Signs of Safety
About This Program
Target Population: Children and families where there has been suspected or substantiated child abuse or neglect
For children/adolescents ages: 0 – 18
For parents/caregivers of children ages: 0 – 18
The Signs of Safety approach is a relationship-grounded, safety-organized child protection framework designed to help families build real safety for children by allowing those families to demonstrate their strengths as protection over time. This strengths-based and safety-organized approach to child protection work requires partnership and collaboration with the child and family. It expands the investigation of risk to encompass strengths and signs of safety that can be built upon to stabilize and strengthen the child’s and family’s situation. Central to this approach is meaningful family engagement and, in particular, capturing the voice of the child. A format for undertaking comprehensive risk assessment - assessing for both danger and strengths/safety – is incorporated within the one-page Signs of Safety Assessment Protocol (this form is the only formal protocol used in the model). The approach is designed to be used from commencement through to case closure and to assist professionals at all stages of the child protection process.
The goals of Signs of Safety are:
- Reduce rates of child abuse
- Reduce the rates of repeat maltreatment
- Reduce family disruptions and the number of foster care placements
- Increase children and family engagement and direct participation in child protection work and decision-making
- Increase child welfare practitioners job satisfaction and worker retention
- Increase practitioner practice depth (i.e., practitioner’s capacity to think rigorously, make judgments transparently and hold them with humility, act compassionately and bring all others involved in the matter, lay and professional, with them on this complex journey) and to grow child protection systems and structures that grow such practitioners
- Create a shared language risk assessment and practice framework and culture across all child protection responses both statutory and non-statutory, government and non-government, that is also understandable and accessible to families and children, since good outcomes for vulnerable children above all depend on good working relationships between families and professionals and between professionals themselves
The essential components of Signs of Safety include:
- Five key components:
- Using the Signs of Safety Assessment Protocol – Completing a comprehensive risk assessment where assessing for both danger and strengths/safety occurs, clear and common language is used, and information is elicited from professionals and family members
- Utilizing a “Questioning Approach” – Thinking critically and always remaining curious when asking questions
- Using the 3 Core Processes within the approach including: Coercion (Skillful use of authority), Vision, and Conversation
- Building constructive working relationships with families and professionals
- Developing rigorous safety plans and safety networks
- Within all of the key components listed above practitioners and family members can partner to address the concerns surrounding child abuse through the use of practice tools and processes:
- Engaging children and families to elicit their voice and views
- Using tools such as the Signs of Safety Assessment Protocol, Three Houses, Safety House, Words and Pictures (method for explaining child protection concerns to children), and Family Life Safety Planning, including age-appropriate safety plans in Words and Pictures for children
- 12 practice principles that guide the work with families:
- Respect service recipients as people worth doing business with
- Cooperate with the person, not the abuse
- Recognize that cooperation is possible even where coercion is required
- Recognize that all families have signs of safety
- Maintain a focus on safety
- Learn what the service recipient wants
- Always search for detail
- Focus on creating small change
- Don’t confuse case details with judgments
- Offer choices
- Treat the interview as a forum for change
- Treat the practice principles as aspirations, not assumptions
- The Signs of Safety approach has been used in group settings:
- In various international jurisdictions
- With groups of up to 20
- With groups of teenagers in care, parents, and community stake holders
Signs of Safety directly provides services to children/adolescents and addresses the following:
- Concerns regarding suspected or substantiated child abuse/neglect
Services Involve Family/Support Structures:
This program involves the family or other support systems in the individual's treatment: The Signs of Safety approach involves developing a naturally occurring safety network of family, friends, and, for a time, will also include key professionals, who are fully aware of what harm was caused to the child and what the child protection agency is worried may happen in the future if nothing changes. The child protection agency and the safety network (including the parents) work together to develop a rigorous safety plan to demonstrate over time that the behavior (harm) that brought the family into child protection does not occur in the future, including when child protection is no longer involved.
Signs of Safety directly provides services to parents/caregivers and addresses the following:
- All complicating factors and dynamics that contribute to suspected or substantiated child abuse/neglect
This is dependent on each individual family that child protection is partnering with and it is dependent on where the case is at within the child protection agency (investigations/on-going services, etc.). In general, contacts would range from 1-2 hours and would happen at least monthly, if not more.
The approach is designed to be used from the time the first call comes into the agency through to case closure. The length of time working with the family would be dependent on each family and circumstance.
This program is typically conducted in a(n):
- Adoptive Home
- Birth Family Home
- Community Agency
- Foster/Kinship Care
- Outpatient Clinic
- Residential Care Facility
Signs of Safety includes a homework component:
The safety planning work of the Signs of Safety approach observes the family and the naturally occurring, network-assigned specific tasks so they can demonstrate over time that they can keep the child(ren) safe over time.
Signs of Safety has materials available in languages other than English:
Danish, Dutch, French, German, Japanese, Russian, Swedish
For information on which materials are available in these languages, please check on the program's website or contact the program representative (contact information is listed at the bottom of this page).
Resources Needed to Run Program
The typical resources for implementing the program are:
The program resources necessary would be similar to those within a child welfare organization. Capacity to meet families where they choose is important so this may be within meeting rooms at the office, family’s homes, or some other place.
Education and Training
Prerequisite/Minimum Provider Qualifications
For on-the-ground practitioners, it is recommended that they have at least a Bachelor’s degree in social work or a related field. For supervisors it is recommended they have a Master’s degree in social work or a related field.
Education and Training Resources
There is a manual that describes how to implement this program , and there is training available for this program.
Training is obtained:
Training is obtained in numerous ways and is dependent on organizations goals and needs. Training is offered onsite, through video consultation and through webinars.
Number of days/hours:
Dependent on agency’s goal/needs. A general overview of the Signs of Safety approach can be conducted in 2 days; however, implementation across an organizations whole child protection system is at least a 5-year process.
There currently are additional qualified resources for training:
Sue Lohrbach - Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Viv Hogg - Website: www.vivhogg.com
Tomas Embreus - Sweden - Website: www.embreus.se
Ai Hishikawa - Japan - Email: email@example.com
Heidi Hebditch - Canada - Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Henrik and Mette Vesterhauge-Petersen - Denmark - Website: www.solutionfocus.dk
Bureau Van Montfoort - Netherlands - Website: www.vanmontfoort.nl
Margreet Timmer and Petra Rozeboom - Netherlands - Website: www.signsofsafety.nl
Relevant Published, Peer-Reviewed Research
Currently, there are no published, peer-reviewed research studies for Signs of Safety.
Turnell, A. (2012). The Signs of Safety A Comprehensive Briefing Paper, Resolutions Consultancy, Perth. Available at: https://www.signsofsafety.net/shop/
Turnell, A. (2004). Relationship-grounded, safety-organised child protection practice: Dreamtime or real-time option for child welfare? Protecting Children, 19(2): 14–25.
Turnell, A. & Edwards, S. (1999). Signs of Safety: A solution and safety oriented approach to child protection casework. New York: WW Norton.
- Dr. Andrew Turnell, PhD, MA, BSWk
- Agency/Affiliation: Resolutions Consultancy
- Website: www.signsofsafety.net
- Email: Andrew.Turnell@ResolutionsConsultancy.com
Date Research Evidence Last Reviewed by CEBC: September 2013
Date Program Content Last Reviewed by Program Staff: February 2012
Date Program Originally Loaded onto CEBC: February 2012