The Signs of Safety approach has been at the centre of Munro Turnell & Murphy Consulting’s efforts to foster whole system child protection reform.
Signs of Safety was co-created by Andrew Turnell. In recent years, Munro Turnell & Murphy Consulting (MTM) has focused on the framing and design of whole system implementation of the approach.
For 20 years, Andrew Turnell through his company Resolutions, has defined Signs of Safety and led its continued evolution. Over the last 10 years, this evolution has increasingly been undertaken in partnership with a growing global community of licensed Signs of Safety trainers and consultants as well as MTM.
In 2020, Andrew will formally hand leadership, control and development of the model over to that community of trainers and consultants.
To facilitate this, Andrew and Resolutions have established a membership-led, not-for-profit called Elia. The Signs of Safety trainers and consultants will form Elia’s membership and thereby take ownership of Signs of Safety.
MTM’s principal partners, Eileen Munro, Andrew Turnell and Terry Murphy will work closely with Elia on many of its projects and in support of the organisation and its mission.
Andrew Turnell will act as Elia’s first CEO, Terry Murphy will be part of Elia’s Executive Team overseeing Implementation projects and Eileen Munro will lead the action research on Elia’s largest implementations.
Elia’s mission is:
We work with organisations and communities anywhere in the world entrusted with the care of the most vulnerable children, to equip them to do everything possible to place the responsibility for the child’s safety and healing with the parents, children and everyone naturally connected to the family.
Wherever possible, we support organisations and communities working with other vulnerable people to use our approaches to enable their work to be more participatory.
As Resolutions did previously, Elia will work together with MTM in leading and coordinating many of the world’s largest Signs of Safety implementations. MTM will complete all its existing implementation projects. From today, new implementations will be managed by Elia, supported by MTM.
By establishing Elia as an international not-for-profit, supported by the expertise of MTM and a membership of licensed Signs of Safety Trainers and Consultants, Elia will be uniquely capable of delivering whole-system reform and Signs of Safety implementations anywhere in the world.
Jacky Tiotto, Director Children’s Services, London Borough of Bexley Published in the Management Journal — 31st January 2019
There is nothing like the sense of joy, relief, pride and gratitude that hits you when an Ofsted inspection concludes that your services are making a sustained difference to the lives of local children, young people, families and carers. The inspectorate call this ‘outstanding’ and they awarded the judgement to Bexley last August.
Since then, we have celebrated, reflected and tried to remain grounded. One of the hardest things has been trying to identify the key milestones and changes on our journey: from inadequacy in 2012, to a fragile ‘requires improvement’ in 2014, onto ‘outstanding’ in 2018.
We have concluded that there are probably six fundamental elements to sustaining the overall improvement and development of children’s services:
First is a vision together with an associated practice framework to shape work with families. Our vision comes directly from a principle set out in the 1989 Children Act — that the upbringing of children should be in their families, who receive high quality support for as long as they need it, to be a stronger and safer support network. This means that we try to avoid the need for formal intervention through the courts, unless not doing so causes a child or children further harm. This is at the heart of our practice environment.
Our social workers and managers believe deeply in this principle. They have been able to commit to it through the use of ‘Signs of Safety’ as the language and culture for our practice. It is built on a belief that trusted and collaborative relationships enable change, that families have solutions to their difficulties and that no parent wants to actively fail and be separated from their children.
Second and third are the practice environment, alongside local political and corporate commitment. Social workers cannot form deep and lasting relationships with families and children if they are overwhelmed by their caseloads. How many children can one person really engage with at any one time — especially when their difficulties are complex and enduring? We have set the bar at no more than 17 — and we would like it to be fewer. We have also learnt that low caseloads have to be matched by ‘hands-on’ management oversight and engagement. The size of our teams is based on managers being able to know the families they are helping, being able to regularly take part in discussions about what is working and what isn’t and finding time to listen to family feedback about what we need to do better or differently.
No practice environment can be constructed without the investment of councillors and significant support from colleagues. For us, this has shown itself in strong Cabinet members, a Council leader who understands the importance of families in communities and a corporate leadership team who share our concern for the welfare and development of children. Every quarter, the director and lead member conduct a full scrutiny of performance and outcomes for children with all managers and the senior team. In return, we benefit from their confidence, trust and investment in our work to support families to stay together. This has been complemented by support from the wider Council: performance teams, communications partners, HR and legal services, complaints colleagues, graphics specialists and administrative expertise.
Fourthly, how leaders show up at the frontline is a big factor in effective outcomes for families. How does it feel for practitioners and managers to be led? This has possibly been the hardest fundamental to get right. Maintaining the fragile balance between creative practice with families and strong reflective oversight needs daily attention. Practitioners must have the confidence to help families find solutions without worrying that any mistakes will result in punishing conversations and blame if things are not working out.
We talk regularly about the importance of ‘showing our workings out’ so that our judgements can be understood. My role means I will be called on to explain a judgement if a child is further harmed while we are working with their family. This is a necessary accountability. But practitioners and managers cannot predict the future with certainty. What we ask is that the judgements and decisions that are made can be explained against what was known at the time, not with hindsight. As long as this is clear, understandable and has been overseen well, practitioners know they can take the decisions they need to, in the best interests of children. The skill and effectiveness of leaders comes in holding this balance every day. That means creating consistency of oversight in the practice culture, at the same time as allowing the relationship-led judgements of practitioners to be loudly heard.
The fifth pillar in our journey has been the extent to which senior leaders and politicians pay attention to recruitment, retention and communication. While there will always be some movement, deep attention has to be given to what is in place to retain, develop and satisfy practitioners doing difficult work. This needs to be creative and connected to the vision for practice. We have had to learn to seek feedback all the time about how it feels to practice in Bexley. Repetition and discussion about the same things are necessary to consolidate everything that we’re attempting.
Finally, comes the focus on the difference we are making for those we are trying to help, most of all for the children whose futures we decide, sometimes in a single decision. We will only get a clear picture with a range of perspectives: those of complainants, ward councillors, from collaborative audits and performance data. Then there is what the system locally understands about practice. Everyone has to ask: how much, how well and what difference am I making?
Leaders and managers across all disciplines have to ask the same questions and be close enough to know the answers. We call this ‘intimacy in practice’. Others call it ‘knowing your onions’. When they are truly committed and interested in the answer, positive change will come and serving children and their families well will then become the most satisfying outcome for everyone, regardless of their role.
The United Kingdom’s Department for Education have published the final report of the external evaluation for first Signs of Safety English Innovations Project.
Authors Mary Baginsky et.al. recognised that Signs of Safety has become one of the most widely adopted research-based programmes aimed at improving practice in child protection services in England.
They report that social work managers and social workers in the 10 local authorities were overwhelmingly positive about the benefits of Signs of Safety in supporting children, providing fresh opportunities for social workers to involve families to a much greater extent than had been the case previously.
The researchers also concluded that “while Signs of Safety is not a ‘magic bullet’ for the challenges that face children’s social care, it has the potential to help improve services for children and young people”, and that “the Signs of Safety framework was workable where authorities made the necessary commitment of trust in their staff at all levels, backed up by resources and time.”
We agree that there are no magic bullets in the difficult and complex work of child protection and reforming services that have long held workers back from working effectively with families. This report adds to the growing evidence base for Signs of Safety and provides a current baseline, together with our own action research report, from which to further “demonstrate in a conclusive way how practice and organisational implementation works” in the second phase of the EIP.
Today the United Kingdom’s Department for Education and Spring Consortium announced £1.95 million in funding over two years to support the second phase of the Signs of Safety English Innovations Project (EIP).
We welcome the approval of the Minister for Children Service’s for us to continue the task of building great children services in England through this project. We will work on further embedding Signs of Safety practice to keep children safe and support families, together with building their extended family and community networks.
The funding is provided to continue work with 10 local authorities to complete their Signs of Safety implementations, building and enhancing existing learning. Our aim is to demonstrate in a conclusive way how practice and organisational implementation works so that local authorities can be supported to adopt or adapt Signs of Safety.
We are very happy to announce that the groundbreaking My Three Houses® App, funded by the UK government as part of the England Innovation Project and designed with children’s services practitioners in the UK, USA and Australia, is now available worldwide for iOS and Android tablets, completely free!
The three houses tool was first conceived in New Zealand in 2003 and since then has been a tool of choice for children’s services workers around the globe because it offers a caring and intelligent way of placing the voice of the child at the centre of child protection assessment and planning.
The My Three Houses App brings this tool into the digital realm with video, interactive animation and a drawing pad for children into the one fun, elegant and engaging app. It also includes a video explanation for parents and extensive guidance for workers. Most importantly the app makes it easier for workers, who have limited time to do the most important and often hardest part of their job—getting vulnerable children to speak.
The app is the result of eighteen month’s intensive development and testing. The app is the first of its kind, developed by practitioners for practitioners.
Highly accessible and immediately usable, the My Three Houses App will continue to be upgraded and developed as user feedback is received.
Children & Young People Now has published an article that looks at the first four initiatives to gain funding under the Innovations Project, including Signs of Safety, that are intended to transform services in England.