Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa

The Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa (CASO), located in eastern Ontario, Canada, is one of 46 agencies in the province that keeps children safe, provides support and other services to families, and, when necessary, provides safe and nurturing care for children and youth who are unable to live at home because of family problems.  Our designated bilingual agency (English and French) serves the National Capital region of Canada, which has a population of approximately 1.2 million. We have specialty child protection teams within our organization based on language, reason for service or cultural background of the families we are serving.

We began our journey towards implementing the Signs of Safety approach in 2005 when all protection supervisors received copies of Turnell, A. &  Edwards, S. (1999) Signs of Safety: A solution and safety oriented approach to child protection casework. New York: WW Norton.  The book sparked a desire to know more and to understand how this approach would look in practice.   In 2006 a team of management and front line staff from our agency visited Olmsted County, Minnesota.  The staff returned to CASO full of energy and ideas about this new approach.  As a result of this visit, we began incorporating the use of mapping in our case planning meetings.  Over the next few years, a number of CASO staff attended a variety of training events offered by Andrew Turnell.   Internally, a strength-based practice training was delivered and offered to all staff.

In April of 2012, two staff attended the Signs of Safety residency in Chaska, Minnesota.  Upon their return, a plan was mapped out with the assistance of Connected Families for wide-scale implementation at CASO.  We began by developing an orientation to Signs of Safety with a focus on the Practice Principles and the philosophical shift that the approach requires.  This was delivered by staff who had attended the residency to all resource and protection services staff.   An internal Signs of Safety Champions committee was formed whose members act as advisors and supporters of the implementation.

Ottowa CAS

The Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa team.

To date, Connected Families has delivered three separate workshops to all service staff.  Their curriculum has covered Mapping, Harm Statements, Danger Statements, Safety Planning and Questioning.  Additionally, Connected Families has delivered video conference mapping sessions approximately twice a month since April 2013.   Members of the Champions committee visited the Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton to learn from their experiences of implementing the Signs of Safety.   Based on that experience, in May 2013 we began offering rotational mapping workshops to members of the Champions committee.  Since then, we have developed a plan to offer rotational mapping more broadly to all interested service staff.   Additionally, on our agency intranet we maintain a database of Signs of Safety resources: examples of EARS questions, harm and danger statements, SofS articles, links to recordings of Connected Families video conference mappings, case examples and SofS Champions meeting minutes.  Some of these materials have been translated into French.  As well, we have a library of hard copy resources which include Andrew Turnell’s DVDs and books.

One of the things that has been very exciting for us to see here in Ottawa is the creativity and enthusiasm with which our resources staff have embraced the Signs of Safety approach.   Our foster care, kinship and adoption workers and supervisors have been using Signs of Safety to help them think through problems in their work in ways that we had not anticipated.  Their results have been very encouraging.  In our Appreciative Inquiry conversations with workers and supervisors who have used mapping in their work with foster and kinship families, we are hearing about the positive differences that it has made: there is clarity and a focus to their conversations, families report feeling that the processes involved were truly collaborative and balanced.  Resource workers are also using the Three Houses tool in their work with the biological children of foster, kinship and adoption families.

Signs of Safety Stories

A worker who has embraced the SOS approach recently met with her client and extended family network, and shared that “I felt kind, for the first time, that I was explaining why we are involved. The family was receptive and then light bulbs went on as to why CAS is involved.” The worker explained that this mom initially didn’t want her family to know about child protection involvement because she didn’t want to burden them. The worker then talked about how the experience of meeting with all of her family members “opened my eyes to what her world’s all about. When I met her parents I saw they are good people.”

A worker shared that she had apprehended a child in November, and that within six weeks she was reintegrating the child home as the safety network was in place with clear bottom lines. She said that in previous times, this is the kind of case where the child would have been in care for at least six months.

A worker shared “My client who has had two children made Crown Wards just a couple of years ago, [and has been recently involved again with another child], stated that he would not hesitate to contact CAS again should he think his family needs help because of the work we did together.  He said this time, he did not feel judged and he felt that it was ‘our plan’.”

Our Vision

The well-being of children, youth and families is essential to the quality of life in our community.

Our Mission

The Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa is committed to protecting the children and youth of our community from abuse and neglect. We work in collaboration with community partners to ensure their well-being and to strengthen the capacity of families and the communities in which they live.

Our Guiding Principles

In order to fulfil this mission our work and interactions must reflect our commitment to:

Respect – we recognize the strengths and the dignity of the children, youth and families we serve; service delivery decisions benefit from their participation.

Service Excellence – the design and delivery of our services seeks to reflect our commitment to proactive, evidence-informed, strengths-based practice.

Permanent Connections – every child and youth can achieve greater well-being through supportive relationships that are maintained across time and provide a sense of belonging within their family, extended family and community.

Signs of Safety Leads

Evidence-informed practice integrates knowledge from current research and from the perspectives of different stakeholder groups, such as service users and professionals.

Strengths-based practice is a mindset to approach individuals and families with a greater emphasis on their strengths, resources and competencies and to partner with them in mutually discovering how these can be applied to building solutions.

Permanent Connections are achieved when a child/youth is connected with an adult who will provide meaningful, lifelong support and sense of belonging.  Ideally such connections would encompass a legal commitment to the child/youth.