To guide child protection workers use of the Signs of Safety Child Protection Practice Framework (the Framework) including the assessment and investigation of concerns of abuse and/or neglect, provision of child centred family support and responding to children in the CEO's care.
Note: CEO refers to the Chief Executive Officer of the Department of Communities (Communities).
The questioning approach is used in all aspects of the Framework, including signs of safety mapping, safety planning, working with children and Appreciative Inquiry.
Refer to the following (in related resources) for further information:
A Signs of Safety (SofS) meeting is a process of ongoing assessment to gather information, undertake analysis and reach a judgement at a point in time.
A SofS meeting can be undertaken:
When planning a meeting with a child’s parents and/or extended family, child protection workers must consider family dynamics, participant safety and how this may impact on the person’s capacity to participate in the meeting.
The meeting process generally starts with ‘what’s working well’ and moves back and forth between ‘what are we worried about’ and ‘what’s working well’. At the joint meeting with the family in particular, it may be helpful to open with the questions ‘why do you think we are here?’, ‘what do you think our concerns might be?’ This will get Communities' main concerns (what the worries are in relation to harm/danger to the child) on the table and make space to talk about ‘what’s working well’ where we begin to identify existing strengths and safety.
During the process further information should be gathered to clarify if missing information and complicating factors are harm/danger or existing strengths/safety. A judgement is made against the safety scale to determine the level of safety for the child. This informs what needs to happen next and whether safety goal(s) and safety planning is needed. Refer to the SofS map (Assessment and Planning Form two columns Form 254 and three columns Form 255).
Refer to the following (in related resources) for further information:
What’s working well? (existing strengths/safety)
To identify what is working well (on the right hand side of the two columns map and the middle column on the three columns map) involves assessing:
The use of exception questions such as ‘tell me about a time when the problem could have happened but didn’t?’, ‘what did you do instead?’ and ‘when was the last time you did this?’ should be used.
During this process child protection workers should also consider who within the family network may be able to participate in safety planning at the next meeting.
What are we worried about? (in relation to harm and danger to the child)
To identify what Communities is worried about in relation to harm involves sorting the concerns into the following categories:
Since past behaviour is a predictor of future behaviour, child protection workers need to have a clear understanding of what has happened to the child in the past, including the risk of harm.
Child protection workers may begin by asking: ‘what are the worries regarding the child that makes this an open case to Communities?’ or ‘What has happened to the child that worries us?’
Questions need to be asked that make explicit the behaviours that are impacting/affecting the children and how these behaviours of the parent(s) or caregiver(s) are causing harm or creating danger for the children. The worries and harm should be articulated in simple, clear and behavioural words including details of the history and severity of what has or is happening for the children.
Where there are a significant number of incidents that may overwhelm the process to develop a map, workers should focus on the first, worst and last incidents, including a description of frequency.
Questions should be asked to ascertain:
For more information refer to:
In cases of family and domestic violence identifying harm and future danger to the child requires an understanding of the harm and possible future danger for the non-abusive adult victim. Refer to Chapter 2.3: Family and Domestic Violence for further information.
Harm statement (actual harm)
A harm statement is the description of who (name of person/s if known) caused harm (describe the behaviours) to whom (child) and the impact of that harm on the child. Also include relevant statements of past harm that have been substantiated.
A danger statement is a description of what Communities and others at the meeting are worried might happen to the child in the future if nothing changes. The danger statement must be based on the harm statements where significant harm (actual harm) has been substantiated.
Where Communities has determined that a child is likely to suffer significant harm (future danger), child protection workers must only develop a danger statement (a harm statement is not required because there is no evidence that actual harm has occurred).
Complicating factors are issues that are identified that may make a case more difficult. Examples could include mental health issues or alcohol and drug use. These are not the actual abuse or neglect, but make the abuse worse, or stop the parents addressing the danger. Child protection workers should seek further information to assess if it is a danger/worry.
Child protection workers may need to consult with the team leader or senior practice development officer to distinguish if the complicating factor is a danger/worry.
Missing information can be related to the complicating factor and child protection workers should seek further information to assess whether it is a danger/worry or strength/safety. A frequent example is who else is in the house with the child.
Safety scale (judgement)
After completing harm statements and/or danger statements, complicating factors, existing strengths and existing safety, a judgement needs to be made to determine the level of safety for the child.
The judgement is undertaken using a safety scale where participants are asked "on a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 means that there is sufficient safety for the child to stay with the parents and Communities will close the case, and 0 means if nothing changes in the current situation, the child will be taken into care, where would you rate the situation right now?"
Other examples of safety scales can include:
Following this, the worker can then ask, "You rated the situation a 3, what can be done to increase the situation to a 4?" The use of a scaling question here could give information about possible actions that may lead to immediate progress.
When asking a scaling question child protection workers should:
Child protection workers can use the questioning approach when undertaking safety scaling to determine what needs to change to move up the scale. Child protection workers may ask a supplementary question such as "what makes this a number 5 for example rather than 4?"
Child protection workers should consider the following when using scaling questions:
Child protection workers should consider using the same questions over time to map movement/progress. The same questions can be asked of the parents, the child, the safety network and the other workers involved. When progress has been made, child protection workers can ask the participants "what has improved to lift your/their rating to a XX on the scale?"
Other uses for scaling questions
Child protection workers can use scaling questions as an engagement tool at duty, during an assessment, safety planning, Appreciative Inquiry or to formulate and review case and care plans. Scaling questions can be asked of children, parents, the safety network, workers in Communities and in other agencies, and those referring a concern to Communities. In cases of family and domestic violence scaling questions can be used to elicit and monitor the non-abusive adult victims’ assessment of the level of risk posed by the perpetrator.
Scaling does not have to be from 0 to 10. For children, scaling can be completed by the use of diagrams and pictures such as a line which goes from a sad face (0) to a smiley face (10). Workers can be creative in how they construct scales and they can also take other forms, for instance a dart board score with 0 being off the board and 10 being a bullseye. Refer to Solution Focussed Scaling Questions (in related resource) for further information.
What needs to happen?
If there is not enough safety and protection for the child, the child protection worker should translate the danger statements into safety goals.
Safety goals and family goals
The safety goals are developed out of the danger statement and include:
‘Words and pictures’ safety explanation
Child protection workers should involve the parents and the children to develop a ‘words and pictures’ to explain to the child the following for:
Refer to Words and Pictures Article, Words and Pictures Example, Checklist, Questions for the Child and Questions for the Parent (in related resources) for further information.
Child protection workers must develop a safety plan based on the safety goals that were developed with the family, safety network and Communities, to establish how foreseeable danger and threats to a child’s safety will be managed. The safety plan should describe the next steps in working with the family towards building future safety for the child.
Safety planning can also be used for children in the CEO's care when assessing for reunification and planning contact. For further information on safety planning refer to The Signs of Safety Child Protection Practice Framework - Chapter 9: Safety Planning (in related resources).
When developing safety plans, child protection workers should give the family choices and options where possible. The goals of the safety plan need to be realistic and achievable for the family. It is important to foster a sense of family participation and choice. It is easier to help people start something new rather than to stop something.
Wherever possible, talk to each family member about what we are looking for, rather than what must be stopped. Providing specific information to the family about how aspects of the plan can be demonstrated is helpful. This also allows child protection workers to clarify with the family when they say they have met points of the plan with questions such as: ‘When did it happen?’; ‘Who saw this?’ and ‘What did you do?’
The ongoing identification of realistic goals is a way of deciding on the particular indicators for building safety and reducing risk. Even if some family members do not agree with the facts of the case, it is possible that they will agree that ongoing safety is a worthwhile goal. Child protection workers should focus on safety in the future to minimise the opportunity for families to get stuck in discussions about what happened in the past.
Taking time to define what ongoing safety will look like (‘how will we know when we get there?’) helps families know the end point and have some ownership in defining it. This process aims to build our relationship with the family to facilitate cooperation.
After the child protection worker has engaged the immediate family in a shared understanding of the danger statement(s) and safety goal(s), the family will then be asked to identify people who might be able to be part of a safety network.
The aim of developing a safety network is to develop a network of people who can respond to and manage the foreseeable threats and dangers to a child. The family must identify who can be part of the safety network so that the child can be safe.
The family must tell the safety network in detail why a safety network is necessary, what the safety goals are and invite them to be part of that network to keep the child safe. The safety network will then be involved with the family to develop the safety rules. Telling people in the safety network what has happened or is likely to happen to the child is a difficult task and families will need support from the child protection worker to do this. Refer to Helping families to develop a safety network, Roadmap: Family-Owned Safety Planning and Building safety when harm is denied (in related resources) for further information.
Allowing families and the safety networks to develop and manage their safety plans requires child protection workers to develop confidence and competence in working with risk. Team leaders should take into consideration child protection workers' confidence and competence when managing complex cases.
A safety plan is developed from the safety goal(s)/family’s safety goal(s) and must:
Safety plan rules must be:
The safety plan rules must articulate:
Refer to Elements of a safety plan (in related resources) for further information.
The safety planning process gives the family the opportunity to show how they can put actions into practice and allows child protection workers to review this with safety network members on a regular basis.
As part of the safety planning meeting, the child protection workers must clarify the expectations of people in the safety network, including their roles and responsibilities in relation to the safety plan. Child protection workers, with their team leaders, must continually assess the suitability of the safety network involved in a safety plan and determine if these people make it safer for the child or not.
The plan must include the non-negotiable safety rules, different levels of consequences and how this will be acted on.
Considerations that may be helpful when developing a safety plan for allegations of sexual abuse cases could include:
Considerations that may be helpful when developing a safety plan for allegations of physical abuse cases could include:
Considerations that may be helpful when developing a safety plan for allegations of abuse and neglect cases where family and domestic violence is still occurring and/or escalating could include:
Reviewing the safety plan
Child protection workers must review the plan and consider actions taken by the family to reduce danger and improve safety.
Child protection workers and the family need to consider:
The frequency of the review will be determined based on the needs of the case. When new information is received the safety plan will need to be reviewed
There are some useful resources available for child protection workers to involve the child in the assessment and in case planning for children in the CEO's care. Refer to Talking with Children (in related resources) for further information on the considerations of working with children and complete the consent form on the last page.
The following related resources should be used to help children understand why professionals are intervening in their lives and in safety planning. The working with children resources include:
When interviewing Aboriginal children or those from culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) backgrounds, references to mystical or magical imagery such as wizards or fairies may cause fear or confusion, due to different cultural and spiritual beliefs. Child protection workers should check for culturally appropriate or relevant symbols and adapt their interview scripts accordingly.
Where English language barriers exist, asking children about their 'dreams' may cause confusion or anxiety if they only understand this in the context of sleep. Explain the purpose of the questions to the interpreter beforehand and ask them to provide an accurate translation with the right context. Use simple and clear language when asking about wishes or hopes for the future, to minimise confusion. For further information refer to Language and Interpreter Information in related resources.
Child protection workers should refer to the CaLD Resource Library (in related resources) for additional resources in identifying significant cultural and/or religious information for engaging effectively with CaLD communities.
Appreciative Inquiry (AI) assumes that there is something good/positive/successful that has occurred when working with the family. The process involves the search for specific details regarding what happened to lead to the positive outcome and the role of the person involved.
Signs of Safety utilises the AI technique as a tool for enabling family experience and worker’s practice wisdom to inform the ongoing growth and development of practice depth. Using the EARS prompts to develop a questioning approach (in related resources) child protection workers, colleagues or supervisors ask questions that help child protection workers or family members reflect on and describe in increasing detail what they have done well, how they came to do it and what challenges they have overcome.
Purpose of an AI
The purpose of AI is to:
Planning and participating in an AI
AI can occur as part of supervision, in team meetings, or in a separate meeting. AI involves an interviewee and facilitator and is enhanced by the participation of others as observers.
Recording and consent
Consideration should be given to video recording an AI to promote learning. A video recording provides a useful reflection tool for the interviewee and facilitator and can be used as a staff training tool.
Informed consent must be sought prior to video recording an AI and agreement on the future use of the video should be discussed and noted. It should also be acknowledged that the interviewee and facilitator have the option to withdraw consent at any stage. A notation should be included on the AI video acknowledging consents have been received and who the target audience is.
An effective AI relies on the skill of the facilitator asking the questions and managing the process. For further information on the questioning approach refer to the following related resources:
The facilitator needs to set and provide a safe environment for all staff. Facilitators should refer to Appreciative Inquiry Guide (in related resources) for further information about the role of a facilitator and considerations when planning an AI.
The facilitator may find it helpful to have a support person who can provide advice and guidance.
Observers play a critical role, identifying good questions asked and good descriptions of behaviour. Observers are active participants and should make notes by using the resource Appreciative Inquiry Participant Notes to help provide feedback at the end.
Undertaking an AI with children, family members and key stakeholders
Undertaking an AI with children, family members and key stakeholders needs to be comprehensively planned, with consideration given to the purpose of the AI and any individual needs. If the AI is to be recorded child protection workers should complete Form 141. Where the child is in the CEO's care, a director of case practice needs to provide approval for filmed material to be shown.
All SofS work undertaken by the child protection worker must be recorded on the child’s file. This can include scanning handwritten documents to Objective or typing up exact copies of handwritten documents. Refer to Objective Naming Conventions for Signs of Safety Documents (in related resources) for further information.
Documents which should be saved on the file include:
Documentation should include an analysis of the information captured and can be written by the child protection worker or the facilitator of the meeting. The analysis of the information should be shared with the family/key stakeholders and placed onto the child's file.
When undertaking a review of a SofS meeting (including safety planning), the review should be recorded as a new stand-alone document and references made to the previous map or plan where relevant.