Connected Classrooms – A school-based programme for addressing the impacts of early adversity on the developing child

Schools play a vital role in helping children and young people to recover from a tough start to life, and thrive. My Connected Classrooms programme has been successfully delivered in South Australia, with more than 99% of participant ratings reflecting that the content was informative, practical, and useful, and that they would recommend the programme to other schools.

Connected Classrooms is also delivered in Donegal, Ireland, by my trained trainers in the TUSLA (Child and Family Agency) Fostering Service.

Here is a sneak peak of the content.

To find out more, and to discuss an implementation, contact me at:

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Intentional parenting benefits you and your kids

With lots of things that command our attention these days, it is natural to approach aspects of our life and roles in the easiest manner possible. In Psychology, automaticity is concept used to describe times in which we perform a task almost unthinkingly, as if on auto-pilot, freeing up space to respond to other matters. An example most people identify with is the experience of arriving by car at your destination and having little conscious memory of the journey. It can be troubling, though it is natural. Aspects of parenting can become “automatic” too. Children benefit from their parents approaching the role consciously and intentionally. The challenge is to do so without adding to the sensation of overwhelm that is an ever-present risk in modern life. In the CARE Curriculum I put forward simple (and conventional) ways of parenting intentionally that have maximum impact on children, without being overwhelming (for parent or child). I have included some examples in the graphic below.

In the Kinship CARE Project, our outcome data revealed that carers felt more confident in the role and observed improved relationships in the home after completing training in the CARE Curriculum.

For more information about the CARE Model and Curriculum, see:


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A common knowledge, language, and approach for parents, professionals, and organisations: The CARE Curriculum

The CARE Model (Pearce, 2016) offers an evidence-informed conceptual framework for understanding the impact of relationships on the developing person. CARE stands for:

  • Consistency
  • Accessibility
  • Responsiveness
  • Emotional Connectedness

The CARE Curriculum offers a comprehensive approach to the delivery of culturally-sensitive, trauma-informed and -responsive services among families recovering from adverse life and family circumstances, via the delivery of enriched CARE.

Developmental growth is a central feature of the CARE Curriculum. Key outcomes include:

  • Growing a consistent, strengths-based and relationship-focused organisational approach to service delivery;
  • Growing confident and knowledgeable professionals who exhibit key competencies in their practice that support growth in their clients; and
  • Growth in parental growth capacity to provide consistent, enriched, and reparative care to their young ones.

Personal growth is mediated by individual factors that influence approach to life, relationships, and roles. Key individual factors include:

  • The beliefs one holds about ourselves, others, and the world (also known as Attachment Representations, Internal Working Models, and Schema);
  • Central Nervous System activation (also known as Arousal, and implicated in performance and wellbeing); and
  • Life learning, especially about access to needs provision.

This is the Triple-A Model (Pearce, 2016; 2011, 2010), and represents a  framework for understanding how CARE influences individual outcomes. An optimal approach to life, relationships and roles is enhanced through strengthening the influence of:

  • Secure Attachment Representations;
  • Optimal Arousal for performance and wellbeing; and
  • Trust in Accessibility to needs provision.

CARE directly influences Attachment, Arousal, and Accessibility (Pearce, 2016). CARE develops people, thereby addressing the factors that underly common manifestations of psychological impairment, including substance abuse issues, mental health issues, and maladaptive relationships. The CARE curriculum offers an approach to developing optimal functioning and growth via a comprehensive approach to service delivery.

The CARE Curriculum recognises that not all circumstances are the same. As such, there is a particular focus on reflective capacity and practice. Participant organisations, practitioners and parents are supported to develop their knowledge and understanding of the importance of CARE, but they are also supported to reflect on how they can offer enriched care in their work and roles.

A common statement in feedback from practitioners about the CARE Curriculum is that it not only helped them to be better at their work roles, it helped them to be better in their personal roles and relationships. The CARE Curriculum offers the opportunity for people to be the best version of themselves.

Recent and ongoing projects utilising the CARE Curriculum include:

  • The implementation of the Triple-A Model of Therapeutic Care (a programme of the CARE Curriculum) in the TUSLA (Child and Family Agency) Fostering service in Donegal, Ireland – ongoing since 2016. (Nb. Ongoing implementation maintained by twelve trained local trainers in Ireland).
  • Martinthi – Aboriginal Kinship CARE Program (A collaboration of InComPro, Bookyana, UCWB, and Secure Start®) – ongoing
  • Trauma-Informed Psychotherapy – A Programme delivered to Connecting Families with grant support from the DHS Trauma Responsiveness Grant, 2020
  • The Kinship CARE Project (A Collaboration of The Department for Child Protection and Secure Start®, 2018-2020)
  • Supporting Trauma Informed Practice in Schools – Programme delivered in DECD regional school and purchased for roll-out in schools in Donegal, Ireland.

The CARE Model, as described in A Short Introduction to Attachment and Attachment Disorder  – Second Edition (Pearce, 2016) remains recommended reading for all prospective psychology registrants in Australia who must sit the National Psychology Examination. The Triple-A Model of Therapeutic Care (a programme of the CARE Curriculum) has been favourably referenced in Inspection reports of the TUSLA Fostering Service in Donegal, Ireland, in 2016 and 2018 by the independent inspection authority for health and social care services in Ireland (HIQA).

Some Stats:

A two-year joint-initiative of Secure Start® and the Department for Child Protection (DCP) in South Australia, the CARE Curriculum was delivered to 250 kinship carers across 7 regional and 17 metropolitan locations. Twelve percent (12%) of participants identified as being of Australian Aboriginal descent. Eighty-four percent (84%) of participant kinship carers who completed the training and a three-month follow up survey reported that they were experiencing improved relationships with the children in their care, eighty-nine percent (89%) reported that they felt more confident in the role, ninety-eight percent (98%) reported that they had learnt strategies that had helped them in the kinship role, and one-hundred percent (100%) reported that they had received helpful information. Session by session evaluations showed that more than 98% of participant kinship carers indicated that the training was informative, practical and useful, that they were satisfied with the training, and that they would recommend it to other kinship carers. Analysis of pre-post questionnaires for the first twelve implementation groups identified that kinship carers were more than twice as likely to refer to behaviour being an expression of needs, as opposed to naughtiness, after four training sessions.


Pearce, C.M. (2016) A Short Introduction to Attachment and Attachment Disorder (Second Edition).London, Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Pearce, C & Gibson, J (2016), A Preliminary Evaluation of the Triple-A Model of Therapeutic Care, Foster, 2, 95-104

Pearce, C.M. (2011). A Short Introduction to Promoting Resilience in Children. London, Jessica Kingsley Publishers

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

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All relationships are important for attachment security

Our approach to life, roles, and relatedness (engagement) is influenced by many factors. Chief among these is the relationships we have with significant others, especially during our developing years. It sounds trite to observe, but our relationships play a key role in our engagement.

The relationships we form toward significant people in our life, and upon whom we depend for care and protection, are our attachments. Our most active period of developing attachments is during childhood, when we form attachments to our parents/caregivers, and also to relatives, siblings, and other significant adults who have continuity and consistency in our life and provide some level of care and protection.

Our attachments to significant others vary, depending on our experience of care and protection from them. Some attachments are secure, meaning that we can confidently explore our world and take on challenges, secure in the knowledge that we have someone we can turn to when we need them; someone who will help us to feel better quickly so we can brave the world again. Other attachments are insecure, leaving us unsure about our access to the support we need to take on the world with confidence after it challenges us in some way. Other attachments are particularly problematic (disordered), as the person we rely on for care and protection is also a source of fear and distress. This type of attachment (also known as Disorganised) is rare and typically only occurs where there has been abuse and/or neglect.

Although some of these attachments are more influential than others (typically referred to a primary attachments), it is widely considered that our overall attachment style is influenced by our experience of relationships with all of the people towards whom we have developed an attachment. That is, if we think of attachment as a spectrum that ranges from disorder to security (see below), where each of us sits on the the spectrum is influenced to a greater or lesser degree by our collective attachment relationships.

In consideration of this, we see the positive influence of secure primary attachments and the disruptive (and, at times, destructive) influence of disordered ones. This is brought into further focus when we consider the relationship between where we sit on this spectrum and the the beliefs that form about ourselves, others and our world that develop from our experiences of attachment and influence our approach to life, roles, and relatedness:

Adapted from: Pearce, C (2016) A Short Introduction to Attachment and Attachment Disorder (Second Edition). London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

All attachments are significant. All influence our approach to life, roles and relatedness. This is particularly important in child welfare and related endeavours where the focus is facilitating recovery from a tough start to life and traumatic relationships, including through the promotion of attachment security. Where the opportunity exists to do so, we need to support repair in disordered attachments and strengthen new attachments through high quality family contact and therapeutic child care. It is in the child’s best interests that all attachments are strengthened when attachment security is the goal.

Food for thought:

No matter that you consider the child in your care already has a secure attachment to you, where that child has had disruptive attachment experiences you will need to do more to compensate for the impact of those disordered attachments.

Where possible, our focus must be on repairing attachments that have gone awry. Where this is not possible, all other significant adults in the life of the child will need to do more to support attachment security.

For more information about attachment see:
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Aboriginal Kinship Care

Dear followers of this blog. Just a quick update to let you know that I am collaborating with InComPro Aboriginal Association, Bookyana Cultural and Community Services, and Uniting Care Wesley Bowden (UCWB) in delivering culturally-sensitive, trauma-informed and -responsive support to Aboriginal Kinship Carers in South Australia – Martinthi.

In the language of the original inhabitants of the Adelaide region, Martinthi means ‘to embrace/to clasp/to hold’ and reflects the importance of connection and community amongst Aboriginal peoples.

To find out more about Martinthi, including about accessing support for kinship carers of Aboriginal children placed by the Department for Child Protection, contact 84482881.

To find out more about Secure Start’s endeavours in support of kinship care, visit the website here.

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Five strategies for addressing issues with compliance in children

Children who present with issues with compliance are often anxious. Noncompliance is a strategy they use to feel as though they can influence what happens to them and feel safe. Any measure to address issues with compliance needs to recognise this and balance it with the need to support feelings of safety and potency (that is, feeling able to influence their world) for the child.

Noncompliance with requests and directions often arises when children experience adults as being inattentive, unresponsive, and/or out of control. Ultimately, children appropriately depend on adults and feel most safe when adults are attentive, responsive, and in control.

What follows are some gentle strategies that, when used in combination, help to restore adult authority and influence (which children need) while also supporting the child or young person’s feelings of safety and potency. That is, they address the reason for the behaviour, as well as the behaviour.

1. Use ‘controlled choices’

Also referred to as ‘forced choices’, this involves offering the child options that are determined by the adult. The child may be offered the choice of one shirt or another, or between brushing their teeth or their hair first, or between holding the left hand or the right hand before crossing the road. The most important thing here is that the child feels as though they have some say, which meets their need to feel in control and able to influence what happens to them. Nevertheless, adult authority and influence is reinforced as the adult determines what the options are. No choice is too trivial, though the adult must always be happy with whatever the child chooses.

2. Teach a new skill

Children often love to learn a new activity or skill in line with their needs and/or interests. When an adult supports this by teaching them a new activity or interest, the child is motivated to attend to and comply with adult directions. It is intended that the experience of complying is non-threatening, and that the child relinquishes control with no associated negative outcome that threatens their sense of safety and wellbeing. Examples of activities to teach the child include cooking, gardening, craftwork, or board and card games.

3. Don’t ask; say!

Some children pay very close attention to the way we speak to them, including the language we use and tone of voice. When we ask them to do something some children think we are offering them a choice. Rather, gently, but firmly, say what you require the child to do in a manner that projects an expectation of compliance. This strategy, though it may not always result in compliance, helps reduce the child’s perception of being unfairly treated when, having been asked to do something and exercising their perceived choice to say no, the adult insists they comply anyway.

4. Help them be compliant

When you direct a child to do something, help them to be compliant. Do part of the task. The intent here is for the child to experience the adult as accessible, supportive, and safe when compliance is expected.

5. Catch them in the act

This is potentially the most helpful strategy of all. What I mean here is to observe the child and what they are doing, and gently direct them to do the very same activity. This is intended to help them get used to following directions, with nothing bad happening, and support a perception of adults being in control whilst avoiding challenging their own sense of choice. Again, nothing is too trivial to direct the child over. The only caveat is that it must be an activity that the adult is fine for the child to be engaging in. After a while, you may also be able to anticipate the child’s next move and direct them to do this too.

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Theory of Accessibility to Needs Provision

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.

The statement goes like this:

Children are not preoccupied with physical, emotional, and relational needs that were met consistently during the (early) developmental period. They are preoccupied with needs that were met inconsistently. Their behaviour, in turn, reflects their preoccupation. To address preoccupied behaviour, we must first meet the need that gave rise to the preoccupation. 

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Child Psychotherapy: An update about my approach

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 endeavours.

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:

  • Attachment Theory;
  • 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:

  • Consistency;
  • Accessibility;
  • Responsiveness;
  • 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 across settings.

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 psychotherapy sessions.

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

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An allegory about attachment theory

‪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!

Read more here:

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A time of reflection and redirection

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.

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