The Science of GROW


Evidence has found that children who have experienced relational and developmental trauma are more likely to struggle with emotional regulation and this has an impact on their capacity to learn.


“when trauma and shock occur during the critical sensitive window it is likely to have an impact on the child’s neurological, social, emotional, sensorial, physiological, moral and cognitive developmental trajectory.”  

Bruce Perry


Schools therefore need support:

  • not just to manage behaviour, but to understand and support behaviour;
  • to become trauma and attachment sensitive.
Building adult capabilities has been proven to improve child outcomes. Therefore, the adults:
  • need to understand the importance of relationships, and become attachment and trauma aware;
  • need to understand behaviour and support children when they are in distress;
  • must be able to co-regulate and to develop self-regulation.

GROW is grounded in the current research developments in both neuroscience and developmental trauma. The field of neuroscience has undergone advances in recent years. These have provided important insights about how the brain and nervous system function and develop. In particular, neuroscientists have discovered that the neural pathways of the brain and wider nervous system are relatively unformed at birth, undergoing much of their development during the first three years of life in response to relational experiences with primary care-givers.

In summary, the evidence from the research is very clear that there are three essential components in order to achieve positive outcomes. These are all provided within the GROW provisions.


A key development during this period is the establishment of the body’s stress-response system. This lays the foundation for our social and emotional development throughout life, affecting our capacity to relate, love, learn and manage stress in healthy ways.

However, research has also revealed the inherent ‘plasticity’ of the brain – its capacity to forge new neural connections in response to experience. The fact that the brain retains this property to a greater or lesser degree throughout life means that where brain development has been less than optimal, it remains possible to intervene at a later stage to fill the gaps.


We know that the brain develops, grows and organises itself at an incredible rate with a baby’s soft wired brain being like a sponge constantly absorbing new experiences and being shaped by the environment.

Within GROW we use a developmental model suggested by Bruce Perry, currently the Senior Fellow of the Child Trauma Academy in Houston Texas, to help us understand how we develop socially and emotionally from birth through to adulthood. This model provides a framework for understanding what healthy child development looks like in terms of behaviour and learning and clarifies what the role of adults should be in facilitating a child’s development at each of the different stages. In addition, the model gives a lens through which to look at, make sense of and understand children’s behaviour. This enables adults to identify the particular developmental needs being signalled by their behaviour and to choose appropriate, targeted interventions designed to meet those needs.

Relationship based preventative strategies

Secure and stable relationships are the foundation for healthy emotional development and subsequent secure and stable relationships. Trauma related experiences (particularly in childhood), undermine attachments, thereby creating a cycle of further trauma, distress and alienation from sources of support.

In GROW the staff build on these insights to offer a way of working with children that supports the development of their brains and nervous systems. Their purpose is to create a sustainable behavioural change, not just compliance or obedience for a short period of time. Furthermore, where the nature of children’s early experiences mean that they have not developed a good enough stress-response system and therefore find it difficult to relate or learn, GROW provides a structured way to provide the missing relational experiences.

The children at our provisions learn about the human brain so that they understand what happens in their brains when they become stressed, angry, or anxious. When children understand this, they are more likely to feel relieved and empowered. The adults help the children to identify and make lists of their own emotional stressors and help them to discover their own coping strategies. The adults then support the child through co-regulation. Eventually, the children learn ways to self-regulate their stress response systems.