What is ARC?
The Attachment, Regulation and Competency (ARC) Framework is a flexible, components-based intervention developed for children and adolescents who have experienced complex trauma, along with their caregiving systems. ARC’s foundation is built upon four key areas of study: normative childhood development, traumatic stress, attachment, and risk and resilience. Drawing from these areas, ARC identifies important childhood skills and competencies which are routinely shown to be negatively affected by traumatic stress and by attachment disruptions, and which – when addressed – predict resilient outcome.
ARC is designed as both an individual level clinical intervention, to be used in treatment settings for youth and families, and as an organizational framework, to be used in service systems to support trauma-informed care. The concepts identified by ARC may be applied to individuals from birth through young adulthood, and have been effectively used with youth with a range of developmental and cognitive functioning levels, and with a wide range of symptom presentations. Caregiver goals are designed to translate across many different types of caregiving systems, including primary (i.e., biological, kin, and foster parents), milieu (i.e., residential, group home), and organizational (i.e., teachers, youth program providers) systems of care.
The ARC Domains and Targets
ARC is organized around three primary domains of intervention, and identifies 8 key treatment targets. These domains and targets are briefly described below.
- Attachment. The framework focuses on strengthening the caregiving system surrounding children through enhancing supports, skills, and relational resources for adult caregivers. In many families and systems we work with, caregivers as well as children have been exposed to multiple stressors and traumatic experiences. Even in caregiving systems that have experienced little or no prior adversity, the effect of a child’s relational trauma is likely to impact ongoing attachment relationships. Caregiver supports and the caregiver-child relationship are addressed through an emphasis on three primary targets:
- (1) Supporting caregivers in recognizing, understanding, accepting, and managing their own emotional and physiological responses, particularly as relates to and impacts parenting or child-care;
- (2) Enhancing rhythm and reciprocity in the caregiver-child relationship, and helping caregivers deepen their understanding of child behavior; and
- (3) Building effective, trauma-informed responses to child and adolescent behavior
- Regulation. Many young people who experience trauma are referred for treatment services or struggle in settings like school as a result of difficult behaviors, out of control emotions, and impulsive or disorganized bodies. Underlying these challenges is often a difficulty with regulation – of feelings, of thoughts, and of physical experience. Treatment emphasizes cultivating youth awareness and skill in identifying, understanding, tolerating, and managing internal experience. Regulation is addressed through
- (1) Supporting youth in developing an awareness and understanding of feelings, body states, and associated thoughts and behaviors;
- (2) Helping youth develop increased capacity to tolerate and manage physiological and emotional experience; and
- (3) Enhancing tolerance for and skill in building relational connection.
- Competency. The framework addresses key factors associated with resilience in stress-impacted populations. A goal of intervention utilizing ARC is to go beyond pathology reduction, and to increase positive / resilient outcomes among youth receiving intervention. Competency goals include
- (1) Increasing opportunity for choice and empowerment, and skill in recognizing choice points and in effective decision-making; and
- (2) Identification and exploration of a range of aspects of self and identity, and building coherence through development of narrative around key life experiences, including traumatic exposures.
Woven throughout the ARC approach is an emphasis on engagement (why does this goal matter?), psychoeducation (why are we doing this?), and routine (what can I expect?).
ARC’s ultimate goal is support children, adolescents, and caregivers in effective engagement in the world, in a manner that is empowered and future-oriented , rather than focused on survival.