Sister Approaches: Family Finding and Signs of Safety

July 19th, 2017

Co-written by:

Andrew TurnellAndrew Turnell
CEO – Resolutions,
Signs of Safety Co-creator
Kevin Campbell
Family Finding Model Author

Family Finding and the Signs of Safety are sister approaches. Both equip child protection agencies to:

Undertake all its practice with a rigorous focus on child safety matched by practice, policy, procedures and organisation that enable practitioners to do everything humanly possible to put the parents, children and everyone naturally connected to the children at the centre of the assessment, decision-making and give them every opportunity to come up with their solutions before the professionals offer/impose ours.

This is a complete revolution for child protection services because it transforms the field’s default setting of paternalism — where professionals act as if they are the experts in what is wrong and what needs to happen in the child/young person’s life.

Enacting this:

  • Puts service recipients back at the centre of the work when professionals have serious child welfare concerns
  • Brings greater equality to the relationship between service recipients and providers
  • Gives us a clear foundation and a fighting chance to work in a culturally appropriate manner in a field that is always cross-cultural. Even if professionals are working with people of the same race/ethnicity, the privilege and status gulf between provider and recipient is usually dramatic.

This is the revolution that we both want to deliver by providing governments, statutory agencies, their leaders and field staff the practice and organisational tools to deliver on this promise.

It’s a massive challenge for everyone, from the CEO to the CSO (customer service officer), to deliver citizen-centred services from within their highly-anxious, hyper-scrutinised and over-bureaucratised professional systems. To have a chance to enact this aspiration requires much more than fine words, values realignments and mission statements. Enacting this revolution requires providing children’s service agencies with clearly defined practice models aligned with a clear organisation implementation strategy that incorporates:

Principles

Whole-person intelligence imbued with humility, compassion, heart, soul, culture, community, vision and spirit

Theory and Evidence 

  • A grounded, fit-for-purpose theory and evidence base
  • Research focused around a clearly defined and organisationally owned theory of change
  • Results logics and outcome targets informed through a focus on meaningful measures, where the organisation can count what counts as close as possible to real time.

Practice

  • Fit-for-purpose practice frameworks and tools that make sense for service deliverers and recipients from the first call to case closure; applied across the service continuum to out of home care, permanency and reunification, investigation and assessment, conferencing, family finding, children’s participation and safety planning
  • Clearly articulated practices and disciplines to exercise authority skilfully in working between professionals and with service recipients
  • Individual and group supervision methods that foster risk-intelligent, compassionate and courageous practice through a shared and open practice culture.

Organisation Implementation

  • Clear strategies to transform organisational culture from paternalistic to participatory that are always grounded in skilful use of authority
  • Information recording systems, forward-facing software and apps that actually support the practice that practitioners want to use
  • Aligned organisational policy, procedure and guidance.
  • Participatory audit and compliance methodologies that make sense to practitioners; these methods will both support and help them to think and practice with greater rigour
  • Practice-centred, risk-intelligent executive leadership and management that always leads for learning, particularly at times of organisational crisis and child fatality.

For anyone who is a child protection insider and who has direct experience of the system as it is, this list is as revolutionary as it is breath-taking.

It’s the child protection and children’s services revolution that parents, children, young people, practitioners and leaders want, whether they are in Tokyo, Toronto, Tel Aviv or Tegucigalpa but daren’t dream of because we have failed so often in our hopes to transform the system.

This transformative agenda requires practice models to deliver the grand aspirations. To actually make these models land and stick requires that all the professionals who staff the systems openly and compassionately face the despair we feel about how messed up our child protection systems are – at every level. Once we feel the despair we can then start to use our best intelligence and honestly move to a more participatory, rigorous and energising system of protecting our most vulnerable children.

Signs of Safety and Family Finding have been created by communities of professionals who are fully alive to this despair and are working hopefully and rigorously to offer a grounded vision of how to do professional child protection work differently in practice and organisation.

Revolutions require allies and are always grounded in communities of action, hence we (Kevin Campbell and Andrew Turnell) have, and will continue to, bring together our two approaches and communities. This work is inspiring, worth failing at and worth dedicating your life to. This is about fully involving vulnerable young people in how we provide them with a better present and future and giving everyone naturally connected to these children every opportunity to provide good care for them.

As we write this, integration efforts are happening in many places including Guelph in Ontario, Carver County Minnesota and several organisations on both sides of Australia. On 23 October we will be running a workshop on Signs of Safety and Family Finding in Kansas City, just prior to the International Signs of Safety Gathering being held on 24–26 October.

If you are in any way interested, get involved with the Family Finding and Signs of Safety communities wherever you are in the child protection system and help us seamlessly integrate the two already aligned approaches and let’s get on with building the child protection revolution you and the children and families we work with always wanted.

Kevin Campbell and Andrew Turnell