The 4th Signs of Safety Gathering in the Netherlands was attended by 270 people from 11 countries and was a huge success. Presentations came from Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Northern Ireland, Manitoba, British Columbia, Western Australia, Gateshead, Sweden, Maine and Minnesota. The fact that the Signs of Safety approach is being used in many countries around the world always inspires participants as they hear how others from different cultures and contexts are struggling with the same things they are and hear solutions shared through the language of a common approach. As well as looking at frontline work, this Gathering also focused on organisational leadership, structures and strategies that best foster Signs of Safety practice.
A PDF of the full program can be downloaded here or the presentations outlines can be found below.
A selection of presentation videos and materials are available below.
Bureau Jeugdzorg Drenthe
This presentation will present our story of how Bureau Jeugdzorg Drenthe has implemented the Signs of Safety so far. We especially will focus on the role of Andrew Turnell and how his involvement worked (or not) for us. Bureau Jeugdzorg Drenthe has been using the Signs of Safety approach since 2006, seeking to implement the approach throughout the whole organisation. The implementation journey has had ups and downs. Assistant Director Joke will take you on a trip to show you the things that worked for us and the struggles we have dealt with. Following Joke it will be the turn of practitioners and supervisors as we especially would like to show you how we have solved the cases we struggled with. Petra and Margreet will tell how they handled a case where the prosecutor didn’t believe our safety plan would work. Jenny will interview Ria and Alette about how they handover cases from one department to another. Rina and Saskia will show how they worked on a case with a paedophile.
Viv Hogg Training & Consultancy and Gateshead Children’s Services
Part 1—As Viv bids farewell to Gateshead, she will talk about some of the risks and hazards that innovation (through the Signs of Safety) has brought to her and her team. Inevitably, you will also hear about some of the high spots of this 11-year implementation journey.
Part 2—Representing the new ‘driving force’ will be Tracey and Natalie who will talk about just why Signs of Safety is so important to them and how they intend to make sure that this way of working does not get lost.
Western Health and Social Services Trust
This presentation will describe the Western Trust’s implementation of ‘Safety in Partnership’ incorporating Signs of Safety within a large integrated health and social care organisation. The Western Health and Social Care Trust (Family and Child Care Services) has been developing a Family Support Strategy over the past ten years. In 2002 we discovered the Signs of Safety book by Andrew Turnell and Steve Edwards. However it wasn’t until a visit to Olmsted County, Minnesota, USA in 2009, that we saw Signs of Safety in operation. This inspired us with a new energy to ensure implementation of this work. Since that time we have been on journey to implement the Signs of Safety approach within a very challenging, complex and political environment. This presentation will describe this process and the focus that we had to place on the structures, cultures and practices that are changing daily, and which we passionately believe will produce better outcomes for children.
Copenhagen Child Protection Authority
The presentation will cover how Copenhagen in the last six years have been moving towards a solution focused approach to child protection work. Signs of Safety and safety planning are now becoming the core working principles in meeting the political ambition of reducing the number of children placed away from their families and in finding more constructive ways of working with and engaging the most challenged families. Two social workers will present a case in which they are using the safety planning method.
Connected Families, Chaska, MN, USA
“If she doesn’t admit that he did it, how could I ever believe that she would keep the kids safe?”
Often times professionals think there needs to be an admission from the alleged offender and/or the likely non-offending caregiver in order to move forward in working with the family on safety planning. In our journey with using the Signs of Safety approach we became excited about the similar-but-different role-play process and how it could be used in cases of denied abuse.
Through the similar-but-different role-play sessions the family designs characters that have gone through similar allegations, but have admitted to the abuse. The goal is not admission, but to give the family an opportunity to think into and through a similar situation and therefore build their capacity to demonstrate capability to take the concerns seriously and protect their children. The role-play creates a space for exploring what factors led to the alleged abuse, how the child(ren) may have experienced the abuse, and what families could do to ensure future safety.
During this presentation we’ll review the details of how we used the similar-but-different process with one family where ‘denial’ became a barrier to moving forward. You’ll see video clips from the similar but different process. We’ll share key learning points and challenges. We’ll also explore how this process allowed us to speak about the unspeakable and how it opened up a world of possibilities in everyone’s thinking.
“It’s not denial. I’m just selective about the reality I accept.” Bill Watterson
Department for Child Protection, Western Australia
In 2008 the Western Australian Department for Children Protection introduced the Signs of Safety as its child protection assessment and planning framework. The principles, disciplines and tools have been integrated in all aspects of the Department’s work and are being used across the organisation to varying degrees.
This presentation will look at the use of the Signs of Safety framework and its tools in the pre-birth meeting process and the court pre-hearing conferences. The Signs of Safety has become an integral part of the planning for pregnant women who have been identified/assessed at being at risk of their babies being taken into state care at birth.
Pre-birth planning using conferences as a way of engaging and making decisions has been long standing practice in many parts of the world. In 2008, the Department for Child Protection in partnership with the State’s tertiary maternity hospital, the King Edward Memorial Hospital and other key stakeholders worked together to develop a joint pre-birth protocol that included practice principles, referral processes and scheduled meetings. The application of the Signs of Safety framework to this process has enabled a more transparent, efficient and consistent approach to assessment and decision-making.
In cases where there is a possibility that legal proceedings may be followed in relation to the unborn child, lawyers have joined the meetings, these meetings also use the Signs of Safety framework and process and provide an opportunity for all participants to begin the planning process should the baby be taken into care.
The Western Australian Legislation enables the Children’s Court to make orders referring an application for protection and care to a pre-hearing conference. These conferences are presided by a court appointed convener and often result in matters being settled by consent. Through partnership with Legal Aid Commission, the state’s public legal support service, the Department for Child Protection has implemented the Signs of Safety framework in pre-hearing Conferences.
These conferences are based on a mediation model that combines aspects of family dispute resolution and the Signs of Safety framework. The conferences involve a range of stakeholders including lawyers and supports for all parties involved including legal child representatives. The use of the Signs of Safety framework has enabled those involved in the proceedings to be more actively involved in the assessment and planning and finding solutions that enable better and longer lasting outcomes for children and their families.
Both of these projects have been evaluated and the presentation will provide details of the evaluations.
Raad voor de Kinderbescherming Overijssel
Arianne Geuze introduced Signs of Safety to the Child Protection Board in Zwolle (in the Dutch province of Overijssel) nearly four years ago. With a group of ten Child Protection Workers she started an experiment in late 2007 using the Signs of Safety approach in child protection assessments, normally done in a problem and expert-oriented way.
The Signs of Safety experiment was combined with research to describe the developments in the way the Signs of Safety workers did their assessment. Reassured that the ‘Signs of Safety way’ of working still fitted within the national guidelines for child protection assessment, the experiment was prolonged. A second research was set up.
This research focused on the benefits of the Signs of Safety approach in the child protection work from the point of view of the Child Protection workers involved, clients, in(formal) informants and guardians. The additional positive findings of this second research, the broadened use of Signs of Safety in other organisations in the Netherlands and abroad, the need for a more safety-focused approach in all of our child protection work, together with our province aiming for a more empowering approach towards family and network, led to the decision earlier this year to implement Signs of Safety in all of our Child Protection Board work in Overijssel!
Arianne will discuss in her presentation the changes, benefits and challenges using Signs of Safety within the Child Protection Board in Zwolle using case examples and (when ready on schedule) DVD material.
Tokai University and Saitama City Child Guidance Center, Japan
Saitama City together with Ai as their trainer and consultant started the journey in mid-2009. In the beginning, the Saitama City Child Guidance Center team were not sure what would come out of this. Still, we were ready to meet the challenges and just kept trying something different during these two years. We hope to share what our challenges brought to the children and the families we serve, as well as to our organization and to ourselves as practitioners. If everything went well, we hope to show an Appreciative Inquiry interview with our former clients, which Ai says deserve the gold medal for their efforts.
Carver County Community Social Services, Minnesota, USA
Cindy Finch has been using the Signs of Safety in her work as a long-term child protection practitioner for over ten years. Cindy worked for eight years in Olmsted County, Minnesota during the implementation lead by Rob Sawyer and Sue Lohrbach and is now working in Carver County. This experience means Cindy is one of the most experienced front-line practitioners using the Signs of Safety approach with long-term high-risk cases, having worked in the two Minnesota Counties who have lead the way in bringing the Signs of Safety to the USA. In this presentation, which Cindy first made at the Western Australian Signs of Safety Gathering in May 2011, Cindy will present her approach to using the Signs of Safety with the families she works with – focusing particularly on how she engages with families and gets the hard issues on the table with them at the beginning of the working relationship.
Cindy’s presentation will be further deepened by the presentation of a video interview with a mother call Brenda. Brenda was a chronic long-term alcoholic who was in a severely violent relationship she had had her parental rights terminated on five of her children, three other of her children had died, one miscarried and one died after birth because of severe deformity caused by excessive alcohol consumption and the third died at 30 days. When she was working within the Olmsted County system Cindy worked with Brenda to be able to keep her tenth baby.
We (Andrew and Adri) invited Cindy to offer her Western Australian presentation again at the Netherlands Gathering because of Cindy’s long experience and also because the depth and humanity of Cindy’s work is so impressive. Don’t miss this special additional presentation!
Bureau Jeugdzorg Zeeland
Since 2006 Bureau Jeugdzorg Zeeland, the statutory Child Protection agency of Zeeland, a Southwest province of the Netherlands, have been on a journey with the implementation of Signs of Safety, starting with their assessment team, the AMK.
Due to the high caseload of the assessment team (70 closed cases per year), and in order to get to safety planning as quickly as possible the AMK has been experimenting with rapid case planning conferences (modelled on rapid response conferences initiated in Olmsted County, Minnesota). In cases of emergencies, like a baby born with drugs in its system and in cases where out of home placement is likely, parents are requested to get a small group of friends and family to a rapid-response conference within 24–72 hours of the initial referral. This means there is little place for preparation, and there is also no family private time at the relatively short conference (1.5 hours).
However, due to the fact that the dangers are usually quite clear and are not disputed much most of the time, a reasonable amount of safety planning can be done at most conferences, leading to safety plans and/or kinship placements instead of stranger foster care in many instances. We have also found that after the conference where AMK together with the family worked its way through the worries and strengths using the Signs of Safety Framework, a conversation about safety was started within the family, leading to more safety. The first time we clearly realised that we could get close to what we wanted in a relatively short time was when we heard a grandmother say, “Yes, but is that really safety, or just a strength?”
Like in Olmsted, we have found that safety planning in most cases could be done by rapid conferencing and most families were very satisfied and gave a high score on our evaluation form. Since then we have done only a few ‘original’ Family Group Conferences (with 20-30 hours preparation, a duration of five hours and private family time). We will present subtitled movie clips of two reenacted rapid conferences, one about an injured infant and one about a case of domestic violence, where the father got a restraining order. We hope to give an idea about how we and the families use the framework to think ‘into and through the case’ in a relatively short time.
Juvent; Jeugd-en Opvoedhulp
Since 2008 Juvent has been using the Signs of Safety approach to establish safety for children in their family homes in the Dutch province of Zeeland. Juvent is a treatment agency that works together with Bureau Jeugdzorg Zeeland. Together we make child safety the highest priority through collaboration with parents and the social network of the family to return or keep children in their families.
We will show you a film in which you will see two cases where the safety of the children was at risk. The families, the in-home therapists and the child protector will tell you how they succeeded to keep the children at home. The film especially shows our belief that partnership and collaboration is conditional for change.
Bureau Jeugdzorg Drenthe
We would like to show you how supervisors at Bureau Jeugdzorg Drenthe use the Signs of Safety practice principals that build partnerships to support frontline workers.
Liane and Manna will show how they as supervisors use the practice principals to get the workers who are stuck, back on track. They use this approach in group case discussions and individual coaching. Video clips and practice examples will provide the audience direct experience of this process. We think that the parallel process is a very important factor in implementing Signs of Safety. We have a strong belief that Signs of Safety can be fully implemented throughout the whole organisation only when the approach is used in all layers of the organisation.
Department for Child Protection, Western Australia
The state of Western Australia has a population of 2.25 million people, including a substantial number of Aboriginal people, across a land mass close to the size of Western Europe. The government Department for Child Protection, with 2200 staff and a budget of US$500m, is responsible for child protection and services for vulnerable families, either directly or through contracted non-government organisations.
The Department took the decision to adopt Signs of Safety as its child protection practice framework at the end of 2007 and commenced implementation with a formal policy framework and a major training roll out in mid 2008, as part of a comprehensive plan formally committing the Department to a five year learning journey. This occurred in the early stages of a root and branch reform of the Department following a major external review triggered by highly publicised child deaths and criticisms of the Department.
The presentation by the chief executive officer of the Department will outline the progress, pitfalls and current and longer term challenges in the Department’s learning journey to implement the Signs of Safety approach and develop practice depth.
Maine Department of Health and Human Services
This presentation will highlight the key planning and implementation issues Maine’s child welfare agency confronted as they have engaged in the first year of a Signs of Safety statewide implementation in all aspects of case practice. While still in the first year, Maine’s implementation has already resulted in a good deal of energy, enthusiasm, and practice depth among practitioners. The presentation will also include segments of videotaped interviews of a birth parent, practitioner and supervisors sharing their perspectives on the implementation thus far. The presentation will cover:
Carver County Community Social Services, Minnesota, USA
This presentation will highlight the work that was done in Carver County as we took two families through a safety planning journey that included “similar but different” role-play sessions.
We will describe the extensive work we have done with two families willing to go on a safety-planning journey with our agency. We will discuss the process from intake through the similar but different role-plays. We will show examples of some of the Signs of Safety tools from these journeys and some of the early and later safety plans. We will examine the key collaborative role Connected Families played. We will describe significant challenges and key things we learned. We will show clips of the role-plays and interviews of parents and others from our journey with these families.
Terry Murphy and Dan Despard’s presentations will create the opportunity for all participants to reflect and consider their own experiences about what is required to create strong organisational structures that best fosters safety-organised child protection practice that is both tough-minded and compassionate, purposive and authentically human. We will invite all Gathering participants to submit their questions and observations to the live feedback SMS numbers. These will then be used as themes in Wednesday morning’s plenary session called “Leading Child Protection Organisations to Build Practice Depth”.
The Bascule, Academic Center for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, The Netherlands
The family psychiatry department of the Bascule provides outpatient-/day-/and inpatient treatment for families. We are specialised in treatment of families with psychiatric and other complex problems in multiple areas of life. Often the child protection services refer families to us. They ask information about family functioning in order to make a decision whether parents can take care of their children. In families with multiple problems (or suspected) developmental stagnations is a hazard to parents and/or the child(ren).
The department offers an intensive solution focused modality of family therapy aimed at strengthening family functioning in the present and the nearby future. The aim of the department is to increase the capacity and self-determining ability of parents to strengthen the family. Goal of treatment is to improve the relationships within the family and with their environment, eliminate stagnation and mobilisation of the strengths of the family.
Summary: Earlier this year, the department for psychiatry family treatment was asked to treat two families involving non-accidental injury (NAI) in two very young children. Both babies were found to have multiple fractures of different ages. In both cases there were strong suspicions of child abuse/maltreatment and the children were removed from their homes.
One family participated in the outpatient program from Susie Essex: Working with ‘denied’ child abuse: the Resolutions approach. Focus of this treatment is the idea that the baby is never alone with their parents the first period after coming back home.
The other family was—after starting outpatient Signs of Safety—admitted for eight weeks to the family ward for diagnostic evaluation. After two weeks the baby was reunited with the family in our family clinic, which is then closely supervised in their daily living.
Both families participated in a family treatment for families with babies one day a week to bond with their child.
Our presentation is a case study comparing the similarities and differences between these two different forms of treatment within the Signs of Safety in case of serious suspicions of child abuse.
Carver County Community Social Services, Minnesota, USA
Hamilton Children’s Aid Society, Ontario, Canada
Our presentation will centre around our journey as two front-line child protection supervisors leading the implementation of the Signs of Safety in-agency while collaborating and drawing on each other for support. We have learned from each other, tried new ideas within our teams, focusing on new ways to supervise staff using the framework in supervision, performance and drawing out individual goals of practitioners on their teams. As we have tried new things and we have also learnt some things to never try again.
Part of our presentation will include an appreciative inquiry centred around the strengths of our cross country collaboration and how our working together has changed our work with staff and kept our energy high. In addition, a implementation map will be shared and how we hold each other to working on those goals.
The journey of front-line supervisors implementing and modelling the use of Signs of Safety is not an easy one but is incredibly rewarding. Walking the walk that we promote everyday to our staff.
(Tracee) For the first year of being a supervisor in an agency I was new to, I questioned whether I was strong enough to continue on or if I should just give up and go back to being a frontline worker. That is when I realized I needed to do something different. I wanted social work to literally improve within weeks/months and simply couldn’t understand why social workers felt they needed to control their families and those families outcomes. Who made us the experts? In 2008, Hamilton CAS and Dr. Eric Sulkers from Zeeland visited Carver County to learn more about Signs of Safety and our implementation. Little did I know at that moment that I would reach out to these two people to support me in what I was trying to do. My main takeaways are: to slow down to speed up, assume you don’t know, admit that you may screw up once in a while (okay, everyday) and what is it I want myself and my team to become in the future?
(Rosina) As a supervisor within my organization I would get easily stuck with wanting the entire system to change overnight. If I could have waved my magic wand I would have been able to wake up the next morning and every child in care would have a words and pictures created by their parents explaining why they were in care and all decisions made would have been in collaboration with parents with the focus always being on safety for the child. Sharing my journey with Carver County, building a relationship with them (especially with Dan and Tracee), has helped me be what I want my workers to be everyday. My greatest learning can be described in four key concepts; slow down, focus on small change, set your goals and grow as big as you can be!
In reflecting, we are not sure why it took so long to understand such a simple concept; we needed others in our life to sustain and build energy to continue with our journey; otherwise, we would burn out, be disappointed and not learn new things that work to apply to our teams.
Embreus Social Work Consultancy, Sweden
In this presentation I will describe my experience of a case where a seven-year old boy and his 12-year old sister were taken into care. I was asked, as an Independent Social Worker, to do an investigation process regarding the seven-year old boy. I will describe this case, from the point where the family was totally demonised and the social service had the view that this child had to go to foster care, and how it ended up with him going home to his family three weeks later. After another couple of weeks his sister also returned home, after being in placement for a six-month period. By using some the Signs of Safety tools—the mapping form and the three houses tool—and by connecting with the parents, I was able to help change the situation so the child could go home, and stay safe, within his family. I will also show a video taped interview with the parents who will describe the process from their point of view.
The Metis Child and Family Service System of Manitoba, Canada represented by Building Capacity Consulting Services
The Metis Child and Family Service System in Manitoba, Canada has begun the journey toward building practice depth by embracing Signs of Safety within several of its units. The presentation will include the following:
The Metis represent a distinct culture that grew out of marriages between early European settlers and local Aboriginals. A culture that is known by honour, respect, collaboration, and inclusion; these are seen as the keys to overcoming the profound differences between their cultural pasts and any challenges the future holds. Signs of Safety has breathed new life into the Metis CFS system by awakening these deep cultural values within their families and workers.
This presentation will incorporate a description of the culturally distinct CFS systems in Manitoba. In 1991, the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry began a process of devolving CFS services from the Province of Manitoba toward the development of four Culturally Appropriate Authorities with the power to mandate and oversee agencies and guide culturally appropriate service provision. The Metis Authority was established during this process.
Two Family Enhancement (FE) or early intervention units have been piloted using SOS as the key practice approach. The experiences of families, workers, and supervisors will be shared with a focus on the difference that SOS is making in the lives of families and the practice of workers.
As the successes and the excitement associated with the FE units has grown, so too has the practice depth of other service units. The successes and struggles of some of these early engagers will be shared. Initial efforts have also been made to move the entire system, including managers, directors and execute leadership, toward a shared spirit of appreciation, reflection, shared learning, and system quality. This has been influenced by the development of a System Wide Quality Assurance model heavily influenced by SOS, known affectionately as Signs of Success.
More information about Signs of Success is available at:
Ktunaxa Kinbasket Child and Family Service, British Columbia, Canada
Ktunaxa Kinbasket Child and Family Services Society (KKCFSS) has been working with the Signs of Safety model for four years. The potential for working cross culturally within the Signs of Safety model was the original attraction.
Our questions were and still are:
KKCFSS Managers will share their experiences and insights into Signs of Safety in a cross cultural environment.
Bart Knudsgaard is the Executive Director for KKCFSS and has worked in the field of Social Work for over 20 years. He has been with KKCFSS for nine years. Bart is a skilful listener who has been an integral part of taking a nation vision and making it a reality.
Eva Coles has been a Program Manager for KKCFSS for 11 years. She has worked for and with aboriginal people for over 25 years. She oversees a multi-talented group of culturally diverse staff who work from their hearts on a daily basis.
In this hour plenary, chaired by Professor Adri van Montfoort, the six Directors joining Terry Murphy on this panel will have five minutes each to describe the most critical elements of organisational leadership they see that genuinely foster the conditions for practitioners to undertake their work with rigour, reflexivity, depth and humanity. Terry Murphy will also offer further reflections within this dialogue.
Each of the panel members have been asked to consider the questions and themes that have been generated through the live SMS feedback during the previous day following Terry Murphy’s and the other presentations focused on management and leadership. Adri will also question the panellists based on the SMS feedback. Real-time SMS’s will be encouraged during the plenary to keep all the panellists and Chair on their toes! So put simply, the more Gathering participants use the SMS feedback process, the richer the plenary discussion will be.
Professor Munro, who in May this year completed the Munro Review into the English Child Protection system, will draw our Gathering to a close by providing her reflections on the presentations she has heard. Professor Munro’s contribution will engage all participants in reflecting on their learning and struggles and will connect the presentations to the bigger issues that always swirl around, intersect and drive child protection practice. This final session will help all participants think more broadly about the connections between their own contexts and current policy and social issues that face all child protection practitioners and organisations and assist us as we seek to build more stronger and more human child protection organisation and practice.