Northern Ireland Implements Signs of Safety
The implementation of Signs of Safety across all of Northern Ireland launched on 27 June 2018.
Northern Ireland children’s services are delivered through five Trusts that are part of the National Health Service. The five Trusts together began exploring Signs of Safety in mid-2017. There has since been a year of exploration, committing to and then preparing for implementation. Previously the Western Trust, one of the five Trusts, had been implementing Signs of Safety for some time and their advocacy and experience has been instrumental in all Trusts coming on board.
While the Trusts, through the Children’s Service Improvement Board, are committed to the implementation to the extent possible with their own limited resources, fortunately dedicated funding has been provided through the services transformation fund available to Northern Ireland through the confidence in supply agreement under which Northern Ireland members of the UK parliament support the government.
Over the preparation period, Joke Wiggerink and Terry Murphy have worked with the Trusts on detailed planning and problem solving for potential blockages, to adoption of the practice (being existing assessment forms and IT). Deirdre Mahon, Regional Project Lead, has been providing introductory sessions for staff in all Trusts and all have received the Signs of Safety Summary of the Practice Approach, Evidence and Implementation. Most significantly, learning cases — actually working on a live current case using the Signs of Safety methodology in partnership with a consultant — have commenced in each Trust. These are what Northern Ireland describes as the “big four pre-implementation activities”.
The launch involved a full-day conference attended by some 300 people. It was opened by the Permanent Secretary emphasising that the program should be truly transformational. The Deputy Secretary/Chief Social Worker then emphasised that the implementation of Signs of Safety builds on a strong improvement journey that is well underway among the Trusts. There were also presentations from Munro, Turnell and Murphy, with Andrew Turnell, as principal architect of the approach explaining the Signs of Safety; Eileen Munro speaking on the realities of risk and decision making in child protection; and Terry Murphy joined by Joke Wiggerink on the Signs of Safety approach to implementation. The Republic of Ireland’s family and children’s services agency Tusla gave great support with the Chief Executive, Fred McBride, and Cormac Quinlan and Sue Kane sharing their experience of implementation over the past year. Tusla has offered their support so formal arrangements to share learning and resources between the Northern Ireland Trusts and Tusla are established.
Most importantly there were presentations on practice, including a mother who compared her experience of case conferences before and after Signs of Safety, and a case that moved from the brink of separating siblings into placements for permanent care and adoption to returning them home with parents. There were also reflections on the experience of Signs of Safety training by managers and staff and their hopes for the implementation.
Training for all staff is now underway and consultation days and monthly calls with the Trusts have begun, and the commitment, energy and enthusiasm for full implementation is palpable.
We are very pleased that Deirdre Mahon is Regional Project Lead for the implementation across all the Trusts. Her experience leading Signs of Safety in the Western Trust, and her drive and knowledge will be an important asset to the implementation over the coming years. If you would like any more information, Deirdre can be contacted on Deirdre.Mahon@westerntrust.hscni.net