Manchester Safeguarding Children’s Board reports that 43 UK Local Authorities are implementing the Signs of Safety approach to help safeguard children, but what is it?
What is ‘Signs of Safety’?
Signs of Safety was developed by Andrew Turnbull & Steve Edwards.
The Signs of Safety approach is designed to support practitioners working with child protection cases when conducting risk assessments and safety planning, (NSPCC). The great thing about Signs of Safety is that it can be consistently applied anywhere from Early Help Assessments/CAFs right through to case conference. At its simplest, the Signs of Safety risk assessment can be described as a one-page assessment, concerned with four key areas (the page is literally divided into four columns).
What We Are Worried About
The first column focuses on ‘what we are worried about,’ including past harm. The practitioner must consider what danger or threat is posed to the child or young person and create a ‘danger statement’ which summarises those concerns. By completing the assessment in this way, the assessment becomes more focused allowing greater clarity for other professionals working with the family.
What’s Working Well
The middle column focuses on strengths and ‘what’s working well’. By focusing on strengths, practitioners can support families in adapting those strengths to support areas which aren’t working well. It also encourages collaborative working with the family, and enables them to identify solutions themselves rather than the professional simply telling them what to do. This approach supports the fundamentals of a good assessment outlined in Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015.
What Needs to Happen Next
The third section, is what needs to happen next. This includes safety planning and can be applied to many different safeguarding or child protection concerns.
The final section is a scaling tool. Practitioners must scale, from one to 10, how they feel about the risk to the child. 10 means there is enough safety for child protection authorities to close the case and 0 means it is certain that the child will be (re)abused. Scaling can also be used throughout the assessment to ascertain thoughts or feelings.
Working with Children
The Signs of Safety model has been adapted to support working with children. Tools such as the ‘Three Houses’ allow time for children to reflect on what has happened and why, and is divided into three sections the House of Worries, the House of Good things and the House of Dreams.
Once an assessment is complete, the next step is to think about a full safety plan to show how the family can ensure their children are safe in the future (NSPCC). An example of this would be in an environment where there has been a history of domestic violence. In such a case the safety plan may consider what has stopped the perpetrator from abusing their partner when they have felt angry in the past. It should then be considered how this can be applied in the future? What can they do? Where can they go? The safety plan should also consider how the victim should keep themselves safe and how the child/children can keep themselves safe.
Evaluation of the Signs of Safety approach
The evaluation of Signs of Safety within the 10 pilot areas by Baginsky et al (July 2017), found that although there were still issues around allocated time, the restructuring of services and the retention of staff showed that practitioners were committed to embedding the Signs of Safety approach. The study found that overall the quality of assessments had improved, with a greater use of plain language that could be understood by families. It also found that safety planning helped to manage risk and the additional tools such as the ‘Three Houses’ improved communication with children and young people.
How do I access training?
It is important that all staff who are working with children and families in relation to safeguarding and child protection are fully trained around the Signs of Safety process. Please contact your Local Safeguarding Children’s Board to ask about available training.