Effective Safety Planning in Child Protection Casework
by Andrew Turnell
One of the more challenging jobs of a social worker is ensuring a child’s safety following in-home violence. This video takes you step-by-step through the process in an accessible and straight-forward way that includes the child’s input.

Part of the 2-video series: Child Protection Casework
Dr. Andrew Turnell has written extensively about working to ensure children’s safety. In this video he helps us see the difference between a service plan and a safety plan, building up a network of “safety people,” as well as the importance of including children in safety planning.

Turnell and his colleague Steve Edwards developed Signs of Safety in the 1990s in Australia in order to help social workers in child protection agencies make concrete plans to help all parties in the process know what to look for and how to keep children safe.

The Signs of Safety focuses on four questions:
  • What are we worried about?
  • What’s working well?
  • What needs to happen?
  • What is the scaled judgment (0-10) that would tell us the child would be safe in the home?
According to Turnell, agencies often focus only on the first question, creating service plans, but not safety plans. For example, if the child was removed due to a domestic violence incident both parents are required to complete a service: one a batterer’s group, the other would attend trauma based counseling. Following the parents’ completion of these services, it is not usually feasible to assess the safety of the home environment. Through Signs of Safety, specific rules are created with the family in order to have an agreed upon vision of what safety will look like within an everyday context.

A crucial part of creating this safety plan means that the child, as young as preschool age, is involved. Creating “safety people”—a strong network of friends and family—is a powerful aspect of the plan. This along with the “safety object” gives the child a voice, and demonstrates that he or she is not alone.

Save on the 2-video series Child Protection Casework

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Making decisions about the safety of a child in a home that has seen abuse or neglect can be extremely difficult for a social worker. Often even the families themselves are reluctant to be open about what has happened. This “syndrome of secrecy,” as coined by Tilman Furniss, can be as dangerous for the child as the abuse and neglect. According to Turnell, “it’s secrets that drive children crazy” and the antidote is straightforward communication about the safety plan, which also helps to decrease shame.

What may at first seem obvious, but is often overlooked, is the importance of creating a strong, working relationship with the whole family. This entails hearing difficult descriptions of abuse and neglect, often from the person who was the perpetrator, and working with them to create a safety plan in order to move forward. Turnell gives examples of social workers who, with all good intentions, create safety plans in their office and present these to the family. Plans such as these are rarely followed because the family members are not included in its creation.

An important part of the Signs of Safety planning is ensuring that the child feels safe in addition to actually being safe. Through real world case examples, we look at how even very young children are included in safety planning through pictures, “practicing” and “safety objects.” In many of the plans the children are asked to “practice” going to an adult for support—just to prove to the child that the adult will be present when, and if, they are really needed. An object, chosen by the child, is meant to give the child a “voice.” In one of the examples, the child has an object that he can bring to school and put on his teacher’s desk: this is her signal to call the child protection worker to check in on the child that day. In another example, the child is told to simply move one particular stuffed animal and this is the signal that an adult in his safety network must ask him if he is worried about something.

The video does not shy away from how to work with resistant families. Often parents don’t fully agree with the social worker’s safety plan—as with the father whose alcohol use led to extreme violence towards his wife. While the social worker understandably wants the father to totally abstain from drinking, we are able to see how a compromise can be made that still moves towards the child’s safety in the home.

With years of this work under his belt, Turnell offers a step-by-step, practical method for effective child safety planning following violence, abuse and neglect.

By watching this video you will:
  • Understand the important differences between a safety plan and a service plan and how essential it is to co-create this with all family members.
  • Have the tools to create straightforward “danger statements” and rules for safety that overstep the “syndrome of secrecy” that creates distress in children.
  • Understand the importance of “safety people” and learn how to use “safety objects” in creating safety plans for children who have experienced abuse or neglect.

Length of video: 1:51:02

Number of Discs: 0

English subtitles available on: Stream, DVD

This DVD plays in

Group ISBN-10 #: 1-60124-484-3

Group ISBN-13 #: 978-1-60124-484-0

Andrew is an independent social worker, brief family therapist and child protection consultant from Perth, Western Australia. As well as international consultancy and teaching work, Andrew maintains a clinical practice working solely with families where child maltreatment has occurred or is suspected but the parents deny responsibility. Andrew has published extensively on the subjects of brief therapy and child protection, including his most well-known works: Signs of Safety: A Solution and Safety Oriented Approach to Child Protection Casework, Working with ‘Denied’ Child Abuse: The Resolutions Approach. Andrew is currently preparing his third book, Building Safety in Child Protection Practice: Working with a Strengths and Solution Focus in a Risk Environment.

In 2007, Andrew completed his PhD at Curtin University which focused on practitioner and service recipient-defined constructive child protection practice.

Andrew regularly gives lectures and workshops in Australia, Europe, North America, Japan and New Zealand. Andrew is currently employed by statutory protection organisations in New Zealand, England, The Netherlands, Canada, the USA and Western Australia to provide ongoing support, supervision and consultancy in system-wide implementations of the Signs of Safety approach.

Visit his website for more information. 

CE credits: 1.5

Learning Objectives:

  • Understand the important differences between a safety plan and a service plan and how essential it is to co-create this with all family members.
  • Have the tools to create straightforward “danger statements” and rules for safety that overstep the “syndrome of secrecy” that creates distress in children.
  • Understand the importance of “safety people” and learn how to use “safety objects” in creating safety plans for children who have experienced abuse or neglect.
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