Ministry of Human Services, Province of Alberta, Canada
The Ministry of Human Services is a part of the Provincial Government of Alberta, located in Canada. The Ministry of Human Services strives to ensure that Albertans are supported—that they have the resources and skills to optimize their quality of life, that they are protected and safe in their homes and communities, and that they are enabled and empowered to be successful. Human Services’ core business is to work collaboratively with government, community, partners and stakeholders to deliver citizen-centred programs and services that improve the quality of life for Albertans.
Child and Family Services (CFS), a division within the Ministry of Human Services, is responsible for delivering child intervention supports and services necessary to support a child’s safety and well-being. Working collaboratively with Delegated First Nation Agencies (DFNAs), contract agency and research partners, and other Human Services divisions and partnering Ministries, CFS is focused on supporting evidence-based improvements in child and intervention policy and practice to achieve positive outcomes for vulnerable children and families.
Signs of Safety is being adopted or implemented in a phased-in approach throughout Alberta in conjunction with CIPF. It was a staff led initiative that began in 2010, along with outcomes focused collaborative practice, to emphasize a new way of working with families. In accordance with the Child Intervention Practice Framework (CIPF), CFS began a Signs of Safety province wide implementation strategy in 2014. The CIPF is a set of foundational principles and core elements of leading practice designed to guide efforts in the child intervention system. The framework supports an environment where family strengths are recognized, and children and youth are respected and supported. The Signs of Safety approach harmonizes with CIPF values and principles to improve Alberta child intervention service delivery.
Alberta began its provincial implementation strategy in 2014, and a detailed learning plan between CFS and Resolutions Consultancy was established. Throughout Alberta, supervisors and managers, along with front-line staff, have engaged in Signs of Safety core learning through mandatory training for all staff, along with advanced training for supervisors and other staff designated as practice leaders. Each region in the province is supported by Resolutions Consultancy trainers and consultants with ongoing coaching and mentoring to ensure they are able to meet their region specific implementation needs. DFNAs are able to access basic training and other activities through a mixture of participation with CFS and for their agencies alone. Alberta’s 17 DFNA’s provide federally funded Child Intervention services on 39 of 48 First Nation communities.
Current casework practice in Alberta already emphasizes the need for positive working relationships and building upon strengths in families. The Signs of Safety approach encourages staff to recognize that families have abilities and are capable people who are concerned about the well-being of their children. Caseworkers need to find areas where safety exists in the family rather than seek evidence of problems. Using the Signs of Safety approach and its tools, staff have observed that more time is spent recognizing the abilities of families as opposed to seeking evidence; as well, children are given a voice to define what feels safe to them and what their goals are. Anecdotal evidence points to an increase in family satisfaction and an improvement in the level of skill, morale and satisfaction of workers for those involved in the Signs of Safety Approach.
Alberta is currently in year two of a five year implementation of Signs of Safety in conjunction with our provincial implementation of the CIPF. Continuing to work with Resolutions Consultancy, our goal is to incorporate Signs of Safety training into our core training for all CFS delegated caseworkers and to provide Signs of Safety training to our agency partners.
On October 9, 2015, an Overview of Signs of Safety and Alberta’s Child Intervention Practice Framework was provided for Child Intervention Partners with visiting guests, Signs of Safety co-founder Andrew Turnell, and Resolutions consultant Heidi Hebditch.
At the 9th International Signs of Safety Gathering held in Minnesota from 20-22 October, 2015, CFS caseworkers Tracy Zala and Stephanie Dargis had the opportunity to present on their personal experiences using the Signs of Safety approach.
The governments of Alberta and Western Australia signed a Signs of Safety Memorandum of Understanding which formalizes a partnership to exchange knowledge, research collaboration and a potential future caseworker job exchange.
Maureen Konrad, Project Lead, Maureen.Konrad@gov.ab.ca