Transforming the lives of children in state care
In the UK and internationally, Prof Gillian Schofield and Dr Mary Beek’s Secure Base model is supporting caregivers in meeting the needs of society’s most vulnerable children.
Children in state care are among the most vulnerable in society. Previous experiences of physical and psychological trauma, loss and separation mean that children require therapeutic care if they are to achieve happy, stable adult lives and fulfil their potential.
To guide and support caregivers and professionals in meeting these children’s needs successfully, the free to access Secure Base model of therapeutic caregiving was developed by Prof Gillian Schofield and Dr Mary Beek in the Centre for Research on Children and Families at UEA. The model combines attachment theory with their highly regarded long-term fostering research.
The Secure Base model
In attachment theory, a ‘secure base’ refers to caregiving that reduces a child’s anxiety and helps them regulate their emotions, enjoy their lives and fulfil their potential.
The Secure Base model gives caregivers and professionals an understanding of what children and young people (and in particular those with harmful early experiences) need in order to build resilience and security. It was initially designed for foster carers and adoptive parents, and it’s been particularly successful with children and young people in foster care, adoption and residential care who have experienced abuse and neglect.
But the model is helpful to all types of caregivers, including birth parents, kinship and residential carers, school staff and a range of other professionals who support children and families.
The Secure Base model incorporates five key caregiving dimensions. Each is linked to a developmental benefit for the child:
- Availability – helping the child to trust
- Sensitivity – helping the child to manage feelings
- Acceptance – building the child’s self esteem
- Co-operation – helping the child to feel effective
- Family membership – helping the child to belong
These positive caregiving and developmental dimensions interact. 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. A child who feels accepted is more likely to co-operate with others and feel that they belong.
The Secure Base model is designed to be practical. Caregivers can try parenting approaches for each dimension and see the beneficial changes in children over time. And it has proved very popular. The website, which has a range of training and practice materials, has received up to 3,000 visits a month from 20 countries, and the model has been applied across a range of countries, cultures and contexts.
Influencing UK care practice
The Secure Base model has been implemented in services in a wide range of local authority and independent agency settings across the four countries of the UK. It was first recommended for foster care in the Care Matters Government policy paper in 2007, and was subsequently incorporated into the 2009 and 2014 editions of The Skills to Foster, a training course for all prospective foster carers. Prof Schofield was a consultant for the 2022 edition.
The model has been applied in varied practice contexts as time has gone on; for example, providing the foundation for the child-centred UEA Moving to Adoption practice framework, the development of Secure Base training programmes for use in schools, and the development of the Team as a Secure Base training, which promotes emotional resilience in the workplace.
Prof Schofield and Dr Beek’s work on the Secure Base model has been influential in a wide range of countries and cultures. The first core text, The Attachment Handbook for Foster Care and Adoption (2006, 2nd edition 2018), was translated into French in 2011 and Italian in 2014 .
In 2007, Norway became the first country to adopt the model as a framework for foster care practice. All new foster carers in Norway receive training in ‘Trygg Base’, social workers use the model to support high quality care for children and the Secure Base model good practice guide (2014) for professionals was translated into Norwegian.
The researchers have also offered Secure Base training in Spain, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden, and Dr Beek’s work with German based charity Care in Action included the delivery of Secure Base training to foster carers and practitioners in Ukraine. Ukrainian trainers have since delivered multiple successful Secure Base programmes across the country.
It’s not just European practice that Prof Schofield and Dr Beek have influenced over the years. Indeed, they’ve supported progress towards developing foster care as an alternative to institutional care in countries all around the world. Dr Beek worked with UK-based charity Care for Children between 2013-15 to develop training programmes, support local staff and implement the Secure Base model in China, Thailand and Vietnam, and it was also recommended for practice in the first official guide for foster care in India in 2018.
In 2016 they were commissioned to offer training and support for implementation of the Secure Base model for the Berry Street Childhood Institute, a major provider of foster and residential care in Melbourne, Australia.
A new look Secure Base model website was launched in 2021, and Prof Schofield, Dr Beek and their colleague Julie Young continue to support the development and implementation of the Secure Base model worldwide.
Related content / sources
Providing a Secure Base website
Providing a Secure Base talk from 2016