Over 100 early childhood educators, coaches, and consultants gathered on June 9 and 10 for San Francisco’s first infant/toddler conference, hosted by DEC and WestEd. The event, Pathways to Security, focused on attachment theory and the importance of early relationships. Thought-provoking content was complemented by good food, great conversation, and lots of fun at Once Upon a Forest, the Friday night social event that included music, a dessert bar, and team games that got more than a little spirited!
The opening plenary, The Power of Relationships, began with a framing of conference values, which were reflected in its design:
Diversity, Equity, Inclusion. There was equal representation across language groups (Cantonese, English, Spanish) and program type (family child care, center-based). Translation, simultaneous interpretation, and bilingual presenters made it possible for multi-lingual educators to learn together and connect.
Rigor (There are No Shortcuts). The conference theme—Pathways to Security—reflected the importance of investing in foundational knowledge to guide practice. As part of this exploration, participants were invited to examine their own relational histories—deep and personal work that isn’t always easy but is a necessary part of meeting children’s attachment needs.
Presence (Quiet the Noise). Instead of choosing from multiple options on an assortment of topics, all participants received the same content in sessions that were designed sequentially, each session building on the ones before. The residential format provided a chance to step away from the demands of daily life and focus on learning and being together.
In breakout sessions, participants were invited and challenged to consider how their own early relational experiences have shaped who and how they are as caregivers—the relational gifts they received as well as the regrets or resentments they may carry. Circle of Security’s notion of “shark music” was introduced: the reactions, expectations, and perceptions based on our previous relational experiences that may prevent us from accurately seeing infants, toddlers, and families. Reflective functioning and mindfulness practice were discussed as ways to turn down one’s “shark music” in service of meeting children’s attachment needs. Attendees considered the idea that children need their caregivers to be bigger, stronger, wiser, kind.
The attachment plenary, Pathways to Security, provided a definition and brief history of attachment theory. It addressed the concept of emotional security as distinct from physical safety and invited participants to consider ways in which centering attachment needs could strengthen the practice of relational family engagement. The last session of the conference was entitled Attachment in Context and invited participants to consider that supporting attachment security must happen across individual, program, systems, and socio-cultural levels acknowledging, for example, the role of systemic racism in ongoing cycles of relationship rupture and “disrupted or lost attachment relationships that might ordinarily provide support and protection” (Stern, Barbarin, & Cassidy, 2022). The conference closed with an invitation to participants to make a personal commitment related to centering children’s attachment needs in their work.