Donna Notti and Kim Dessert.

Cheshire’s Darcey School Shines in its Circle of Security Program

Parenting can be the most rewarding chapter in a person’s life. Every parent can remember the first time they held their newborn baby. This joyous experience can soon become stressful when a child tries to communicate, but the parent cannot understand. As one local parent described the experience of being out of sync with their children, “I was stressed out and snapping easily at my children and then feeling guilty for being so reactive. It was creating a stress cycle that felt impossible to break.”

Several years ago, the Darcey School in Cheshire recognized that this problem is widespread, not only among parents, but also others who provide care for children. To help address the challenges caregivers face, for the past six years Connecticut Community Foundation has provided funding to the Darcey School to implement the Circle of Security (CoS) program. Circle of Security is a relationship-based intervention program designed to enhance attachment security between parents, teachers, caregivers, and children. Donna Notti, team coordinator for Circle of Security at Darcey School, explains, “it’s about helping children explore and helping them when they need support. The program allows parents to have a framework of how to help their children in their social, emotional development and their social, emotional crises.”

The COVID-19 pandemic did not stop or slow down the program at Darcey. On the contrary, holding the training sessions remotely provided new opportunities. “Some parents and facilitators have said that they felt a little more comfortable to share personal stories remotely. Some people feel more comfortable sharing when they’re in the comfort of their home,” said Kim Dessert, principal of Darcey School. “COVID-19 has allowed us to learn remotely. This allows us to connect with more families than we could in-person. Before the virtual sessions, parents had to get babysitting to take the course, so it’s just easier for families to do it in the evening at home once their kids go to bed.” Furthermore, Notti noted that “during the pandemic, families needed a lifeline. They needed a connection, just like children need a connection. That’s what this is all about during this challenging time.” The program especially wants to focus on strategies for the”present and after-effects” of children living through a worldwide health crisis. The social isolation, anxiety and fear that we have all experienced makes Circle of Security beneficial not just for children but for the adults in their lives, who also need secure and supportive connections.

Offering various groups, both live and remotely, allows more families, teachers, and other childcare providers to benefit from the program.

Today Darcey School runs one of the most successful CoS programs in the region. The school offers Birth to Three, preschool, and kindergarten, and all of these three different programs interact with other programs that bring people into the CoS. Building on its success with the program, Darcey School has begun training people from other schools to offer the evidence-based program. Parents from the Prospect School in Cheshire have been trained by Darcey School trainers, and Dessert has received inquiries from other school districts that are interested in following suit.

Darcey School’s goal is to support 100-150 new CoS participants and/or families within the next year and to be a resource to Cheshire Public Schools, local pediatricians, child care programs, municipalities, and family support agencies in the Greater Cheshire/Waterbury area. They are also planning to provide refresher training to facilitators and organize reunions of past CoS participants.

The experience of the local parent who had been trapped in a stress cycle offers just one example of how Circle of Security can literally transform lives: “After the training, I felt like I can support my children and be that strong, safe space for them to organize their feelings. I no longer feel out of control, but instead, feel like I have the tools I need to handle even the most difficult situations.”