A New Approach to working with Children & Families!

The Signs of Safety (SOS) Approach

Signs of Safety has been adopted by Nottingham City's Children's Services as the overarching practice framework for all of its work with children and families.  Signs of Safety is a strengths based safety-organised approach to child protection work which expands the investigation of risk to encompass strengths and signs of safety to make an overall judgement of safety using a safety scale. The tools used in Signs of Safety have a wider application to other settings where workers need to communicate with children about their feelings and engage families in making changes.

The Signs of Safety approach was developed in the 1990s in Western Australia by Andrew Turnell and Steve Edwards, and is now utilised in work with children and families all over the world. Whilst originally developed for Child Protection work SOS can be used in all levels of work with children and families. SOS is about building on the strengths and safety already present with families to build reliance and encourage families to find their own solutions to what's happening in their lives. Safety and wellbeing is not created in services but within family's homes. Practitioners work with the child or young person, their family and their support network to build safety for the child or young person.

Robust assessment

The framework within SOS allows practitioners to critically think through and analyse the information gathered about a child and their family mapping out their thinking about what's happening and what they need to see the family doing in order to know the child/young person is safe or that their needs are being met. This process provides a clear understanding of the current situation for that child and family.

SOS framework

At its simplest the SOS framework consists of four questions

1. What's working well?- Strengths/Safety - This relates to the strengths and positive aspects of the situation, particularly in the parent's care of the child/ren and everyday family life and existing safety (times when the child was protected in relation to the danger).

2. What are we worried about? Dangers/Risks/Needs - What have you seen or heard, that makes you worried about the child?

3. How worried are we? Safety/Wellbeing Scale - After completing what is working well, what we are worried about and what needs to happen, a judgement needs to be made to determine the current level of concern/need for the child. The judgement is undertaken using a safety/wellbeing scale, family members and agencies are asked on a scale of 0 to 10, where they rate the situation right now? Below are different examples of safety/wellbeing scales.

Having thought about the worries, what's working well and what's changed rate the current situation on a scale of 0-10.

  • Where 10 means that everything that needs to happen for the child to be safe and well is happening and no extra professional involvement is needed 0 means things are so bad the child is no longer able to live at home.
  • On a scale of 0- 10 with 10 means that everyone knows that your children are healthy and well and the Children Centre no longer need to support you and your family and 0 means things in your family are so challenging that you feel you need further assessment to be able to support you and your family at this time. Where would you rate your self today?

NB- the most important thing about scaling is to understand people's explanations for where they are on the scale. It aids discussion around what's already happening in the family and what steps need to be taken so that change will take place.

Danger/Worry Statements - are Simple behavioural statements of the specific worry we have about this child now and into the future, what we are worried may happen to the child if nothing changes. These statements identify the issues to be addressed. Below are the formula for writing for writing Danger/Worry Statements and an example See diagram.

School and CSC are worried that Gabby may continue to drink to excess, that during these times she and Tommy will continue to get into physical fights, and that Jude may try to put himself in the middle of an altercation and become hurt, or that he may become so distracted at school because of what is going on at home that he will not complete his exams.

What needs to happen? (Safety/Wellbeing Goals) Safety/Wellbeing Goals are the mirror image of danger/worry statements. They describe what services and the Family need to see happening in order to be assured that the child or young person is safe and well. E.G.

  • What do you need to see to be satisfied that the child is safe enough and the Child Protection Plan can be ended? What do the parents think they need to be doing to demonstrate that the child is safe in their care?
  • What changes do you need to see to be confident about a young person's wellbeing that the CAF plan can be ended? What would indicate to the agency that some small progress had been made?

Below are the formula for writing a Safety/Wellbeing goal and an example;

See diagram

Gabby and Tommy will need to work with CSC and a safety network (of family, friends and professionals) to develop and put into place a safety plan for Jude and that will show everyone that:

  • Jude will always be looked after by an adult who is not under the influence of alcohol.
  • Gabby and Tommy will always talk to one another in a calm and respectful manner.
  • Jude will always be cared for in ways that leave him feeling safe and cared about.

Involving Children

Children and young people are at the centre of SOS and there are a range of tools to support children to express their wishes and feelings.

  • Family safety circles: The circles are a practical tool to help identify the people who are part of the child or young person's safety/ support network
  • Three houses - this tool explores with the child/young person what worries they have, what is good in their lives and what would they like to see or have happen.
  • Words and pictures: This tool helps families and professionals explain to a child what has happened to them , what people are worried about and what people are doing about these worries.
  • The safety house: This tool is designed to be used with children to find out what safety means to them, and what needs to happen to make them feel safe and keep safe.
  • The future house: The future house is used as a means of gaining family members' views about what safety/wellbeing for their children will look like in the future.

How can I learn more about Signs of Safety?

The Signs of Safety Toolkit which has lots of useful tools and resources including basic assessment form, Three house tool and many more:

Further information on Signs of Safety can be accessed from http://resolutionsconsultancy.com/signs-of-safety/

For more information locally and/or support in using the approach and tools contact Mandy Goodenough, Systemic Social Work Lead mandy.goodenough@nottinghamcity.gov.uk Tel: 0115 8764813

For more information on Signs of Safety training and/or support in using the model and tools contact Nigel Brown, Children's Development Consultant, Integrated Workforce Development Team, Nottingham City Council, nigel.brown@nottinghamcity.gov.uk 0115 8764913