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Developmental Case Study – Jerri, a 21-Year-old Mother

Developmental Case Study – Jerri, a 21-year-old Mother

The child protective services had received a complaint about my client Jerri, a 21-year-old mother, for failing to provide proper care for her son Brian. Police have become involved after seeing two-year-old Brian wandering alone on a busy highway often. Jerri has erratic childcare arrangements and works up to 16 hours daily as a nursing home attendant. She has been in contact with the child welfare system for two years and has a history of being severely abused by her father, both emotionally and sexually. Jerri was diagnosed with dyslexia and has completed the ninth grade. The Circle of Security intervention, which emphasizes attachment and exploration dynamics, is the parenting treatment offered to Jerri. Evaluations during the pre-test observation point out Jerri and Brian’s chaotic extension and Jerri’s faulty insight. During the intervention, Jerri is encouraged to view Brian’s behaviors as activated attachment behavior, which addresses her annoyance and anger with his attachment behavior. Jerri examines her feelings of abandonment and separation to understand Brian’s demands better.

Psychosocial and Other Developmental Theories

Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, which postulates that people go through phases of growth with associated psychosocial obstacles, is the psychosocial theory that is pertinent to this instance. Jerri’s unresolved issues resulting from her abuse as a child and her challenges in meeting her son’s attachment needs align with Erikson’s stage of psychosocial development, particularly the stage of trust against mistrust. John Bowlby’s attachment theory emphasizes the significance of safe attachments for optimal growth (Podolan & Carlo, 2023). John Bowlby’s attachment theory is significant in this case. The Circle of Security intervention, given to Jerri, is based on attachment theory and tries to improve her comprehension of and responsiveness to her son’s attachment and exploration needs.

Developmental Tasks

Jerri’s developmental goals in this situation include dealing with unresolved trauma from her childhood abuse and creating a solid sense of self. Jerri also has to acquire and refine good parenting techniques, such as giving constant supervision and attending to her son’s bonding requirements. Brian, the child in this situation, also needs to complete developmental objectives like forging a strong bond with his mother and safely and developmentally appropriate surroundings exploration.

Psychosocial Crisis

The tension between trust and mistrust, characterized by Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, is the source of this client’s psychological crisis. This crisis results from Jerri’s unresolved issues from her violent past and her challenges in consistently caring for and supervising her son, Brian. She must overcome her mistrust and fear of separation and abandonment to build Brian a safe attachment relationship and learn to trust herself as a capable parent. Learning to empathize with Brian’s needs and continuing to play a supportive and authoritative parental role are necessary skills for resolving this dilemma.

Central Process

Reframing and rewriting attachment dynamics is the primary step in this situation. By encouraging comprehension, empathy, and responsiveness to the child’s needs, the Circle of Security intervention seeks to assist parents in creating a safe attachment bond with their children, thereby boosting the child’s sense of security and fostering healthy growth (Juffer et al., 2023). The Circle of Security intervention is to assist Jerri in reorienting her perception of Brian’s attachment behavior as activated attachment needs instead of demands or irritations. Jerri might respond in a caring and encouraging way by understanding and empathizing with Brian’s need for closeness and comfort. This encourages the growth of a safe attachment bond. This core phase entails addressing and altering Jerri’s fears of abandonment and separation and fostering a more secure and responsive parenting style.

Resolution of Crisis

Jerri must establish a safe attachment relationship with her son Brian and learn to understand and empathize with his attachment and exploration needs to resolve the crisis in this case. Jerri reframes her perception of Brian’s behaviors through the Circle of Security intervention, seeing them as activated attachment behaviors rather than just annoying or demanding. She gains the ability to respond to Brian’s needs in a nurturing and encouraging way, giving him comfort and closeness when he requests it and supporting his independence when it is appropriate. Jerri can build a secure and responsive parenting style by addressing her fears of abandonment and separation, which results in a positive turning point in their relationship.

Diversity and Bio-Social-Cultural Contexts

A variety of elements in the bio-social-cultural setting and diversity of this instance impact the growth of Jerri and Brian. The terrible emotional and sexual abuse Jerri experienced at the hands of her father serves as a stark reminder of the detrimental effects of trauma on her mental health and capacity to parent. Dyslexia and Jerri’s inadequate educational background may also have made it more difficult for her to comprehend and provide for Brian’s requirements. Abusive experiences, dyslexia, limited education, and socioeconomic factors are all essential elements that shape people’s experiences (Jonathan & Sara, 2020). Socioeconomic issues, such as Jerri’s work schedule and erratic childcare arrangements, might have created additional stressors and made it more difficult to watch over Brian consistently. It is crucial to consider how these numerous biological, social, and cultural elements affect how individuals perceive life and how well they can deal with the difficulties they encounter.


As a result, this case emphasizes the profound effects that trauma and early experiences had on a young mother, Jerri, and her son, Brian. Along with her poor schooling and dyslexia, Jerri’s unresolved concerns from her violent childhood made it difficult for her to supervise Brian and meet his attachment needs consistently. But because of the Circle of Security intervention, Jerri was able to change the way she thought about Brian’s actions and adopt a more compassionate and loving strategy. As a result, their relationship took a turn for the better, with Jerri and Brian gaining solid attachment and growing insight.


Jonathan, P., & Sara, A. C. (2020). Human growth and development in adults: Theoretical and practice perspectives. Policy Press.

Juffer, F., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J., & IJzendoorn, M. H. V. (2023). Promoting positive parenting: An attachment-based intervention. Taylor & Francis.

Podolan, M., & Carlo, O. (2023). The functions of safety in psychotherapy: An integrative theoretical perspective across therapeutic schools. PubMed, 20(3), 193–204.


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Developmental Case Study - Jerri, a 21-year-old Mother

Developmental Case Study – Jerri, a 21-year-old Mother

This case involves Jerri, a 21-year-old mother, who was reported to Child Protective Services for inadequate supervision of her son, Brian (both names are pseudonyms). At age two, Brian was found wandering alone along a busy highway, the latest of several incidents when he had been found wandering outside unsupervised, necessitating police involvement. After a brief stay in kinship foster care, Brian was returned to Jerri’s custody, and Jerri was referred for parenting services. Jerri worked an afternoon/night shift as a nursing home attendant, often up to 16 hours, and childcare was inconsistently provided. At the time of this intervention, Jerri had been a client of the child welfare system for two years. In childhood, she had been severely emotionally and sexually abused by her father. She had attained a ninth-grade education (she dropped out in tenth grade) and had been diagnosed with dyslexia. The parenting service provided was the Circle of Security® (Hoffman et al., 2006; Marvin, Cooper, Hoffman, & Powell, 2002; Page & Cain, 2009), a small group intervention for six to eight participants based on attachment principles. Children’s interactions with caregivers are presented as representing the two principal behavioural systems discussed by Bowlby—attachment and exploration—integrated as continuous and alternating dimensions of one interactive circle. Empathic understanding and responsiveness toward children’s alternating needs for exploration and attachment are taught primarily through videotape review sessions where participants watch themselves in interaction with their children. The video segments are selected from pre-intervention assessments by group leaders to illustrate key relationship qualities as identified in treatment plans. Each participant receives three review sessions. Assessments included attachment ratings for the child and mother provided by the SSP (parent attachment was assessed with Marvin’s Caregiver Behavior Scales, rated by the author, Robert Marvin [Britner, Marvin, & Pianta, 2005]; child attachment classifications were also provided by Robert Marvin). Parent insightfulness (“the parent’s capacity to invoke motives that underlie the child’s behavior”; Oppenheim & Koren-Karie, 2002) was also assessed using an attachment-inspired interview, the Insightfulness Assessment (IA; rated by its authors, David Oppenheim and Nina Koren-Karie). All assessments were rated independently. Jerri and Brian were assessed at the pre-test observation with disorganized attachment, and Jerri was assessed with the most problematic of three classes of insightfulness, corresponding to disorganized attachment (Oppenheim & Koren-Karie, 2002). The intervention was led by this author. The following dialogue was taken from Jerri’s second tape review session. Second tape-review sessions are designed to focus on the most profound problems in the relationship, conceptualized as the parent’s difficulties in responding to the child’s expressions of exploration, attachment, or both. For Jerri, as for parents in other dyads rated with disorganized attachment, the major relationship difficulties typically involved inconsistent responsiveness to both the child’s exploration and attachment. In the following excerpt, we see Jerri’s frustration and irritation with Brian’s anxiety and need for her, which were often activated when she came home from work feeling emotionally and physically depleted. The therapeutic challenge was to reframe Brian’s behaviour so Jerri could understand it as activated attachment behaviour. Jerri: You know, when I work, he is usually up at six o’clock in the morning waiting for me to get home…. He is very demanding in the morning time. He is like, “I don’t want to go to school; I want to stay home with you,” and I am like, “You can’t stay here; you have to go to school, so we are going to sit here and watch TV.” … It is very aggravating at times, only from exhaustion, because you know I am so exhausted sometimes…. Later in this session, a short video clip was shown to Jerri of her interaction with Brian in the SSP, showing her reunion with him after a brief separation, to illustrate and explain Brian’s attachment behavior directed toward her: Group Leader 1: So this first clip, you have been out of the room, and we are looking at how he is responding to you when you return. What are we seeing? Jerri: Going back to his mom. Group Leader 2: He made a beeline for you. Jerri: Yeah, he does that all the time. It’s like he can smell me when I walk in the door, whether he sees me or not, he knows when I walk in the door. Sometimes, I try to sneak. He’s in his room, so I try to shower before he comes out, and he’s like, “Mama, let me in.” He knows, he knows. Group Leader 1: This kind of behaviour has been studied a lot. That behavior has been identified in every mammal on the planet. When there has been a separation, you see the exact same thing. I imagine that it can kind of feel aggravating at times, but it is also important to see that it’s normal. Jerri: Oh yeah, as much as it aggravates me when he runs up to me, my back is killing me and he goes, “Hold me,” there is nothing I like better than when he runs up to me and hugs me and kisses me and holds me and I don’t want to let go. Group Leader 1: Right. He just wants to be near you…. Later, Jerri reflected on her conflict over wanting Brian to be more autonomous and for her to have more emotional “space,” yet at the same time fearing separation from him, the loss of his love, and her own abandonment. Jerri [discussion turned to anticipation of Brian’s visits with his father]: I am so jealous. I want him to be all mine. I don’t like to have to share him. I had him by myself this whole while, so I don’t want to share him with anybody. I don’t want to know that he could love somebody else more than he loves me. … Man, they grow up so fast. You want them to be able to do their own little thing, but once they do it, it sucks. The older they get, the less they act like they need you to be there. Later in this session, Jerri reflected further: Jerri: Most of my [anxiety] comes on when I feel that threat that he is going to be taken away from me or he is going to love someone more than me. I guess my mother did this to me; she did it the same way. If we ever acted like we had more fun at my father’s, she would be like, “You had more fun with him than you did with me.” Group Leader 1: You put your finger on the idea that … you feel anxious about being separated. It is important to look at where that leaves him. He gets a little confused. Keep in mind, when you are in that situation, “Is he feeling like he needs to soothe me or am I being the ‘bigger, stronger, wiser, and kind’ person?” [a phrase used in the intervention to refer to the authoritative role] Jerri: I think it is good for your children to feel like they help you as much as you help them. I think it is good for him to feel needed. Even though I hate when I feel that way, it only takes a second of his wonderful personality to make me better … as soon as I notice that he notices that I feel that way and he is like, “Give me a hug, let’s lay down mama,” I automatically perk up and smile and everything is okay. He doesn’t realize that I am dying inside. In this passage, we see tendencies toward role reversal, indicating Jerri’s strong, unmet needs for her own nurture, a characteristic commonly associated with disorganized attachment and child maltreatment. Jerri’s primary treatment goal was to become more empathic in recognizing and responding to Brian’s need for proximity to and comfort from her and, in the process, to maintain a nurturing and authoritative parental role. At the same time, she had to learn to cope with her own anxiety about his normally developing autonomy and separateness from her. The intervention thus focused on the challenges she faced in responding to “both sides” of the attachment-exploration circle. Several sessions later, during her third and final tape review, Jerri reflected on how her discomfort at Brian’s expressions of attachment typically evoked a circular set of responses, wherein she became irritated and withdrew, which elicited stronger attachment behavior and frustration for him. This sort of interchange typically involved hostility and coercion. Jerri: He does that. He knows right when I am at the boiling point; I am just right there, don’t mess with me, then he is like, he likes to go a couple of feet over the edge there. Group Leader 1: What might that be about? Jerri: Testing. Group Leader 1: What might a child need when you are almost going to boil over? Jerri: I think he is just because when I am to the point where I have just had enough, I am distant… . Sometimes when you are distant, a lot of children experience this, it doesn’t, sometimes doesn’t matter good or bad, they want attention. By conceptualizing Jerri’s struggles with her son in terms of an integrated circle of expression of exploration and attachment needs, Jerri was able to reframe Brian’s neediness for her, and she was able to respond empathically to his need. This facilitated her growing capacity to reflect on and cope with her own anxieties about separation and abandonment, and her occupation of the authoritative parental role. She very obviously and deliberately began to change her behavior toward Brian to be more nurturing when she perceived him to be anxious and needing her, and more supportive when she perceived him to need autonomy. At the post-test assessments, approximately six months after the pre-test, Jerri and Brian were rated with secure attachment, and Jerri’s Insightfulness Assessment revealed a Positively Insightful rating, which corresponds to secure attachment. Anecdotal follow-ups with them in subsequent years have shown that they continue to do well, and Jerri consistently regards the Circle of Security intervention as having provided a positive turning point in her relationship with her son.

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