Introduction to Signs of Safety in Durham
Within Durham ‘Signs of Safety’ is our over-arching model of practice. We use this model across the whole Children and Young People’s Service workforce, from Early Help through to Children in Our Care (Children Looked After), to improve the quality of our work. This will also ensure consistency for children and families wherever they are at in their journey within CYPS. The approach with Early Help services is referred to as Signs of Wellbeing and with Looked After Children it is referred to as Signs of Success / Healing.
Signs of Safety aims to put families, children and people who are naturally connected to the children at the heart of assessment, decision making and planning so that they come up with their own plan rather than us offering or imposing our ideas. The Signs of Safety approach aims for children to remain with their natural network where it is safe for them to do so. Where this can’t happen we work to ensure that children continue to have connections to their natural networks as this gives them a sense of belonging and prepares them for life beyond the looked after system.
Each team within Children’s Services should have at least one Practice Lead and a Practice Champion who are a source of knowledge and will drive forward Signs of Safety practice in their team, for example through Group Supervision and Quality Assurance. We encourage partners to attend Group Supervision so that they can learn more about the model.
Signs of Safety – Mapping Tool (Questions) is the framework that we use to guide our assessments. It is based on asking 4 questions – ‘What are we worried about?’ ‘What is working well?’ ‘What needs to happen next?’ and ‘Where would we rate it on a sale of 0 – 10?’ This is called the 4 domains of assessment and within this there are 7 analysis categories to really analyse the detail.
We aim to offer a fair and balanced assessment to families, where we ask about the things that are working well within a family and the times they have managed to keep their children safe as much as we ask about the things that aren’t going so well in a family and in that way our assessment is fair. Where there is safety in a family, we want the people that are keeping the children safe to talk more about how they can do this and what else they can do so that we can build future safety for the children should things get difficult again.
Within the Signs of Safety approach ‘Scaling questions’ are used as a mechanism for discussion and an opportunity to ask good questions about why people are rating themselves at a specific number.
Scaling isn’t a way to get everyone to agree on a number as everyone (including the family) will see things from a different angle and we want to explore and understand everyone’s perspective.
The scale creates a sense of hope for families rather than hopelessness. It gives families a clear vision in terms of where we need them to be and the things they and their network of support need to be doing differently so we are no longer concerned.
During each meeting / review we have with a family we will read the ‘Danger Statement’ (the reason why we are concerned about the children and why) with the paired ‘Safety Goal’ (what we need to see the family doing differently so we are no longer worried about the children). It is at this point we address the scale which is specific to the worries and the goal and get everyone to give their reasons why.
We start our scale with ‘On a scale of 0 – 10 where 10 means (and we describe what a 10 would look like – the desired behaviours what we would we be seeing and why that will be different for the child) and 0 is (this is what life would be like if nothing changes for the children). This needs to be realistic in terms of each specific family and what is happening within that family at that time.
What does that mean for me?
You will be expected to scale when you attend conferences / reviews. You will then be asked questions as to why you rated yourself that high (what are some of the things you are seeing) and also what you would need to see differently in order to move up the scale, even just a little.
You can use scaling questions at any time, not just at meetings. You can use scales within the work you do with families and young people to understand where they are at.
All families are unique, so we work with children, their parents, carers, and the other important people in their lives to help them think through their best ideas for keeping the children safe. This is so that families come up with plans that work for them, rather than practitioners offering their ideas first. We always try to safety plan with the most important people in the child and parents lives as we know that all parents struggle and need help from time to time to care for their children and keep them safe. Safety planning builds on the good things going on in the child’s life and is clear about who will do what if something risky happens so that the child is kept safe from harm.
Words and Pictures
Children learn and understand best through story telling. We use words and pictures to help us to have difficult conversations with children in a way that is balanced with the good times in their life, using words that they can easily understand. It is important that children know why they have services involved in their lives so that we can have an honest conversation with them about what they are worried about and what would help to keep them safe. We also know what when there are big changes in a child’s life, for example if a parent leaves home or if the child goes to live with someone else, then children can sometimes blame themselves for this. We work with parents to help them to provide an explanation for their child about how things have got to where they are, in a way that makes sense to their child and doesn’t blame or shame the parents or the child. We also use words and pictures to explain plans to children, so they know who is doing what to keep them safe.
The Signs of Safety Knowledge Bank has some information on the approach which is available to the general public. Practice Leads within Children’s Services have a login which allows them to access many more example of practice. This requires a subscription to access these resources.
Many partners have now been briefed on Signs of Safety and we are able to offer bespoke sessions about how the model could apply in practice across different organisations so that we can achieve a ‘best fit’. Elaine Smylie and Kerry Yendall are the Signs of Safety Co-ordinators for Durham and can be contacted about any queries or for any additional support in applying the model in practice.
Practitioners can also access information about sign of safety processes from the Children's Services Procedures Manual (Section 5.0).
How Practice in County Durham has helped families
Things We “Must Do”
You can find a variety of related resources, including leaflets, by searching for Signs of Safety in the Resource Library.