EIP2 Action Research Final Report Released

Brief overview – Eileen Munro

'You Can't Grow Roses In Concrete' Part 2 cover

How can similar child protection agencies implement the same Signs of Safety approach and receive assistance from the same trainers and consultants yet show vastly varied progress (and, for some, regress)? This is the question explored in the second report on the England Innovations Programme: ‘You can’t grow roses in concrete’ Part 2.

In all, Munro, Turnell and Murphy Child Protection Consultancy (MTM) received two grants from the UK government to work with ten English local authorities implementing whole system change to support Signs of Safety practice, the first for 18 months work in 2014–16 (EIP1) and the second for two years in 2017–19 (EIP2).

During the five-year period of the work, all the authorities were inspected twice by Ofsted, the national inspection body. Three authorities progressed to the highest rating of ‘outstanding’, four showed some progress, and three either showed no progress or deteriorated to the lowest judgment ‘inadequate’. At one level, the disparities are not surprising: introducing change into complex social systems like child protection agencies will have different effects depending on how the change interacts with other parts of the system. But what other parts of the system are most influential? This report pulls together the evidence on how each authority implemented the sections of the Signs of Safety implementation framework to see whether progress on the implementation predicts progress in Ofsted judgments.

The behaviour of leaders seems to be crucial especially in demonstrating commitment to the reforms and having close contact with direct work with families. Slowness in aligning administrative processes and IT to the practice caused additional work for front line staff and can be seen as sending mixed messages about the commitment to implementing Signs of Safety completely. Monitoring what was happening and looking for evidence of quality not just quantity was challenging in a sector embedded in a compliance-with-process culture. Providing training was possibly the easiest section of the implementation framework but progress was clearly linked to how extensively the authority instigated methods for on-going learning and support. Group supervision was highly valued in those places where it was established as a core, not a peripheral, support.

In EIP2, a new version of the staff survey used the Safety Attitudes Questionnaire developed and extensively researched in aviation and, subsequently, in health. This captures measurement of dimensions of work culture that are associated with the number of mistakes, slips, and poor practice. Between the two surveys carried out, the best performing authorities showed good progress and the moderate performing showed some progress. Only one authority in the weakest group conducted two surveys and that showed deterioration on all dimensions except the recognition of stress.

An independent evaluation is being carried out by a team from Kings College, London and that will explore more of the impact on children, young people and families. It also studies implementation and includes a contrast study of two local authorities using Signs of Safety and two who are not.


The full report and linked documents can be accessed from https://knowledgebank.signsofsafety.net/you-cant-grow-roses-in-concrete-part-2.

UK Regional Signs of Safety networks are starting

Stay connected – if you are working with Signs of Safety, you are welcome.

The quarterly regional network workshops are designed to bring together, on a regional basis, local authorities from across England who are implementing Signs of Safety as a whole-system approach.

Each workshop will be supported by licensed UK Signs of Safety Trainers and Consultants.

The programme for the workshops will be informed by participating local authorities, other relevant agencies and the UK Signs of Safety consultants with a view to:

  • Supporting the whole-system implementation of Signs of Safety
  • Keeping up to date with developments in the practice and implementation
  • Sharing information and experience in practice and implementation.

Venues are shared between local authorities and agencies and will be advised closer to the dates. Download the flyer below to see the confirmed dates in your area.

Signs of Safety Regional Network Meeting Dates

Taking Signs of Safety into the Future

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

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.

For more information about the transition of Signs of Safety to Elia, see the Taking Signs of Safety into the Future article and video on the Signs of Safety website and the Elia website.


Bexley lands ‘Outstanding’ from Ofsted

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.

Children and Family Minister visits Bexley
L-R: Chairman of the Children’s & Adult’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Councillor Cafer Munur, Bexley’s Cabinet Member for Education, Councillor Philip Read, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children & Families, Nadhim Zahawi MP, and Director of Children’s Services, Jacky Tiotto.

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.

Response to the What Works Centre 2018 Review of the Signs of Safety

The What Works Centre for children’s social care recently released a systematic review of the Signs of Safety (WWC 2018), a summary of which was published in Community Care on November 15. In this short paper, Andrew Turnell, Eileen Munro and Terry Murphy offer a brief response to the review.

We want to thank the What Works Centre (WWC) and Cardiff University’s Cascade team for their intelligent and nuanced mixed methods review which provides a balanced, valuable summary and critique of the published evidence that supports the Signs of Safety.

The review had the specific focus of investigating ‘whether, how, for whom and under what conditions Signs of Safety works to safely reduce the number of children entering and reentering care, and to increase the number of children re-unified with their family’.

The review’s overall finding was that there is ‘little or no evidence that Signs of Safety is effective at safely reducing the need for children to enter care, equally, we have not found evidence to suggest that Signs of Safety is not effective at achieving this outcome’.

Based on the review’s standards of evidence we completely accept this assertion and we want to make three points:

  1. Until the early 2010’s, the international Signs of Safety community did not seek to build a formal outcome focused evidence base. As a practitioner’s model, the primary research endeavour focused on building practice-based case by case evidence (Ferguson, 2003) of what works in actual cases across the entire children’s services continuum. The extensive body of published Signs of Safety practice based evidence was not within the scope of the WWC review which focused solely on the Signs of Safety impact on the English government priority of reducing care placement numbers.
  2. The review did not include relevant published administrative data that evidences reductions in placements (for example, see Reeves 2018) nor did it explain why this data did not meet their evidence standards.
  3. We share the WWC’s concern to demonstrate the effects of Signs of Safety and under what circumstances they occur, so we are already actively encouraging and supporting research projects in the UK and Ireland that address many of the issues the review has identified.

Beyond its detailed exploration of the evidence base, the review also offers a formulation of the Signs of Safety programme and implementation theory. They identify gaps based primarily on 2012 published descriptions of Signs of Safety practice and organisational theories of change. We had already identified these same gaps and have subsequently been systematically addressing these through the revised theories of change (Munro, Turnell and Murphy 2016 and Turnell and Murphy 2017) which are now being applied in England, Northern Ireland, Ireland and North America.

Given the scope of the review and the fact the reviewers state they didn’t read Signs of Safety practice guidance not linked with research, and it seems they did not familiarise themselves with the v2.0 Signs of Safety practice theory of change, we were somewhat surprised that the review team would view itself able to analyse limitations in the Signs of Safety practice approach. The review called out limitations in applying the approach to cases of violence and exploitation which are in fact explicitly addressed in the practice based evidence that supports the approach (for example, see McLaughlin and O’Brien, 2018). The review also names the issue of how to fully engage naturally connected networks in the safety planning process. These gaps in the practice theory were certainly accurate six years ago when the 2012 practice theory of change applied, but since then they are all being actively addressed.

The review misunderstands Signs of Safety in formulating a parental ‘turning point’ as the key change driver in the practice approach, when the literature has clearly stated that the Signs of Safety follows a systemic approach to change and problem solving. Thus, the Signs of Safety practitioner is not so much setting out to change the light-globe (a faulty parent) as to install a whole new lighting system of a naturally connected safety network around the child (Turnell and Essex, 2006).

In their critique of the ‘practice theory’ the review team also does not seem to appreciate that the Signs of Safety brings a process not a content focused approach to assessment. The Signs of Safety assessment framework provides a clear structure for how to think, and what to think about, and does not prescribe what to think or what theories to draw upon. The Signs of Safety has always recognised that practitioners must bring the most up-to-date professional knowledges to the practice encounter about many contested issues such as childhood development, the impact of trauma, dynamics of grooming, power, control and violence, as well as wider social issues such as race, class, gender and sexual identity.

The WWC review comes at a very opportune moment in the development of the evidence base that supports the Signs of Safety and will be an important driver in helping us to focus the English local authorities and agencies, and other collaborators across the UK, in building a Signs of safety evidence base that meets recognised academic standards. We accept fully the recommendations of the report that:

  • The evidence base for Signs of Safety urgently needs developing
  • A clear, practicable specification of high quality Signs of Safety practice is a first priority.

We can assure the UK children’s service community that we and the leading English Signs of Safety implementing authorities are already working hard on exactly these priorities.

We again thank the WWC and the Cardiff team for the impetus their report provides to the Signs of Safety community in the UK and would welcome the opportunity to work more closely with the WWC in establishing whether the Signs of Safety is effective in improving the safety and wellbeing of children served by the English children’s services system.

References

Ferguson H. (2003). Outline of a critical best practice perspective on social work and social care, British Journal of Social Work, 33; 1005–1024.

McLaughlin, C. and O’Brien, K. (2018). Making safeguarding personal: creating safety for a young woman with a learning disability. Signs of Safety Knowledge Bank, https://knowledgebank.signsofsafety.net/resources/gathering-presentations/2018-dublin-gathering/making-safeguarding-personal

Munro, E., Turnell, A., and Murphy, T. (2016). You can’t grow roses in concrete: action research final report Signs of Safety English Innovations Project. Perth: Munro, Turnell and Murphy. Available at http://munroturnellmurphy.com/eip-report/

Reeves, J. (2018). Transforming child-intervention practice in Alberta: whole system thinking about how to apply the Signs of Safety approach. Signs of Safety Knowledge Bank, https://knowledgebank.signsofsafety.net/resources/gathering-presentations/2018-dublin-gathering/transforming-child-intervention-practice-in-alberta

Turnell, A. and Essex, S. (2006). Working with ‘denied’ child abuse: the resolutions approach. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Turnell, A., and Murphy, T. (2017). Signs of Safety comprehensive briefing paper. Signs of Safety Knowledge Bank, https://knowledgebank.signsofsafety.net/resources/introduction-to-signs-of-safety/signs-of-safety-comprehensive-briefing-paper-public

WWC (2018). Signs of Safety: Findings from a mixed-methods systematic review focussed on reducing the need for children to be in care. What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care. https://assets.ctfassets.net/7swdj0fkojyi/2d9bU5LbiYQIUkiMy4MkMC/d1dd7ba5b7bc457880e3fdfed631570a/SoS_systematic_review_GD_Edit_v3.pdf


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Final report of EIP external evaluation released

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.

King’s College London, who completed the report, have released a media statement and advise that the appendices for the report are accessible on their website and through links in the main report.

Successful funding of second Signs of Safety English Innovations Project

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.

My Three Houses App Launched

Very 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.

Further information also available at mythreehouses.com.