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

Newsletter #6 | October 2015

The September 2015 workshop for the ten partnering local authorities has brought us well into the second half of the EIP, a period of strong and focused activity by local authorities working to transform their practice and align their organisations to the practice.

Knowing that transformation does not all happen in 18 months and that the journey has to continue, the focus is moving to having the basics in place – core training and continuing learning strategies, policies and forms that match the practice, focused leadership engaged with practice and modeling the approach. As well we are looking ahead to the end of the project in March 2016 delivering some potential game changers – a quality assurance system that builds the practice as well as reports on it, a blueprint for case recording ICT that supports the practice as well as meeting the imperatives of reporting, and the first Signs of Safety App, the three houses for the child’s voice.

Also, the research effort is looking to continue a little past the project period and this will be one key to maintaining the learning and the momentum achieved through the EIP.



Listening for and inquiring into practitioners direct experience of constructive work and building a culture of appreciative inquiry around frontline child protection practice is the engine room of the Signs of Safety approach.

This creates hope, builds practice depth and a context for change, a way to reform the problem-saturated culture that surrounds child protection practice.

At the September workshop, Andrew Turnell led an appreciative inquiry with Tower Hamlets that involved a case where a mother could not retain care for her children but was able to prepare a words and pictures explanation for the children, with the worker, explaining why this was so and that she loved them, that it was okay to be with the new family and she would always keep loving them. How can you do such profound work and share this vision?

Using our EARS for the appreciative inquiry interview

Elicit – ask the first question
Amplify – more questions to get at the behavioural detail; what, who, when, how; what would or do you actually see; lots of relationship questions (what would the child, the mother, etc, say?)
Reflect – questions to search for the meaning; exploring the significance of the behavior to those involved; and what has been learnt by the worker; recognising that there are always different perspectives
Start-over – new first question and repeat the process

Leaders reflections on the learning raised by the appreciative inquiry included:
  • Start words and pictures explanations early in the casework
  • How it allows the parent to reflect (beyond our involvement)
  • How it helps the parent to keep the focus of the energy on the child and not on the fight
  • Helped to bring another agency on the journey
  • Thinking about the child in the future, the foundation this will be to help her understand the difficult time her mum had – sophisticated thinking
  • The context that here is a mum who is going to have more kids and what this means for her in the future – enormous compassion and intelligence to take the mum on that journey and the difference this may make in the future.


Introducing a safety planning case audit tool

Considerations in QA for safety plans
  • A service plan is not a safety plan
  • Everyday living arrangements are fundamental – need a clear description of how they (child, family, safety network) are going to live their everyday life, so that when professionals leave, everyone is sure that the children will be safe.
  • The plan needs to make sense to the family
  • There is to be an informed support network – people that are actively and naturally involved
  • A child’s version of the safety plan – that is prepared with the parents and network for the child – is powerful
  • A plan is only effective if it is tested and demonstrated over time – if not it may be naïve or worse, actually dangerous
  • Sophistication of thinking should be reflected in the plan – what we know from research, what we know from our practice – e.g., is the plan matching what we know about mental health or domestic violence?
  • Legislation and guidance – does our safety plan meet these requirements?
At the September workshop, leaders of local authorities brought and reviewed actual safety plans from their authorities. Some of their reflections after considering the plans were:
  • As a person auditing the case, you need to have a good understanding of what a good safety plan looks like
  • Hoping the QA process will help leaders to be more acute to what they are leading
  • Helpful to not make assumptions so need front line worker
  • As a leader, helps to hone in on questions to get the practitioner to think about the practice
  • If we want people to do quality work we have to show what a good safety plan looks like
  • Questioning around sophistication of thinking is really good – if we could use this more, it would get us away from just putting in services
  • Showed how we use jargon – need to see and ask questions more clearly
  • Puts the responsibility back on the reviewer to come up with the questions; need to have the relationship with the worker as you can see how they could easily become defensive – this is what makes it challenging
  • My job is to help you think this through …
Safety Planning - Case Audit Tool 

Towards a quality assurance system

The introduction of the safety planning case audit tool occurs as local authorities have begun trialing the Signs of Safety mapping tool introduced in July, and the development of a quality assurance system that can be adopted in whole or in part by local authorities. The underpinnings and overview of the approach are:

Goal of quality assurance work
A collaborative action learning process involving the actors whose life and work is being reviewed, to rigorously explore together with the reviewers the successes and weaknesses of the work, and how to improve the endeavor.

Principle of quality assurance work
The improvement process must always listen to the experience of and be accountable to the least powerful people who are directly affected by the work.




Wakefield is leading the development of a proposal for streamlined national reporting on behalf of all the local authorities and MTM. The proposal is being developed in line with the way a quality assurance system might focus on a core set of data for monitoring case dispositions across teams, localities, services and the local authority as a whole.

Findings to date
  • Feedback from EIP local authorities that showed a distinction in what we collect, what we record and what we use for management purposes
  • A “lack of fit” between the work and reporting
  • There is a disconnect between practitioners and data we are collecting
  • Performance information demands come from a number of places such as LSCB and DfE (with 9 national returns which overlap)
  • A lot of data demands are tied together affecting various parts, making piecemeal streamlining difficult
  • Local authorities do value comparative data between authorities
  • DfE has an interest in dialogue

A bold proposal for meaningful measures – core data set
  • Cases re-referred to children’s social care / early help
  • Children subject to assessment (per 10,000)
  • Days to help
  • Rates of Child Protection Plans
  • Length of plans
  • Children subject to Court orders
  • Children’s outcomes measures / hospital admissions
  • Re-investigation of abuse / offences against children
  • Staff vacancy / turnover / sickness rates
  • Staff satisfaction surveys (including Health Check)
  • Parental satisfaction surveys
  • Children’s satisfaction surveys
Local authority leaders thought this proposal was on track - we need a useful dashboard, one that allows comparisons, not voluminous data that are not used and are actually not reliable.

Be part of this debate!



Asking workers to do the work twice, once with the family and then again to fit it into another format for another purpose does not make sense, certainly not to the workers.

The Signs of Safety EIP focus on aligning the organisation with the practice has a strong emphasis on aligning forms, and the policies and procedures behind the forms, with the practice, so the forms match the work that workers do and what they record with families. This is our best hope!

There has been significant but not full progress in achieving this alignment. As the last newsletter reported, there is a strong list of policies and forms that are more aligned with Signs of Safety.

The September workshop focused substantial attention on the most aligned version of a single assessment and planning form that has been developed and is being introduced by Wakefield. It seeks to create one assessment and plan that evolves with the family and that can be adjusted (in line with the adjustments to Signs of Safety as ‘Signs of Something’) across the service continuum. Some key aspects of this form are:

An aligned single assessment …
  • Works alongside a script for the front door
  • Looking at information migration of all documents into the one single assessment form
  • Explicit and unequivocal Signs of Safety format
  • Prompts under the headings
  • Simple and user friendly
  • Starts of with genogram
  • Has a clear plan for change –how we will know and what it will look like when its different – all in one place
Give Wakefield a call, they will be eager to share their experience!


Information management

ICT system blueprint development

This ambitious work is well underway and has workers and local authorities hopeful about some fundamental supports for good practice being possible in time. The next steps are:
  • A final workshop with al local authorities in January 2016
  • Realising the interest there is from industry to build prototypes
  • Delivering the blueprint in March 2016
  • Including examples of good practice in the blueprint

App development

Every child protection professional wants to involve children. The problem is how do you actually achieve this? There is so much to do in so little time and it’s easy to imagine things going wrong. The Three Houses tool has been a breakthrough tool for practitioners for many years, giving them a practical way to capture the child’s voice. 

Still—we know workers worry about using the Three Houses tool. They wonder what preparation they should do, how they do the interview if they’ve never done it before, how they should explain the tool to parents and children and what they can do if they get stuck.

This is where the Three House app comes in. Co-created by practitioners and app developers, it operates like a work buddy; guiding professionals, parents and youngsters through every step of the Three Houses process. 
A tool that children and workers will actually want to use

Some of the features of the app:
  • an activity area where a child, with the worker, can draw their Three Houses pictures
  • reference material
  • a guided mode that workers can use during sessions
  • case profiles
  • case notes
  • assessment history
  • audio recording facility
We’re convinced that more children will become involved in the casework because this app will build worker’s confidence; they will know they can do a good job without the fear of missing something significant. The app will also make the Three Houses interview process more fun for practitioners and children.

Available for free on Apple and Android App stores April 2016

Working with Ofsted

The September Signs of Safety EIP workshop was pleased to have Paul D’Inverno attending on behalf of Ofsted. Eileen Munro and Paul D’Inverno reported that:
  • Eileen Munro and Viv Hogg attended an Ofsted national training day and provided a briefing on Signs of Safety
  • Most lead inspectors are familiar with Signs of Safety
  • Most inspectors reported that they had seen the Signs of Safety on forms not designed for the purpose
  • Ofsted and local authorities agree that information should not be put into the file with a view to please Ofsted, information and analysis should be about what the child needs, and satisfying Ofsted will follow
  • Eileen Munro and Ofsted have examined the Ofsted evaluation schedule to identify any contradictions with ideas from Signs of Safety. There are essential similarities – good practice, reflection, focus on the impact


Action Research

The action research parents survey and staff survey have been conductd with plans for a second survey towards the endd of the project. The final action research report will also include a narrative account of each LAs ‘journey’ of implementing Signs of Safety

The independent evaluation by Kings College is well underway with interviews of families and other related data collection nearly complete for the first cohort and in train for the second.

Reports in September 2016 will be critical to maintaining the learning and the momentum achieved through the EIP.



After the half way stock-take in July, it is already time to begin to look ahead to how to maintain the journey after the EIP ends in March 2016, both in individual local authorities and across the UK.

Three key strategies
  1. Identify the people to hold the project aspects of implementation, such as the steering group, implementation planning and review, targeted learning
  2. Work out what external input will give you the most value and impetus over the years ahead – practice leader development is pivotal, support for continuing organisational alignment, strategy – and look to do it affordably (eg video conferencing, occasional days)
  3. Move on bringing basic training in-house, envisaged as occurring within a two year trajectory of implementation, EIP funding is still available to support this, all project managers have an outline of the ‘apprenticeship’ process

And for your forward planning, the next UK International Signs of Safety Gathering will be held on 3–5 July, 2016 in Norwich.


Join with us on Yammer

  • Working on integrating Signs of Safety and the statutory assessment?
  • Want to check whether your implementation plan has captured everything that the other local authorities are doing?
  • Has anyone done…?
  • Has anyone got…?

Head to the Signs of Safety EIP network and share your knowledge and resources and have your queries addressed. The more ways we have of communicating the better!  


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