Circle of Security–Parenting: A randomized controlled trial in Head Start

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Cassidy, J., Brett, B., Gross, J., Stern, J., Martin, D., Mohr, J., & Woodhouse, S. (2017). Circle of Security–Parenting: A randomized controlled trial in Head Start. Development and Psychopathology, 29(2), 651-673.


Although evidence shows that attachment insecurity and disorganization increase risk for the development of psychopathology (Fearon, Bakermans-Kranenburg, van IJzendoorn, Lapsley, & Roisman, 2010; Groh, Roisman, van IJzendoorn, Bakermans-Kranenburg, & Fearon, 2012), implementation challenges have precluded dissemination of attachment interventions on the broad scale at which they are needed. The Circle of Security–Parenting Intervention (COS-P; Cooper, Hoffman, & Powell, 2009), designed with broad implementation in mind, addresses this gap by training community service providers to use a manualized, video-based program to help caregivers provide a secure base and a safe haven for their children. The present study is a randomized controlled trial of COS-P in a low-income sample of Head Start enrolled children and their mothers. Mothers (N = 141; 75 intervention, 66 waitlist control) completed a baseline assessment and returned with their children after the 10-week intervention for the outcome assessment, which included the Strange Situation. Intent to treat analyses revealed a main effect for maternal response to child distress, with mothers assigned to COS-P reporting fewer unsupportive (but not more supportive) responses to distress than control group mothers, and a main effect for one dimension of child executive functioning (inhibitory control but not cognitive flexibility when maternal age and marital status were controlled), with intervention group children showing greater control. There were, however, no main effects of intervention for child attachment or behavior problems. Exploratory follow-up analyses suggested intervention effects were moderated by maternal attachment style or depressive symptoms, with moderated intervention effects emerging for child attachment security and disorganization, but not avoidance; for inhibitory control but not cognitive flexibility; and for child internalizing but not externalizing behavior problems. This initial randomized controlled trial of the efficacy of COS-P sets the stage for further exploration of “what works for whom” in attachment intervention.