Secure Base in teams

The Team as Secure Base model was developed as part of the Economic and Social Research Council-funded research project Emotional Intelligence in Social Work   and is an adapted version of Gillian Schofield and Mary Beek’s Secure Base model used in foster care, adoption, residential care and schools.

The Team as Secure Base draws from social workers’ experiences and their articulation of what helps create trust as a foundation for effective teamworking (Biggart et al 2017).

The concept of the secure base comes from attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969) in which the characteristics of our relationships with significant others affects the development of trust. Relationships which demonstrate availability, sensitivity to our needs, and reliability, provide us with a safe haven to return to when life is stressful. These relationships also contribute to our being able to access comforting internal mental models when we are physically away from significant others.

Adults also draw upon their social networks in times of need to provide comfort and engage in reflective thinking to help manage their emotions. Secure attachments enable us to engage with the world and help us remain resilient when life is stressful. In the context of emotionally-demanding occupations, practice supervisors and their teams often provide a work-related secure base.

The Team as Secure Base model can be used by supervisors and managers to reflect on how they can behave in a way to promote a secure base for their team across five different domains: availability, sensitivity, acceptance, cooperation, and team belonging.

the team as a secure base

Summary information about the five domains of the Team as Secure Base model


Teams work well as a secure base when members of the team are available, either in real time or virtually, and if members of the team can also rely on other members to be available to them.


Team members who demonstrate empathy (e.g. by noticing other people’s feelings, offering advice or opportunities to talk, or sympathy, tea or food) and help each other believe they can manage their feelings.


Team members who can provide constructive help and advice when things go wrong show an understanding that everyone makes mistakes and that it’s unrealistic to expect to be perfect all the time. Beliefs around the need to be seen as 100% competent at work can create unrealistic expectations, which can lead to stress.


Team members who work together to provide direction and give advice help each other feel confident that solutions to problems will be found. This helps alleviate feelings of isolation, which can be a source of stress.

Team membership

Shared ownership of work, and recognition of each other as both colleagues and human beings, helps contribute to social workers believing that they’re valued and they belong, which helps sustain self-worth.

A reflective tool was developed for Research in Practice.  This provides guided exercises within each domain.

We have developed training on Team as Secure Base, please get in touch to find out more.


Cook, L. L., Zschomler, D., Biggart, L., Carder, S. (2020). The team as secure base revisited: remote working and resilience among child and family social workers during COVID-19. Journal of Children’s Services, Vol. ahead-of-print.

Biggart, L., Ward, E., Cook, L., Schofield, G. (2017), The team as a secure base: Promoting resilience and competence in child and family social work. Children and Youth Services Review, 83 (Supplement C), 119-130.

Biggart, L., Ward, E., Cook, L., Stride, C., Schofield, G., Corr, P., Fletcher, C., Bowler, J., Jordan, P., Bailey, S. (2016). Emotional Intelligence and Burnout in Child and Family Social Work: Implications for policy and practice: Research Briefing. Norwich: Centre for Research on Children and Families, University of East Anglia.