Examining the effectiveness of Circle of Security Parenting (COS-P): a multi-site non-randomized study with waitlist control

Anne Marie Maxwell*, Catherine McMahon, Anna Huber, Rebecca E. Reay, Erinn Hawkins, Bryanne Barnett

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
35 Downloads (Pure)


Recognition of the protective value of secure parent–child relationships has prompted a growing interest in parenting interventions informed by attachment theory. Circle of Security Parenting (COS-P) is one such program, specifically designed for scalability. Although widely disseminated internationally, evidence for the effectiveness of COS-P is very limited. This non-randomized controlled effectiveness study was designed to help address this gap. A sample of 256 parents of children aged 0–6 years was recruited from four community child and family health organizations. Assessments were undertaken pre- and post-intervention for the treatment group (n = 201) and at comparable times for the waitlist control group (n = 55). Analysis of data for mothers (89% of sample) revealed a significant Time x Group interaction for six of the seven outcomes examined. Compared to mothers in the control condition, treatment group mothers reported significantly: (a) improved parental mentalizing and self-efficacy regarding empathy and affection toward the child; (b) reduced caregiving helplessness and hostility toward the child; and (c) reduced depression symptoms, at the end of COS-P treatment. There was no difference between groups for change in perceived child difficultness. Within-treatment-group analyses indicated that mothers with older children reported greatest reductions in caregiving helplessness, and mothers with probable clinical depression pre-intervention reported greatest reductions in hostility and depression symptoms. Improvements in other study outcomes did not differ by depression severity or child age. Exploratory analyses indicated that treatment group fathers showed the same pattern of change as mothers. Clinical implications and directions for future research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1123-1140
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Child and Family Studies
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to acknowledge the collaboration of our four partner agencies, their managerial staff and clinicians: Tresillian Family Care Centres; Raphael Services NSW, St John of God Healthcare Social Outreach; ACT Health Perinatal and Infant Mental Health Consultation Service; Marymead Centre for Early Life Matters. We would also like to acknowledge the families who gave their time to participate in this study. We are grateful for research assistance provided by Caitlin Hamilton (material preparation), Emma Smith and Kate Wright (data collection), Sijal Ansari, Aswathi Neelakandan and Saddha Fernando (data entry), and Naomi Sweller (statistical advice). This study was funded by Macquarie University Higher Degree Research Fund & an Australian Government Research Training Scholarship (as part of the university?s PhD provision for AM) and Canberra Hospital Private Practice Fund (a competitive minor grant awarded to RR).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Circle of Security
  • parenting self-efficacy
  • parental mentalizing
  • parental depression


Dive into the research topics of 'Examining the effectiveness of Circle of Security Parenting (COS-P): a multi-site non-randomized study with waitlist control'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this