Involving Children in Child Protection Casework
by Andrew Turnell
Giving children a voice in safety planning after family violence can be tricky terrain for social workers. Andrew Turnell uses a wizard, a fairy, and three houses and gets astonishing results.
Dr. Andrew Turnell, best known for creating the Signs of Safety with Steve Edwards in the 1990s, presents a useful and practical system for including children in safety planning following violence and neglect in the home.

Safety planning with the Signs of Safety focuses on four questions:

What are we worried about?
What’s working well?
What needs to happen?
What is the risk assessment for the child’s safety at this time (on a 0-10 scale)?

In this video, Dr. Turnell shows how to ask the first three questions in a manner that allows children to open up and talk about their concerns and their hopes for their family.

Utilizing the imagery of “three houses,” and borrowing from Maori culture, he describes the process of having even very young children draw a “house of worries,” a “house of good things,” and a “house of dreams.” In each house the child draws what they aren’t always able to say. The social worker’s job is to ask questions supporting the child throughout the process. Even the coached child, or the child who has been told to remain silent, is still engageable through this process as the focus is not fully on the negatives and worries, but also on what is already going well. It is recommended that the social worker takes the caregivers through this process prior to meeting with the child in order to decrease the family’s resistance.

Many social workers have expressed that the “breakthrough” moment with some very hard-to-connect-with families comes from sharing the child’s drawings—with their permission, of course—with the parents. The “three houses” tool gives the parents a glimpse into how their behavior is affecting their children—and this is often a strong motivating factor for change.

Turnell works toward the same results using the “fairy and the wizard” tools. Both help connect with the child in playful and developmentally appropriate ways. This way everyone can be involved in what the child is feeling and thinking, which leads to better safety planning as well as deeper empathy within the family.
In Depth
Getting children involved in safety planning—especially younger children—has always presented a challenge to social workers. The focus is usually on shifting the negative behaviors of the caregivers, whether this is abuse or neglect of the children. While children are referred to therapists it is often the case that social workers and caregivers are the ones who create and sustain the safety plan.

Turnell feels that getting the children’s input is crucial and provides a concrete method for engaging with children and obtaining needed information that easily answers the three questions of: What are we worried about? What’s working well and What needs to happen?

An in-depth case example is provided showing the step-by-step work that a social worker does to understand a nine-year-old’s world. Following this, Turnell shows how it leads to a difficult and tearful family meeting that eventually moves toward greater safety in the home.

By watching this video you will:
  • Understand why it is important to have the child be involved in the safety planning for the family.
  • Understand the basic structure of the Three Houses, Wizard, and Fairy tools and how to use them to help children express their concerns and wishes.
  • Understand how to use these tools in family meetings and in court to make a concrete case for whether the child is safe in the home.

Length of video: 0:46:49

English subtitles available

Group ISBN-10 #: 1-60124-483-5

Group ISBN-13 #: 978-1-60124-483-3

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. 
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