring for children who have perhaps experienced traumatic abuse and/or recurrent separations and losses, the tasks of being mind-minded, remaining available, being co-operative may be constantly challenged by the child and so a high level of support is needed by a supervisor who understands the model but also understands this additional level of need. In addition, even where a child may be having regular therapy sessions, their day to day life and experience of caregiving in a family or residential setting still needs to help them to build trust in caregivers and to learn to regulate their feelings and behaviour.

The Secure Base Model can assist caregivers in defining what aspects of their caregiving may be most helpful and in seeing even small signs of progress on the dimensions. In fact the concept of ‘providing a secure base' within the family and professional network may be more useful for the children who find it most difficult to engage in close relationships, than aiming to ‘build a secure attachment' in the first instance. This is because the secure base model widens the focus from the one to one relationship with a parental caregiver to thinking about how other areas of the child's life, such as school and activities, could contribute.

Because caregivers and childcare professionals have found these ideas and resources helpful, we want to make them readily available through this website.

There are two simple conditions for their use:

The source of the materials should be acknowledged. That is: Secure Base model, Gillian Schofield and Mary Beek, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK.
The core elements of the Secure Base Model (that is, the model itself and the cycles) should not be changed.

We would recommend that you read the key chapters from the Attachment Handbook for Foster Care and Adoption for foundation knowledge. This will help you to understand and absorb the information on this website and to use the practice tools with confidence.

In addition, or alternatively, The Attachment for Foster Care and Adoption DVD presents the model in an audio visual format and provides many real life examples of caregiving within each dimension of the model.

When presenting the model to groups, it is helpful to use the ‘Introduction to the Secure Base model' Power Point presentation, which can be studied in advance, using the Attachment Handbook for Foster Care and Adoption to support your understanding and explanation of concepts.

It is common for attachment related material to raise personal questions and concerns. As when cases you are working with raise personal issues, it is important to consider discussing them with your line manager or with trusted colleagues – or contacting a professional in your local area.