Below is a statement that reflects the third ‘A’ in the Triple-A Model – Accessibility (to needs provision). It captures my thoughts and my response when I am talking to caregivers about their experience of the behaviour of a child who is recovering from a tough start to life. Embedded in this response is the notion that children do not do anything for no reason. If we can hold on to this idea, we might then ask ourselves what is going on for the child? This is the first step in the process of making and maintaining a relational connection with the child that, ultimately, represents our best chance of being a positive regulating influence over their approach to life and relationships. Often, the behaviour of the child who is recovering from a tough start to life reflects their preoccupation with a need that was met inconsistently during the developmental period, and their endeavour to reassure themselves about access to needs provision. Responding to the need facilitates for the child the experience that their need is understood and important, that it matters, that they matter, and they can rely on you for needs provision. This is a relief for the child, thereby supporting lower arousal and reduced vulnerability to anxiety and additional behaviours of concern associated with activation of the fight-flight-freeze response. It supports functional learning about access to needs provision a reciprocal connection from the child.
I am frequently asked about my approach to psychotherapy with children and young people. In this blog I reproduce an explanation for parents and caregivers that appears on the Secure Start website.
Psychology is a broad term that covers the science of human emotions, behaviours, learning, and development.
Psychotherapy involves the application of psychological
theories and methods to the solution of psychological issues.
There are diverse psychological theories and methods that
are available to psychotherapists. In usual circumstances, these theories and methods
are drawn from scientific enquiry into psychology, and associated practice
Secure Start Principal Clinical Psychologist, Colby Pearce,
draws heavily from psychological theories relating to child development,
learning, and central nervous system functioning in understanding and developing
solutions to common issues children and young people who engage with him
present with. The main theories he draws on are:
Learning Theory; and
The psychobiology of fear-based behaviour
activation systems (‘Anxiety Theory’).
These theories are encapsulated in the Triple-A Model[i],
of which Colby is the author and which is a central element in his writing, programs,
and approach to psychotherapy:
The Triple-A Model represents psychological factors that explain
outcomes for children and young people, in terms of their development,
wellbeing, and approach to life and relationships. In A Short Introduction
to Attachment and Attachment Disorder(2nd Ed.)[ii]Colby explains how outcomes on these factors, and the interaction between
them, are heavily influenced by the care children and young people receive
during the developmental period, where care can be represented as:
Emotional Connectedness; or
CARE, for short.
In his practice with children and families, Colby’s focus is
enriching the CARE children and young people experience; in the home, at
school, and in the consulting room. Colby implements methods to enrich
experienced CARE in the consulting room and offers practical information and strategies
for enriching CARE in the home and education settings. We all respond best to
consistency, and outcomes for psychological endeavour with children and young
people are heavily influenced by achieving consistency in experienced CARE
In the consulting room, Colby’s focus is on delivering a
high ‘dose’ of CARE. The relationship between Colby and the children and young
people is the medium through which CARE is delivered, as well as the methods
used during psychotherapy sessions. It is Colby’s intent for children and young
people to consistently experience him as a fun and friendly adult who facilitates
positive beliefs about themselves, others, and their world (Attachment), who supports
their wellbeing (Arousal), and who promotes functional learning about how
adults can be relied upon for needs provision (Accessibility). In turn, this endeavour
is extended to the home and education settings through the implementation of
Colby’s therapeutic programs; notably the Triple-A Model of Therapeutic Care, and
the CARE Curriculum. This helps extend of the dose of CARE delivered in
Relational connection is a powerful source of feelings of wellbeing and supports a positive approach to life and relationships among children and young people. Being relationship-focused, in Colby’s approach to psychotherapy there is a primary emphasis on supporting experiences of relational connection for children and young people. This means that there is not always a set agenda of topics to be discussed but, rather, Colby is ‘led’ by the experience and interests of the child or young person. It is not so much what is discussed during consultations that is important, but how it is discussed, and what is the child or young person’s experience of the discussion. This is where CARE comes into it. Consistently, Colby will endeavour to support experiences that he is present and engaged, physically, emotionally, and cognitively, that he understands the experience of the child or young person, and that he can be relied upon to address certain needs. Similarly, activities supported or introduced by Colby are a vehicle by which Colby facilitates positive experiences of CARE, in the pursuit of positive beliefs about self, others, and the world, optimal arousal for performance in life and wellbeing, and functional learning about accessibility to needs provision.
In short, in Colby’s approach to psychotherapy there is an emphasis on the ‘process’ by which relational connection and the delivery of CARE is achieved. This differs to other approaches to psychotherapy, where there is a focus on teaching thinking skills or behaviours that address specific psychological issues. In Colby’s experience, the implementation of these ‘skills’ beyond the consulting room is heavily dependent on the internal motivation children and young people have to better their circumstances. Where this is lacking, Colby’s approach nurtures the motivation to apply skills and strategies that address specific psychological issues. In this sense, Colby’s approach is foundational, or developmental. It fills in the gaps for children and young people who, for one reason of another, have experienced some challenges and are in need of a little extra CARE.
[i] Pearce, C.M. (2010). An Integration of Theory, Science and Reflective Clinical Practice in the Care and Management of Attachment-Disordered Children – A Triple A Approach. Educational and Child Psychology (Special Issue on Attachment), 27 (3): 73-86
[ii] Pearce, C. A Short Introduction to Attachment and Attachment Disorder (2nd Ed.). London. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2016
A Tale of Three Mice: An Attachment Story continues to attract attention among other writers looking for a short allegory introducing Attachment Theory. This week from a publisher of a book about child development. I updated the story in the Second Edition of A Short Introduction to Attachment and Attachment Disorder, but the original remains as popular as ever!
It has been more than a month since my last post. This has been a period of significant reflection about career direction and what is both professionally and personally important to me. This period of reflection has been prompted by personal and world events and supported by highly valued engagement with colleagues.
My career has cast me in a number of roles. I have been an applied researcher in child and adolescent mental health, a clinical psychologist, teacher, trainer, and author. I have worked in public, private and higher education sectors. I have worked in Australia, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. I have held (and hold) statutory appointments, and have worked continuously in highly scrutinized environments across the last twenty-five years.
For the past few years I have focused on developing and implementing evidence-informed, therapeutic caregiving programs in foster- and kinship care. An especial highlight has been the implementation of the Triple-A Model of Therapeutic Care in the TUSLA Fostering Service in Donegal, Ireland, and the training of 12 local trainers.
In the past two years much of my time and energy has been devoted to developing and implementing a model of care and practice in statutory kinship care in South Australia – the Kinship CARE Curriculum. This has necessitated me maintaining a much smaller caseload of psychotherapy clients, among whom the largest proportion is children and young people who are recovering from a tough start to life.
As my career has developed I have gone through role transitions before, where I have moved away from endeavours that have been personally and professionally rewarding. This includes moving away from roles in the provision of psychological assessment in child protection and family law, and developing clinical psychologists through supervision and training clinics. I have done so with some some sense of loss, but my biggest feeling of loss has been in relation to the provision of psychotherapy services.
So, in the past month I have moved back into this role and appreciated the support I have received in doing so. I will continue to deliver some training, including in Statutory Kinship Care with Australian Aboriginal Children. I will also be training local service providers in the delivery of trauma-informed, psychotherapy services to children and young people recovering from a tough start to life. This latter role is particularly exciting for me as it will facilitate my return to writing about psychotherapy.
In terms of what this means for this blog, which has mostly focused on therapeutic (re)parenting, I am not sure yet. There will likely be a further period of reduced activity. I am considering starting a new blog dedicated to psychotherapy. You can find out more about my psychotherapy approach in the second edition of A Short Introduction to Attachment Disorder.
I want to thank my subscribers and regular visitors to this blog for their interest in, and support of, my work. I wish you all well and hope you have access to time and places for meaningful contemplation of what is important in your life, and the opportunity to pursue these things.
In this, my third major release during this COVID-19 period, I have turned my mind to the support of children and young people who are recovering from a tough start to life at school.
Written for teachers and other education personnel who interact with these children in a care and management role, this 51-page resource is packed with information and reflections that support the development and implementation of a therapeutic CARE Plan and optimal functioning at school.
Drawn from the Triple-A Model of Therapeutic Care and the CARE Curriculum, this resource offers both what teachers and other education personnel need to know and do in support of maintaining a trauma-sensitive and responsive school and classroom, and consistency with therapeutic endeavours in the home.
The resource is available to download here. Alternatively, you can pay/donate via the button below. All money raised supports my capacity to continue to provide practical and user-friendly resources in support of children and young people’s recovery from a tough start to life.
Pay/donate what you want:
Colby Pearce is a Clinical Psychologist in Australia and author of A Short Introduction to Attachment and Attachment Disorder, and A Short Introduction to Promoting Resilience in Children. He is also the author of the Triple-A Model of Therapeutic Care, a comprehensive training program for general and relative foster carers which is in its fifth year of implementation in the TUSLA Fostering Service in Donegal Ireland. Further, Colby is the author of the CARE Curriculum, which was delivered as part of the Kinship CARE Project to statutory kinship carers in South Australia over the past two years.
I am very pleased to make this series of short videos available to foster and kinship carers, to assist them manage the impact of the current pandemic on the children and young people in their care, and themselves.
I am aware that all parents and caregivers are currently being deluged with information and advice about child-rearing. It is not my wish to further burden foster and kinship carers with such advice. Rather, I anticipate that foster and kinship carers will find this video series, and the accompanying handbook, reassuring and validating of their endeavours. It is my hope that the videos and handbook, and the content presented, will make life a little easier.
In the first video I briefly introduce the Triple-A Model and how it explains what is happening for children and young people, and ourselves. I go on to introduce the CARE Model, a framework for understanding what a therapeutic care environment looks like.
In the following videos I further explain why CARE is important and how it is able to be enriched by following a straightforward and practical method.
I finish up with a video about a straightforward approach to looking after ourselves that does not require extra time and money and is achievable in this time of restriction and confinement.
I do hope that foster and kinship carers find the videos helpful and practical, and I welcome feedback. To access the videos, simply click on the links below.
I would encourage you to also access the handbook that accompanies the video series. The handbook can be accessed via the “Buy Now” button below and is made available to individual purchasers. If you are a representative of an organisation who would like to access the handbook for the foster and/or kinship carers you service, please contact me to discuss.
Finally, though the video series and handbook are based on the Triple-A Model of Therapeutic Care and the CARE Curriculum, my two programs that have been implemented in general and relative foster care and statutory kinship care in Australia and Ireland, they are not intended to be a substitute for engagement with foster and kinship care support services, and professionals who work with foster and kinship carers. Rather, they are intended as a little extra practical guidance and, as such, I would encourage foster and kinship carers to continue to access existing supports during these difficult times.
In these tough times, it is important to reflect on these truths:
It is human nature to focus on what is going wrong more than what is going right. You are performing better in the caregiving role than you might think.
Not all behaviour exhibited by the children in your care is abnormal or a sign of a disorder. All children misbehave. It is part of growing and learning boundaries. Normality and abnormality are differentiated by frequency, intensity, and duration.
Children communicate through their behaviour. If we focus too much on what they are doing and not why they are doing it, we may miss something important they are trying to tell us.
Children see themselves as they experience others to see them. Look for their strengths and evidence that they are doing ok.
Eyes are mirrors for a child’s soul. What do children see in your eyes?
Very few people will get through this global pandemic without being affected in some way. Some will cope better than others. Our prior life experiences can be a help, or a hindrance. Those who have experienced adversity in the past, and overcome it, will likely fare better during these difficult times. Those who have experienced overwhelming adversity, from which they have not or are yet to recover, are likely to be particularly impacted.
Children and young people who are recovering from a tough start to life are vulnerable to being particularly impacted by the current pandemic, and measures to control it. The pandemic has suddenly, and with little or no prior warning, made uncertainty, confinement, and restriction (including in relation to access to basic needs) salient aspects of our day-to-day experience. While this is stressful for most of us, it can be particularly stressful for children and young people in out-of-home care. It can put (additional) strain on their foster and kinship care placements at a time of reduced capacity to absorb additional pressures.
Uncertainty, including in relation to our health and the health of our loved ones, our access to basic needs, and what the future holds, is anxiety-evoking. It can leave us preoccupied with accessing basic needs and lead us to behave in ways that that increase our chances of being able to achieve needs provision, and feel safe. Uncertainty, coupled with the media coverage of the pandemic, can leave us experiencing ourselves as inadequate, others as threatening and dangerous, and the world as unsafe.
Our current uncertainty, and its psychological impacts on us, provides an insight into what life is like for children and young people who are recovering from a tough start to life. It affects the beliefs we hold about ourselves, others, and our world that influence our approach to life and relationships. I refer to these as attachment representations. They are also commonly referred to as internal working models, or schema. It leaves our motor (that is, our nervous system) running too fast, or too highly activated, and vulnerable to blowing up. It is shaping our learning about our access to needs provision and what actions are required to assure access. Our own response to the pandemic reflects the Triple-A Model (Pearce, 2010), which I developed to explain what I have observed across a long career about the impact of a tough start to life on the the psychological functioning of children and young people and their approach to life and relationships.
If we are vulnerable to becoming a little (or a lot) like children and young people who are recovering from a tough start to life in these troubled times, imagine what it is like for them. In these difficult times there is a heightened vulnerability to regression to approaching life and relationships under the influence of negative beliefs about self, other, and world, heightened arousal and anxiety proneness, and a preoccupation with accessibility to needs provision.
The current times, with its change and uncertainty, restriction, and increased physical closeness to stressed adults are likely to be trauma-triggering for children and young people who are recovering from a tough start to life. Foster and kinship carers, you are likely to see emotional displays and behaviours you have not seen in some time, or a heightening of those emotional displays and behaviours. Managing these trauma-related emotional displays and behaviours can leave you feeling below your best and negatively impact your performance of the caregiving role. A problematic cycle can emerge where stressed children and young people and stressed adults heighten each other, leaving placements under pressure and vulnerable, notwithstanding our best intentions in less troubled times.
What is needed now, more than ever, is a plan for how foster and kinship carers can reduce the impact of these troubled times on the children and young people they are caring for, and themselves. The CARE Curriculum offers such a plan.
Preserving Placements during a Pandemic offers a practical approach to looking after the children and young people in your care, and yourselves, during this difficult time. The package includes a series of short videos and a an accompanying handbook. The package is based on the Triple-A Model of Therapeutic Care, a comprehensive training program for general and relative foster carers which is in its fifth year of implementation in the TUSLA Fostering Service in Donegal Ireland, and the CARE Curriculum, which was delivered as part of the Kinship CARE Project to statutory kinship carers in South Australia over the past two years. 89% of local statutory kinship carers who completed the Kinship CARE Project training and a post-implementation training reported feeling more confident in performing the role, and 84% reported experiencing improved relationships with the child or children in their care.
Preserving Placements during a Pandemic is due for release on 17/4/20. If you are looking for guidance in the meantime, I refer you to my recently release resource Practical Parenting during a Pandemic. As with the Preserving Placements, the strategies in Practical Parenting are based on the CARE Curriculum and the Triple-A Model of Therapeutic Care.
A straightforward guide to keeping things on track in the home during tough times. Includes printable worksheets – see preview below. 18pp