Keeping families together : preventing family breakdown



It is part of Orchard House's statement of purpose that, wherever it is possible to make it safe, children should be cared for by their parents at home.

We know that some parents may need help to care for their children safely. Often these families fall through the gaps, and their difficulties don't always fit with either the NHS treatments offered, or the other services that might be available. We offer help, support and intervention for families both in the community (across the South West and in Wales) and in Orchard House. You can read about Orchard House's role in trying to address injustice in the system in the following Guardian articles: The catch-22 that stops young mothers getting help to keep their baby and The young mothers trapped in a cycle of having babies removed.

Orchard House can be commissioned by local authorities, schools, children's centres or the Courts to provide a package of evidence-based support and therapy in order to explore every last avenue in keeping a family together. To discuss how we might be able to help, please contact Dr Alexander here.


Edge of care support

Dr Gardner has developed a number of innovative packages of support for families where the removal of the children is imminent. This includes working together with local authority foster carers to support the parents with the day to day care of the children, whilst the family is provided with attachment interventions to improve the emotional care offered to the children and the family dynamics within the home. Clinical psychologists also provide psychotherapy to the parents in order to support their resilience, resolve early trauma and to help reduce the impact of mental health problems on the children.

This comprehensive package of support has been proven to keep families together and is a cost-effective use of resources.



Our team uses the Signs of Safety approach throughout our parenting assessments and our organisation more broadly. This strengths based approach is closely connected to the work of Gumbleton and Luger, who developed the Resolutions Approach. This is:

'an approach that attempts to address this impasse through the concept of “safe uncertainty.” The term implies a systemic model for a safe, multidisciplinary framework within which uncertainty can be tolerated and therapy or change can also be achieved (Robinson & Whitney, 1999). The RA is therefore a risk management program which recognizes that some questions about the child’s injury or abuse may never receive clear answers. The program’s focus is to accept this, then to manage the uncertainties in a way that is demonstrably safe for the child. In doing so, the approach allows the adults and children concerned to move forward as a family.'  (Hiles & Luger, 2006)

Nancy Sullivan and Grace Alexander have developed the use of this approach with parents and extended families where there has been a very significant and serious non-accidental injury in the past. Referrals can be made for families in the community, or can be undertaken as part of an Orchard House residential assessment.


Circle of security

The Circle of Security® is a creative new programme designed to improve the developmental pathway of children and their parents. It is a video-based intervention that strengthens parents’ abilities to observe and improve their caregiving skills. Each week of ‘Circle of Security parenting’ builds upon the previous week. It gives parents a way of seeing the different attachment needs of their children (the COS map).  Specifically, parents learn that children need to feel safe and supported in their exploration; reassured that their primary caregiver is there to comfort and protect them; and that their carer can take charge in a kind way. 

Our Parenting Intervention Worker, Vicki Keirle, is fully trained to deliver the programme and has extensive experience in providing it to families where the difficulties are complex and entrenched. She has adapted it to families where abuse and neglect is known to have occurred, managing the therapeutic needs of the family and the safeguarding concerns around the children.

Circle of Security has been very useful for:

  • Families where the children are at risk of harm because of poor emotional care
  • Where the parents' unresolved trauma or attachment history is impacting upon their availability to their children and placing them at risk
  • improving the ability of the parents to provide a positive emotional experience to their children in contact, even if they cannot provide safe full time care to them


Orchard House are aware that many families have complex and expensive psychological and psychiatric assessments which make detailed and extensive recommendations about therapeutic need. Tragically, services that can meet such needs are few and far between. Parents rarely meet the criteria for mental health services and few other teams have the specialist expertise to work with such complexity. We are able to offer parents the opportunity to engage in the therapy that meets their needs and to become the parents that their children need them to be.


Therapeutic placements

Orchard House can provide therapeutic parenting assessments for families when parents have had difficulty parenting their children.  Many of the parents who come to Orchard House have themselves had poor parenting and have experienced physical, emotional and sexual abuse. The difficulties that they experience as parents have developed as a result of the profound effects of the abuse that they have suffered.

Therapeutic parenting assessments are led jointly by a Clinical Psychologist and a Social Worker and are based on comprehensive psychological formulations and tailored evidence-based interventions carried out by skilled and experienced clinicians.

Therapeutic placements use attachment theory and models of emotional and psychological development to support parents recover and learn to understand the emotional language of their child.


Make a referral

To discuss a possible referral for intervention, please contact Dr Alexander, Clinical Director, here.