Agenda item

Signs of Safety

To receive an update on Signs of Safety


The Sub-Committee considered a report on Signs of Safety which North Tyneside Children’s Services had adopted as their agreed model of practice in 2017.


The Signs of safety approach was a relationship-grounded, safety-organised approach to child protection practice, created by researching what works for professionals and families in building meaningful safety for vulnerable and at-risk children.

The purpose of the approach being:


‘To enable professionals to undertake all child protection practice with a rigorous focus on child safety by equipping agencies to establish their practice, policy, procedures and organisation so that professionals can do everything humanly possible to put the parents, children and everyone naturally connected to the children at the centre of the assessment, decision-making and planning and give them every opportunity to come up with and apply their ideas before the professionals offer or impose theirs.’


It was an internationally used model and was the model of practice in the majority of local authorities across England and Wales.


The oversight of Signs of Safety Implementation was via a monthly Steering Group which was chaired by the Senior Manager for Social Work Practice. Representatives from all the service areas and workforce development attended the Steering Group. The Group agreed the priorities for the year ahead, monitored progress against them, agreed the training calendar and was also responsive to emerging practice needs and issues. In the last 12 months the priorities had focused on Networks, Supervision, Early Help and Harm Risk Matrix in the Front Door. 


Since 2020 there had been a strong focus on the use of networks in the Children’s service’s practice.  Having a network of people who could help and support a family and in so doing build more safety for the child / children was a real strength of the Signs of Safety approach. This was challenging for both parents and practitioners as it required a family to be open and honest about what the worries were, what the safety goals were and what the bottom lines were. Parents needed to use the network not just to help and support but also to demonstrate that the child / children would be and were safe.


During the Covid-19 Pandemic the use of networks had been a key feature in building safety for children when professional oversight was more limited. Practitioners in North Tyneside were both creative and innovative about the use of networks and while there was further work to do, practice with regards to networks, was now very well embedded.


North Tyneside Children’s Services were approached by the DfE to do some further study and analysis around lessons learnt from working during the pandemic, that could be shared and used across the sector.  In partnership with Professor Eileen Munro, Professor Andrew Turnell and Marie Devine, the Council worked with three other local authorities to explore:


What helps and hinders practitioners build safety through naturally connected networks during a pandemic when professional contact is limited?


The study was small in size and consequently the findings were tentative but do support the hypothesis that the use of networks makes a worthwhile contribution to improving children’s safety and wellbeing.


Supervision was a key task in any social work system and the focus over the last twelve months had been further embedding of the Signs of Safety approach to group supervision. The process involved a worker who brought a child’s case to discuss and was designed for a worker to get direction when they were experiencing challenges or barriers. Both managers and practitioners had fed back positively on the use of group supervision and the benefits and impact it had for moving forward positively.


Training had been delivered around group supervision and the Practice Development Team had delivered and observed group supervision sessions to all the teams.


The Early Help teams also used the Signs of Safety approach and over the last twelve months had completed work on safety planning and the use of networks. There had been a focus on how practice was supported by the electronic case recording system EHM and having completed improvement work they were now involved in leading a group across Early Help Services in other local authorities who also wished to implement these changes.


The Harm Risk Matrix helped the Service to gather specific, detailed information about the harm when assessing child abuse and neglect. It clearly identified the harmful behaviour, its severity, frequency and impact on the child. It was designed to help professionals gather detailed information from referrers.


In the last 12 months training had been adapted to online delivery and both 6-day intensive workshops and 3-day introductory training had been delivered. 


Alongside this, Practice Leader events were held every six to eight weeks. Every service, and in many instances, every team had an identified Practice Leader. Their role was one of dissemination of practice and to provide advice and guidance around the model.  In the last 12 months the sessions had looked at themes including Exploitation, Non-Accidental injury, Networks, Safety Planning and working with children with complex needs. This work was then followed up within the teams to provide practical support for application of the learning.


During the pandemic, four weeks of ‘bite size’ sessions had also been delivered.  These were short sessions that focussed on a different area of the model each day for a two-week period.


The Signs of Safety plan was implemented right across the partnership in North Tyneside and was an ongoing continuous process.


Over the next 12 months the following priorities had been agreed: -


-       Systems work around embedding the new Children in Care forms that better support practice.

-       Ongoing focus on group supervision

-       Safety Planning

-       Language

-       Timeline and Trajectories – enabled planning and progress to stay on track


Members acknowledged the priority to ensure children’s safety and that Early Help was a key part to keeping children safe.


In reply to a question relating to whether there had been any savings following the use of the Signs of Safety practice, it was confirmed that prior to the Covid pandemic the Council were beginning to see reductions in the number of children in care but due to the Covid pandemic the number of children in care had increased due to the lockdowns, mental health issues, substance misuse and domestic abuse. 


It was agreed to note the contents of the report.


The Chair thanked the Assistant Director Safeguarding and Children’s Services for the informative report and for attendance at the meeting. 



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