This is an occasional newsletter regarding the Signs of Safety England Innovations Project.
Signs of Safety Newsletter

Newsletter #4 July 2015


The fourth Signs of Safety EIP leadership workshop was held on May 2015, some of the highlights are reported below.


Leadership is Always Central

Leading for Practice—The First Priority

Budgets, organisational issues, personnel issues, partner relations, politics, and more politics, mean managing upwards and across the system has to occur… THAT can take all the leaders' time!

BUT the main focus has to be leading the work we exist to do…

  • how children's services work actually occurs in the organisation
  • how workers do the work with families.

Leaders of the ten local authorities that are part of the Signs of Safety England Innovations Project identified the following actions to lead for practice:

  • Making the space and the effort to link to practice
  • Being visible in the teams and having clear accessible communication with the teams
  • Modelling Signs of Safety ways of working to reinforce the behaviours and language (eg, in management meetings)
  • Doing the 5-day advanced training and showing commitment to others – being there is a good message
  • Using Signs of Safety in staff appraisals as well as regular supervision
  • Observing practice
  • Not being afraid to show vulnerability

Policies and procedures and forms, both nationally mandated and locally developed, are often cited by workers as a block to adopting a new way of practicing, so:

ASK: "What are the forms which workers would say get in the way? Which can we drop? Which should be amended?"

Signs of Safety Leadership

The Signs of Safety principles, tools, disciplines and processes adapt readily for leadership:


  • Work at relationships – it's your responsibility
  • Be curious and prepared to admit you may be wrong
  • Be deliberate about the experience of families and frontline staff informing how you see things and your decisions.


  • 3 column review and planning – for operational and strategic issues
  • Scaling questions – check out where other people are and why they are
  • More questions – less telling (being careful not to become interrogative, there is skill to questioning)


  • Plain language – not covering up complex and difficult issues with big words and jargon
  • Observable behaviors – focus on the behavior not the person


  • Distribute the leadership – working in teams

360 Leadership Remains Essential

While the most impactful leadership role is to drive good practice, elected members, partner agencies, central government and the media are all part of the leaders' landscape and leaders do have to manage up, down and across.

Questions that have to be faced are:

  • How can you be clear about budget setting and resourcing while keeping the focus on delivering good outcomes?
  • How do we manage all the different governance arrangements?
  • How do you build up people's recognition and understanding that tragedies occur in the population that children's services work with?
  • How can we align reality with expectations?
  • How can we balance the pressure that is placed on your front line staff?
  • What are the challenges for leaders when everyone is looking to blame?
  • How do we survive serious case reviews?
  • How would our organisation respond to a tragedy?
  • How do you maintain your focus when everyone is pressuring you?
  • If it is on the front page of the newspaper how do you explain your decisions?

And some responses:

  • Give everyone a clear vision of what risk and safety actually look like
  • Exposure and explanation, over and over and over
  • Be available to staff, councilors, partners
  • Be real about what you can and cannot achieve
  • Our key role is to manage and absorb the challenge so it doesn't filter down…you manage the relationships...contain the anxiety, keep cool, think rationally
  • Take everyone on a journey
  • Use the Signs of Safety framework, protect your staff, share solutions
  • Unite around the common purpose, focus on outcomes
  • Show humility
  • Some authorities have had 40% in cuts. We are keen to work with each other to be innovative in how we manage money – including letting go of some things

Reforming Practice from the Front Door to Conferencing

The Front Door to Conference project is one of four practice reform projects within the EIP. It aims to establish a simplified and single assessment and plan using the Signs of Safety framework for intake / first response and applying Signs of Safety methodology through to child protection conferences, family support/child in need meetings and family group conferences. After commencing in recent months, the key issues reported by the five local authorities working on this project are:

What are we worried about?

What's working well?

What needs to happen? (next steps)

Creating lasting structures

Paper work

Unable to further refine IT

Still need to manage processes i.e. length of time of conferences

Reducing the authoritarian approach to practice, working with families and among partners

Challenge from legal team re language

Implementing in first response team

Work with partners – good engagement, including LSCB

MASH – using principles of Sign of Safety and aligning practice

IROs being clearer on danger statements, safety goals and the process

Rediscovering humility in practice

Shifting power base to families in conferences

Using network meetings at assessment stage

Developing draft safety plan before conference

IT solutions – identify possible quick wins

Work with partner agencies, bring on others such as education and police

More on safety planning

Simplify forms – consult with staff

Workshops in MASH and with other professionals to look at thresholds

CAF alignment

Aligning development and review of CP plan with FGC, initial CP conference and review conference points

Single assessment

ALL – exemplar cases – track through process, interview worker, family and record it – draw out the learning


The Challenge of Child Sexual Exploitation

As a current national focus, responding to Child Sexual Exploitation is a challenge and an opportunity to reach and help very vulnerable young people. The May 2015 Signs of Safety EIP leadership workshop heard from Leicestershire and West Sussex about their experiences and looked at the adaptation of Signs of Safety for CSE cases.

Among the positive developments have been:

  • Central to approach is safeguarding
  • Strategic priority with political support
  • Senior management oversight
  • Strong multi agency involvement
  • Dedicated missing persons police team and co-located specialist team
  • Agreement for shared / pooled resources and approach
  • Campaign to raise awareness
  • Integrated with work for missing children and trafficking
  • Successful prosecutions
  • Independent interviews for all children who have returned after being missing, including those children placed in the authority from elsewhere
  • Mapping and safety planning for identified young people

Some key next steps are:

  • Developing information sharing intelligence framework
  • Workforce development strategy
  • Developing more links with young people and communities
  • More sophisticated performance reporting

Young People Sharing Their Experience of CSE

Thistle Young People video includes young people sharing their accounts of being subject to CSE, and training packs to be used with young people and workers. 

Signs of Something – Adapting Signs of Safety to Address CSE

The most important question in organising our thoughts into this issue is the scaling question.

On a scale of 0–10 where 10 means "Jade" is enjoying and learning from safe, healthy partner relationships, romantically and sexually; she's in control of what happens and not coerced; she's having fun, testing things out but not so wild she's losing control and she knows how to avoid dangerous situations and 0 means she thinks she's just having fun and partying but she's not really in charge of what's happening at all; she's really vulnerable and if she hasn't been raped or made to do things she doesn't want to yet, she soon will have been, where would we rate things for Jade right now?

Question to "Jade" specifically: On a scale of 0–10, where 10 is everyone is overreacting and I am at no risk, and 0 is I am scared and I need help now.

Question to agencies specifically: On a scale of 0–10, where 10 is we think the work we are doing will move things forward for "Jade" and she will be safer in the future, and 0 is the work we are doing will have no positive affect for Jade and not make her safer at all.


Some EIP Updates

Practice Exemptions

Submissions are being progressed to seek Ministerial approval for the following exemptions as part of the Signs of Safety EIP.

Extension of the 15 days to conference
A group of local authorities is progressing this submission to be submitted as soon as possible.

Streamlined national reporting
Wakefied is progressing on behalf of all EIP local authorities by:

  • seeking advice from all local authorities and MTM, using three column review and planning
  • providing a trajectory for the development
  • preparing a draft by September

Information Management

Above: Danielle Giles of Inkubator leads a planning session around the development of the
Signs of Safety 3 Houses App

Signs of Safety 3 Houses App

  • Development by an Australian software company called Inkubator
  • Aiming to have the 3 Houses prototype by the autumn.
Next generation of ICS systems to support Signs of Safety
  • Fieldwork – visits to local authorities indicated some atrocities and some gems! – the use of tablets is a gem, the five minute phone call that takes an hour to record is an atrocity!
  • Investigating open source platforms, document management systems

Watch out for the information management workshop, with participants from all ten EIP local authorities in autumn.

External Evaluation

Focus of the external evaluation is on outcomes for children and young people and value for money.

Outcomes for children and young people

  • 20 families where re-referrals and neglect an issue
  • cohort one being interviewed in June and 6 months later
  • cohort two being interviewed in November / December then 6 months later
    – interviewing parents and children
    – looking at case files
    – telephone interviews of social workers

It's All About the Practice!

Safety Planning

Safety planning bottom lines – 3 things we must have:

  • A safety network
  • Family agreement to work with us to create and follow a detailed plan
  • Family working with us to create and explanation for the children – Words and Pictures

The aspects of Signs of Safety you need to develop safety plans for and why

  • Danger statement – we are looking to build safety around the danger!
  • Harm statement – past harm is an indicator of future danger
  • Strengths – to build energy and hope; exceptions to the danger
  • Judgment scale – scaling question(s) that judge danger and safety (good scaling questions get you into the territory)
  • Safety goal – what we are seeking to achieve that tells us the child is safe and we no longer need to worry
  • What needs to happen – who does what, where and how, in detail
  • Next steps – immediately

Are You Advertising for Managers and Staff?

Take the lead from a number of the local authorities implementing Signs of Safety and let prospective candidates know that your local authority uses Signs of Safety practice – it's a marketing edge and supports the commitment of new staff.


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