Safety Planning and Networks

Could your safety plans look like this?

A version for the children and the network is best set out in words in pictures. Here are two panels from a safety plan in a recent case in The Republic of Ireland.

Where are we now with networks?

On a scale of 0 to 10 where:

10 is we’ve got everything set up in our children’s service systems from the very first phone call we take and in all our policies and procedures and we’re completely committed to the obvious strategy of ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ right up to our CEO to get naturally connected people involved around vulnerable children and families, and

0 is we talk about it be we do very little to nothing to support our families and workers to be able to make this possible.

Where do you rate your system?
Where would grandparents of children we take into care rate us?

Barriers to building networks

Local authorities were asked, “what are the system challenges you are seeing in finding and involving support people around children and parents we work with?” Their responses highlighted:

  • Being ‘risk adverse’, so if some naturally connected people have had some problems we automatically rule them out and this can be reinforced by other agencies in the system.
  • Statutory processes do not include networks, it’s not in the flow chart.
  • Confidence issues with workers.
  • Working with isolated new arrivals and diverse ethnic communities.
  • Not getting families involved at the earliest point e.g. strategy meeting
  • Not involving dad and other significant males.
  • Core groups not being equated with family network meetings, variation among managers.
  • Not getting it happening from the get go.
  • Too much focus on primary attachment and not enough on the village to raise the child.

Family Finding

Family Finding (www.familyfinding.org) has been created by Kevin Campbell, coming out of radical search methods for finding family carers in response to failures of the care system. It is used across North America and Australia and is mandated by law within the USA. Family Finding includes the strongest suite of methods known for quickly finding naturally connected family and support people. It challenges ‘casework as usual’ and the practitioner as ‘doer of all things’. It underlines the urgency of involving networks. The approach is completely compatible with Signs of Safety, giving method and tools to the task of building networks.

The EIP will include two Family Finding bootcamps (five day hands on training events) in May and June 2018. Places are allocated at each boot camp for all 10 local authorities based on size. There will be some additional places to bring in other agencies from the United Kingdom. It is crucial that each authority send the right people. Key organisational and practice leaders should attend to understand the methods and support alignment of the practice with agency arrangements.

Participants will be asked to come with cases they want to work with. Kevin Campbell will demonstrate the Family Finding methods and then assist participants to find naturally connected network in small groups working on current cases. The methods have been developed over twenty years and research and practice indicates that within 60 minutes (average 38minutes) some 20 people can be found. The engagement methods focus particularly on the exploration of functional strengths of the family and their network. Participants will be challenged to set up a planning meeting with at least twelve network participants within two weeks of the boot-camp. This is indeed a culture shift for our work!

Strategies for Building Naturally Connected Support Networks

Notwithstanding the barriers, local authorities by identifying safety planning and networks as a key deliverable for the EIP have prioritised this development and been making some progress towards this in practice. So, while the Family Finding bootcamps will be a critical part of learning and development, authorities are not waiting. Important strategies include:

  • Don’t get invested in finding people – be invested in asking parents to think about support people in every way possible
  • Don’t get invested in getting a particular result from support people i.e. them taking the children or anything else – let this unfold
  • Be patient and go a journey with parents around involving people – the fears they have need exploring
  • Respond to every difficulty from the parents and young people as a fantastic opportunity to deepen your thinking with them and the safety planning
  • Do everything you can to deepen your system’s cultural and structural commitment and procedural alignment to involving naturally committed networks. Supervisors and managers need to ask and support practitioners to do this. What would our agency look like if it did absolutely everything from day one to involve natural support people?
  • See the first day of removal as first day of return
  • Require support people as a key bottom line requirement – make it the parent’s responsibility to find people (solving the confidentiality problem)
  • Draw on the methods and lessons that radical search methods like Family Finding teach us
  • Go hard early after involving support people from the first intake phone call and at the first knock on the door
  • Build your system’s capacity for participatory family conferences that focus on the family and network, aligning family network meetings with the conferences required in the case management process
  • Always search and involve the (absent) father’s side
  • Family is family whether they are next door or on the other side of the globe
  • Accept and involve everyone including ‘smelly Uncle Fester’ including family and friends with previous child protection history. Ask them to think through who are good people and discuss openly any professional concerns about anyone. Adopt an attitude that everyone can do something to help.
  • Explore in detail who to involve with the children, who they see and are involved with, who comes to the family, who they don’t want, what they want people to do to help them and their family. Explore the children’s perspective through relationship questions.