ICARA is working to meet the “heart” needs of orphans and vulnerable children through training their caregivers to support them through nurturing caregiving. Every orphaned or vulnerable child deserves a loving caregiver who anchors that child in secure attachment, a sense of belonging and feeling loved.

The foundation of our model is secure attachment—attachment being the physical and emotional process of bonding between the child and his or her parent (or other caregiver). Through attachment the child seeks closeness and comfort in order to feel safe, and then uses the parent as a ‘secure base’ from which to explore the world, including relationships.

When the child’s needs for secure attachment are reliably met, the child feels secure, loved, a sense of belonging, has the capacity to trust, and develops self-esteem, self-care, and the ability to regulate emotion and behavior. Recent neuro-biological research has also found that secure attachment is the foundation of psychological health and integrated brain development—flexibility, capacity for thinking and feeling together, and full cognitive and emotional development.

For orphaned and vulnerable children who have lost their secure attachment (orphaned) or who never had one (abused, neglected, sexually abused and abandoned), it is critical to replace, repair, or rebuild that attachment.  Thankfully, a child who has been loved and learned to love and trust (learned in the first year of life), can love again—though there may be much painful loss to work through. Much more difficult to repair an attachment relationship when the first one resulted in the child being terrified, alone, abused or neglected, sexually violated, or unloved. Nevertheless, for any child, the need for attachment is foundational to thriving, and needs careful attention.

Our model teaches caregivers—many of whom are uneducated or have a primary school education (because secondary education in many Africa countries is not free and public)—the basics of healthy child development, what happens to children developmentally when they experience loss and trauma, how to rebuild attachments and provide loving caregiving, and how to care for traumatized children.