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Providing a secure base for troubled children

When children and young people have experienced harmful relationships, a protective environment is a necessary first step towards positively re-shaping the ways in which they think, feel and behave. 

Professor Gillian Schofield and Dr Mary Beek from the UEA Centre for Research on Families and Children (CRCF) have produced the Secure Base model of therapeutic care. The model is based on research in attachment theory.  

Their most recent award (2016-18) was funding from the Sir Halley Stewart Trust to develop a programme to support successful transitions of young children from foster to adoptive families. This programme will draw on their previous research and in particular will apply the Secure Base model to support this very challenging area of practice. 

It is important to understand that a ‘secure base’ in attachment theory refers to caregiving that reduces a child’s anxiety and helps them to regulate their emotions, enjoy their lives and fulfil their potential.  The Secure Base model has given caregivers and professionals an understanding of what children and young people need to build resilience and security. Initially designed for foster carers and adoptive parents, this framework can also be helpful for all types of carers, including birth parents, kinship carers, residential carers and a range of professionals who support families. 

The Secure Base model incorporates five key caregiving dimensions, each linked to a developmental benefit for the child.  

The Secure Base Model 

As this diagram demonstrates, these positive caregiving and developmental dimensions interact – for instance,  a child who is able to trust in the availability of a caregiver is more likely also to feel accepted and have raised self-esteem.

The Secure Base model is designed to be practical, so caregivers are able to try parenting approaches for each dimension – and can also see the beneficial changes in children over time as a result.  The model has been particularly successful with children and young people in foster care who have experienced abuse and neglect and has been applied across a range of countries, cultures and contexts since it was launched in 2006.  The Secure Base model website  has around 3000 hits a month from 20 different countries. 

In the UK the Secure Base model was recommended for foster care in the Care Matters Government policy paper (2007) and subsequently incorporated into the core initial training for all new foster carers.  In Norway it was adopted nationally from 2007 as a framework for foster care practice, with all new foster carers receiving training in ‘Trygg Base’ and social workers using the model in supporting high quality care for children. The core text, the Attachment Handbook for Foster Care and Adoption, (2005) was translated into French and Italian and launched at major conferences in Paris (2011) and Florence (2014). Good practice guides for professionals and for foster carers and adoptive parents have been published (Schofield and Beek 2014) and translated into Norwegian. 

In very different cultural contexts, Mary Beek, during a period working with Care for Children (2013-15), helped local staff in China, Thailand and Vietnam to apply the model to developing foster care as an alternative to institutional care.   Different cultures have presented the five dimensions in different ways, with some, such as Thailand, using cartoons as a way to get the message across. 

There are ongoing impact developments of the Secure Base internationally. For example in February 2016, the model was launched by Gillian Schofield in Melbourne for the Berry Street Childhood Institute, a major provider of foster and residential care. Mary Beek travelled to Melbourne in August 2016 to further develop the Berry Street training and implementation programme as well as teach a Master Class on the Secure Base at the  Association of Children's Welfare Agencies (ACWA) Conference in Sydney. 


The Secure Base model is being used in all contexts to ensure that children develop secure relationships and receive the best possible care to promote their development and fulfil their potential.  The model also provides a ‘secure base’ for caregivers and  professionals in offering a clear and helpful, research based  framework to draw on when working with and caring for often very distressed and needy children.  Gillian Schofield and Mary Beek will continue to use the model in research and through developing practice impact that improves the lives of children.  

Related content/sources


Prof Gillian Schofield

Professor of Child & Family Social Work, School of Social Work.

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Dr Mary Beek

Research Fellow, School of Social Work.

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