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Use Your Words: Supporting Expressive Language Development and Use

“Use your words” is an oft-used statement among parents of young children who are taking their first steps in using language to communicate. Using their words is an important part of children developing their expressive language skills, and their socialisation.

As a very young infant, a child’s capacity to express themselves is limited to crying and, shortly thereafter, smiling. As the child grows, they develop and use a range of gestures and behaviours to communicate with others about their experience. Increasingly, they babble with communicative intent. Later, they use speech.

A child’s use of these methods of communication, and their developmental progression to formal speech, is influenced by two key factors:

  1. Whether their efforts to communicate are met with an understanding response from adults in a caregiving role; and
  2. Modelling of the use of expressive gestures and speech by their carergiver(s).

In a conventional nurturing care environment, an infant’s caregiver(s) spends a lot of time considering and responding to the following question: What is going on for baby? Applied consistently, the infant has the experience that their experience is understood, important and will be addressed by their caregiver(s). This encourages the infant to express themselves and trust in the sensitive responsiveness of their caregiver(s).

In a conventional nurturing care environment, an infant’s caregiver(s) speak and gesture in a manner that reflects their understanding of What is going on for baby. That is, they reflect back the infant’s emotions and model the use of gestures that communicate the infant’s experience and intentions. Importantly, they also use words that go with the infant’s experience.

If you are unsure of what I am referring to, consider a person in your family who has a pet (usually a dog or cat), or even yourself, if you have one. Do you/they speak to your/their pet as if the pet were speaking to you/them. Do you/they speak their mind? I find that people I speak to about this generally identify with doing this. That is, we speak to our pets using words that they cannot themselves use to express themselves.

Getting back to the young child, in a conventional nurturing care environment where their caregiver(s) models communication and responds consistently to the child’s efforts to communicate, the infant learns what goes with what and uses their learning. For example, they learn to point at objects of interest or those that are desired after seeing their caregiver(s) modelling this for them. They learn to clap when they are proud of themselves. Importantly, they learn what words go with what experience, such as learning what feeling words go with each feeling, in response to their caregiver(s) putting their feelings into words (You are happy! You are sad.).

So, when an adult in a caregiving role says to them “use your words”, a child who has experienced conventional nurturing care will have the words and the trust in the responsiveness of adults in a caregiving role that supports their use of words to communicate about their experience.

What happens, then, among children who have not experienced conventional nurturing care during the early developmental period, such as having an adult who consistently responds to them in a way that supports their understanding and use of language to communicate about their experience? At least two things:

  1. These children have a limited vocabulary for expressing themselves (often referred to as poor ‘inner-state-language’); and
  2. Their use of language to express themselves is restricted, both by limited language development and low expectations of the understanding and responsiveness of adults in a caregiving role.

Among children who have had a tough start to life, we often refer to behaviour as their language. This is problematic for a range of reasons, not least because they chronically feel misunderstood by others. Too often, this results in fear and mistrust and (further) undesirable behaviour; responses to the latter compounding their fear and mistrust and experience of being misunderstood.

In order to support the use of words to communicate about their experience among children who have had a tough start to life we need to:

  1. Recognise that they are communicating about their experience via their behaviour; and
  2. Support the development of their inner-state-language by speaking their mind.

This starts with a question. But it is the only question you must ask. You ask it to yourself. You ask: What is going on for the child; right here, right now? Then you say the answer. You say what you see. In doing so, you are filling in the gaps in the child’s experience, whereby you are helping them with words that go with their experience, and modelling their use.

You say it as a statement, preferably of 10 words or less. A statement facilitates for the child the experience of being heard and understood. Trust flows from this, and the child is more likely to communicate with you thereafter using newly acquired words. A question about the child’s experience, on the other hand, is experienced by the child as you not knowing what their experience is and compounds their experience of being unheard and misunderstood.

So, when you are communicating with a child who is recovering from a tough start to life and you find yourself wanting to ask them a question about their experience or wanting to tell them to use their words, pause for a moment. Think about what the child would say, if they had the words or would use them. Say the answer.

Use your words.

For more information about my programs that support expressive language development and use among children who are recovering from a tough start to life, engage me to deliver a training program or access my books and resources.

Colby Pearce - Attachment
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Kinship CARE Project Term 3 Sessions

Visit the Kinship CARE Project Page for more information and to register.

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We Love Collaborating

Secure Start® is looking to collaborate with organisations who share our vision of supporting happy, connected children.

Our recent and ongoing collaborations include:

The implementation of the Triple-A Model of Therapeutic Care in Donegal, Ireland. In its fourth year, the Triple-A implementation is a collaboration of Secure Start and TUSLA (The Child and Family Agency). The implementation has reached 50+ child protection and out-of-home care staff and upwards of 120 foster carers. The implementation continues via twelve local trainers, including six foster carers.

The Kinship CARE Project. In its second year, the Project is a collaboration of Secure Start and the Department for Child Protection in South Australia. So far, 50+ kinship care support workers and approaching 200 kinship carers have received training in the CARE Therapeutic Framework.

The development of trauma-informed resources for Goodstart Early Learning. One of our most recent and exciting collaborations was one in which we recently designed and produced resources for trauma-informed practice in the areas of childhood trauma, physical abuse, and neglect, for Goodstart’s 648 early learning centres around Australia.

At Secure Start, we have considerable expertise in:

  • Program development and implementation
  • Program evaluation
  • Content writing
  • Consultation
  • Supervision.

Past collaborations include:

  • Adelaide to Outback GP Program – Supervision
  • Adelaide Northern Division of General Practice – 0-12 Psychology Clinic
  • Mark Oliphant College – Psychology Clinic
  • University of South Australia – Psychology Training Clinics

For more information, and to discuss a potential collaboration, email me at

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The CARE Therapeutic Framework

The CARE Therapeutic Framework is an evidence-informed framework for understanding what key experiences children need to have to grow up happy, healthy, and well-adjusted, and achieve their developmental potential.

Drawn from psychological science, the CARE Therapeutic Framework was first published as a conceptual model in the Second Edition of A Short Introduction to Attachment and Attachment Disorder.

The CARE Therapeutic Framework represents what is the desired therapeutic environment promoted in the Triple-A Model of Therapeutic Care; the author’s therapeutic foster care program that is currently in its fourth year of implementation among TUSLA general and relative foster carers in Donegal, Ireland. Recently, Triple-A received favourable mention in a report by the independent inspection authority for health and social care services in Ireland*.

(*see HIQA Monitoring Event No. 0020090, April 2018).

The CARE Therapeutic Framework is the stand-alone Model of Care for South Australia’s Kinship CARE Project and other Secure Start programs; including Child CARE, a program for long day care and early learning centres.

The CARE Therapeutic Framework places Connection are the centre of all endeavour for and on behalf of children. The CARE Therapeutic Framework recognises the central role played by connection in supporting physical and mental health and regulating behaviour. In addition, the CARE Therapeutic Framework seeks to enrich children’s experience of the consistency of their care environment and the accessibility, responsiveness and emotional connectedness of their caregiver(s) – the CARE Model.

The Care Therapeutic Framework is both a Model of Care and a Model of Practice. The CARE Therapeutic Framework incorporates complementary training for professionals who support caregivers of children. Caregiver fidelity to the Framework is supported by their own experience of CARE from professionals trained in the Framework.

The CARE Therapeutic Framework is a strengths-based approach that draws participants’ attention to conventional aspects of caregiving and relating that support optimal developmental outcomes for children.

The CARE Therapeutic Framework does not seek to replace other approaches. Rather, the CARE Therapeutic Framework offers a back-to-basics approach that forms a solid foundation to build on. As a strengths-based approach, the CARE Therapeutic Framework complements other strengths-based approaches.

The CARE Therapeutic Framework includes:

  • An embedded self-care framework
  • An evaluation framework.

The CARE Therapeutic Framework supports the development of a tailored therapeutic CARE Plan, for your setting and for individual children. CARE promotes trusting connections and growth!

The CARE Therapeutic Framework is suitable for:

  • Schools
  • Alternate Care Settings
  • Long day care and early learning centres

For a short introduction to the CARE Therapeutic Framework, please click here.

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Child CARE: Our New Program for long day care and early learning centres

What is Child CARE?

Child CARE is a four-session (plus optional call-back) interactive training program designed to support:

  • Wellbeing
  • Growth and development
  • Optimal behaviour
  • Recovery from adversity

Among children in early-learning and long day-care.

Child CARE offers a framework for understanding why children behave the way they do and how to establish a therapeutic care environment that supports growth and addresses factors that give rise to common behaviours of concern.

CARE stands for:

  • Consistency
  • Accessibility
  • Responsiveness
  • Emotional Connectedness

Children need CARE!

What does the Child CARE program offer?

The Child CARE program facilitates the development of a tailored therapeutic CARE Plan for your setting and for individual children.

What is involved?

  • Whole day interactive workshop or a series of four two-hour workshops
  • An embedded self-care framework
  • An evaluation framework
  • An optional call-back addressing the management of ongoing behaviours of concern using CARE.

Child CARE interactive workshops include:

  • Practical activities and demonstrations
  • Audio-visual content
  • Reflection activities

What does it cost*?

Standard implementation (excluding call-back):

$2,500 (GST exclusive) – whole day

$3,500 (GST Exclusive) – series of four two-hour workshops

Add a 2.0 hour callback:

$3,250 (GST inclusive) – whole day

$4,250 (GST exclusive) – series of four two-hour workshops

*Additional costs may apply for implementations outside Adelaide metropolitan area.

Key Contacts:

Georgina Johnson (Relationships Manager):

Rebecca Pearce (Practice Manager):

Trainer: Colby Pearce

Colby Pearce - Attachment

Our principal Clinical Psychologist, Colby is well-known in Australia, the United Kingdom, and Ireland for his informative books and programs. He is also regarded as a lively and accomplished presenter.

View and download a flier here.

View and download the our resources for trauma-responsive practice in early learning centres here.

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Child development: The importance of emotional connection

Emotional connection, initiated by an adult caretaker, is important because it supports several extremely important aspects of a child’s emotional development.

Connecting with the emotional experience of an infant supports a reciprocal emotional connection from the infant.

Within this emotional connection the infant is supported to be self-aware of their emotions as a result of their caretaker mirroring and reflecting back the child’s emotional experience; including with words that ultimately become the vocabulary with which children can describe their emotional experience.

Within this emotional connection the infant is supported to be aware of the emotions of others, which ultimately manifests as a capacity to feel and express empathy and to regulate their behaviour out of a concern for the experience of others (also known as socio-emotional reciprocity). This is vital for getting along with others and experiencing mutually-satisfying relationships.

By connecting with the infant and returning to calm themselves, adult caretakers assist the infant to regulate their emotions (co-regulation) until the infant can do so themselves (self-regulation).

Through adult caretakers tuning in to the emotions of the infant and helping them to return to calm, the adult caretaker supports the infant’s safe exploration of emotions and a broad emotional repertoire.

Further, within this emotional connection the adult caretaker offers experiences of being heard and understood on an emotional level, thereby supporting positive representations of self and other, reassurance (and, thereby, lower arousal levels), and trust that the caretaker can be relied upon, including for needs provision.

In the CARE Therapeutic Framework and the Triple-A Model of Therapeutic Care, I support parents and caregivers to be more aware of the vital role of emotional connection and how to enrich a child’s experience of it, in support of positive developmental outcomes for children.

I would also direct the reader to my resources supporting trauma informed care and practice in the home and school settings.

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A Short Introduction to the Kinship CARE Project

Access a PDF of the full article here.

In South Australia, forty-six percent of children in out-of-home care with an authority to place are in a kinship care placement. Kinship care is the largest form of out-of-home care in South Australia and is growing almost 50% faster than foster care (DCP Reporting and Statistics).

Given the circumstances in which children enter their care, regardless of jurisdiction, kinship carers typically receive less preparatory training than foster carers. In South Australia, Kinship carers have also been recognised to have received less ongoing training support than foster carers (Nyland, 2016). Proportionately, kinship carers are recognised internationally as being less advantaged, and experiencing greater family complexity, than foster carers. Notwithstanding these factors, children placed with kinship carers enter care for the same reasons as children placed in other forms of out-of-home, and with similar issues (Delfabbro, 2017).

The Kinship CARE Project commenced in March 2018 to provide trauma-informed training about the characteristics and therapeutic care requirements of children in kinship care placements.

As part of the Kinship CARE Project, kinship carers, kinship care support staff and selected DCP Psychology Staff receive training in the CARE Therapeutic Framework (Consistency, Accessibility, Responsiveness, Emotional-Connectedness) (Pearce, 2016).

Training for kinship carers incorporates four half-day workshops, scheduled two-weeks apart, followed by a call-back session three months after the initial four sessions. The format of the implementation sessions is as follows:

Session 1:

  • What is therapeutic care and what does it require of you?
  • The importance of achieving connection as a primary task.

Session 2:

  • Enriching children’s experience of caregiver consistency and accessibility.
  • Self-Care (Part 1)

Session 3:

  • Enriching children’s experience of caregiver responsiveness.

Session 4:

  • Enriching children’s experience of caregiver emotional connectedness.
  • Self-Care (Part 2)


  • Addressing behaviours of concern using the CARE Therapeutic Framework

Training for kinship carers recognises that, though it shares many similarities with foster care, kinship care has its own unique characteristics. The language used when delivering the CARE Therapeutic Framework is tailored to the unique characteristics of kinship care. Though the program is trauma-informed, reference to concepts such as trauma, abuse and neglect is de-emphasised, in favour of more generic concepts, such as adversity and children having had a tough start to life. This is considered to be extremely important in the kinship care space, where a sense of family shame is a salient factor. There is an imperative to attract and retain kinship carers in such initiatives, rather than alienating them by invoking experiences of shame.

In addition, there is a focus on supporting carers to develop an understanding of how to implement therapeutic re-parenting in their own individual circumstances. That is, there is a focus on assisting carers to know what to do, and to develop a tailored therapeutic re-parenting Plan. Psychological theory is presented sparingly and only in support of the rationale (and evidential basis) for recommended approaches. Accessibility of the content is supported through a multi-modal approach to delivery that includes practical activities, demonstrations and audio-visual content in support of verbal content. Regular individual and group reflection activities also support understanding of the program content. Kinship care support workers regularly attend sessions with carers on their caseload, further supporting caregiver accessibility to the content and shared experience of the program.

Training for kinship care support workers and psychology staff is similar to that which is delivered to kinship carers, except that there is a focus on the implementation of the Framework in kinship care support workers’ practice with kinship carers, and psychologists’ practice with kinship care support workers. That is, there is a layered approach to implementation, whereby kinship carers experience CARE from their support workers, and support workers experience CARE from psychologists trained in the Framework. This approach is followed to support embeddedness of the Framework in the kinship care program, and fidelity to the Framework.

The CARE Therapeutic Framework promotes human Connection as a primary task (Kahn, 2005), where the primary task is defined as the one task that we need to get right and upon which the success of all endeavour rests. There is a robust and ever-growing evidence base for the role of connection in supporting optimal emotional and behavioural outcomes for young people and adults alike *Dooley and Fitzgerald, 2015; Ottman et al, 2006; O’Rourke and Sidani, 2017),[iv].

The Kinship CARE Project aims include:

  • Implement the CARE Therapeutic Framework in the Kinship Care Program in South Australia;
  • Establish a common knowledge, language and approach among kinship carers, kinship care support workers, and psychologists who support both;
  • Develop competencies related to trauma-informed, therapeutic re-parenting of children in kinship care, and competencies in the implementation of a practice framework that supports fidelity to the therapeutic re-parenting approach;
  • Develop competencies in self-care;
  • Support empowerment and self-efficacy in the respective roles of participants of the program; and
  • Improve connections between kinship children and their carers, and connections between kinship carers and Agency staff who work in the kinship care space.

To access a PDF of the full article, which includes further information about Project content, please click here.

If you are an employee of the Department for Child Protection (DCP) in South Australia it would be great if you could share information about the Kinship CARE Project with carers of children on your caseload who are kinship carers.

If you are reading this and are not in South Australia, please email me to discuss a potential implementation project. My email is


Delfabbro, P. (2017). Relative/kinship and foster care: A comparison of carer and child characteristics. Pathways of Care Longitudinal Study: Outcomes of Children and Young People in Out-of-Home Care. Research Report Number 7. Sydney. NSW Department of Family and Community Services

Department for Child Protection, Reporting and Statistics

Dooley, B & Fitzgerald, A (2015). My World Survey: National Study of Youth Mental Health in Ireland. UCD School of Psychology, Headstrong

Kahn, W. A. (2005). Holding Fast: The Struggle to Create Resilient Caregiving Organisations. Hove and New York: Brunner-Routledge

O’Rourke, H. M., & Sidani, Souraya. (2017). Definition, Determinants, and Outcomes of Social Connectedness for Older Adults: A Scoping Review. Journal of Gerontological Nursing, 439(7), pp 43-52.

Ottman, G, Dickson, J, & Wright, P. (2006). Social Connectedness and Health: A Literature Review. Cornell University GLADNET Collectio

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

The Life They Deserve, Hon. Justice Nyland, 2016

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Happy Birthday

Attachment Colby Pearce National Psychology Exam

A Short Introduction to Attachment and Attachment Disorder turns ten years old this year!

It was significantly revised for the second edition (2016), but it remains a favorite for many.

At the time it was ‘written’ (2008 – though it evolved from lecture notes first prepared in 1999), it was representative of much that I had learnt across seventeen years practise as an applied researcher and Psychologist practising in child and adolescent mental health and child protection.

In the book, I challenged thinking of the time concerning the use of ADHD medication among children with a trauma history and I addressed the central importance of making and maintaining deep and lasting connections.

Organised around the concepts of Attachment, Arousal and Accessibility (to needs provision), the book was a pre-cursor to what would become known as the Triple-A Model of Therapeutic Care.

By including a reformulation of the operant conditioning paradigm, the book and I broke with common representations in the area of attachment and trauma and ‘spoke’ about the importance of what children learn about adults in a caregiving role (Accessibility, to needs provision). Without seeking to to do so, ‘we’ emulated the cross-disciplinary approach John Bowlby took when he first conceived of ‘Attachment Theory’.

Happy birthday first edition!

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Complex Trauma: Three things you need to know about how it impacts the developing child

Complex Trauma occurs when children experience prolonged and debilitating fear and distress as a result of adverse experiences that occur recurrently and/or in combination, and where the person or person’s who are responsible for keeping the child safe from harm and alleviate their distress is/are:

  • unable to alleviate the child’s distress, or . . .
  • are responsible for the child’s fear and distress.

The type of trauma being referred to here is also known as:

  • Complex Developmental Trauma – because it occurs during a period of formative development and shapes all aspects of the child’s development;
  • Attachment Trauma – because it usually occurs in the context of the child’s first attachment relationships, where one or other or both of the child’s first attachment figure(s) is responsible for the trauma experience;
  • Abuse – an act of commission that results in physical and/or emotional and/or psychological harm; or
  • Neglect – an act of omission that results in physical and/or emotional and/or psychological harm.

Complex trauma adversely impacts three key factors that play an important role in the developing child’s approach to life, learning/development, and relationships:

  • Attachment (or, how the child thinks about, and interacts with, themselves, others and their world);
  • Arousal (or, the psycho-physiology of performance, emotion and behaviour activation systems);
  • Accessibility to needs provision (or, what the child has learnt about the accessibility and responsiveness of adults in a caregiving or caretaking role).

Attachment refers to the dependency relationship an infant develops to his or her primary caregivers during the first years of life. Our knowledge of attachment derives from Attachment Theory. Attachment Theory was initially developed in the 1940’s, in part to account for observations that were being made of institutionalised children and those who experienced prolonged separation from their primary caregivers; including by reason of lengthy hospital admissions and those children displaced from their families during World War II (Bretherton, 1992) .

Since its early development, Attachment Theory has been the focus of an enormous amount of research and has become widely used in child protection as it offers an explanatory framework for differential outcomes for children based on caregiving practices. In addition, Attachment Theory informs us about a child’s relationship with themselves, others and their world.

Arousal refers to the level of activation of the nervous system. From a psychological point of view, arousal is significant for (at-least) three reasons. Firstly, arousal affects how well we perform tasks, and activities more generally. Secondly, arousal is implicated in how we feel. Thirdly, arousal is implicated in how we behave, including our approach to life and relationships. In particular, arousal is implicated in the behaviour activation system that is activated when individuals perceive a threat to themselves or someone close to or close by them and their associated feeling of anxiety (known as the fight-flight-freeze response).

Accessibility to needs provision refers to what children have learnt about the reliability and predictability with which their needs will be addressed by adults in a caregiving role, and learnt behaviours that serve to reassure the child that their needs will be satisfied.  Accessibility to needs provision is based on Learning Theory and the Operant Conditioning paradigm (Ferster & Skinner, 1957; Skinner, 1938).

In combination, I refer to these three factors as the “Triple-A Model”; or “Triple-A” for short (Pearce, 2010).

In the resources below I provide additional detail about how complex trauma impacts attachment, arousal and what the child learns (and learns to do) about accessibility to needs provision. Thereafter, I a set-out a series of practical, user-friendly strategies for addressing these aspects of the child who has experienced complex trauma following the CARE Model (Pearce, 2016):

  • Consistency
  • Accessibility
  • Responsiveness
  • Emotional Connectedness

I do hope that you decide to access these complementary resources or supporting consistency o therapeutic care and management across home and school for children who have had a tough start to life.

Get a free introduction to the resources here!

For individual purchasers – Carer Resource

Buy now and we will email your personalised copy of the resource (Please allow up to 2 business days for us to respond to your payment).


For more information, or for organisational purchasers, click here.

For individual purchasers – School Resource

Buy now and we will email your personalised copy of the resource (Please allow up to 2 business days for us to respond to your payment).


For more information, or for schools/organisational purchasers, click here.


Bretherton, I. (1992). The Origins of Attachment Theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Developmental Psychology, 28: 759-775.

Ferster, C.B. and Skinner, B.F. (1957) Schedules of Reinforcement. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts

Pearce, C. (2016). A Short Introduction to Attachment and Attachment Disorder (Second Edition). 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

[Skinner, B. F. (1938) The Behaviour of Organisms: An Experimental Analysis. New York: Appleton-Century

Posted in AAA Caregiving, Adoption, Attachment, Fostering, kinship care, Parenting, Schools, Training Programs, trauma informed, trauma informed care, trauma informed practice, Trauma Informed Schools | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment