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April 29, 2010

Signs of Safety: a solution-focused approach to child protection

A recent post on this site showed how broadly the solution-focused approach is applied nowadays. But even that list of applications wasn't complete. One other area in which solution-focused principles and techniques has been applied for many years is the field of child protective services (see for instance Building Solutions in Child Protective Services). One specific solution-focused approach to child protection is called Signs of Safety (see for instance Signs of Safety: A Solution and Safety Oriented Approach to Child Protection Casework). This approach focuses on building partnerships with parents in cases of suspected or proven child abuse or neglect. Instead of focusing on causes of problems or assigning blame, the approach focuses on building a working partnership with the family which leads to the development a family safety plan which emphasizes the roles and responsibility of the safe (safer) caregivers. Co-developers of the approach, Andrew Turnell and Steve Edwards, have developed an assessment and planning format which is also inspired by solution-focused principles. The reason for developing these tools was that the law usually requires a risk assessment (more info here).

In a youth care organization, I was involved in training managers and team leaders to apply solution-focused principles and techniques in the way they managed their teams. The reason they wanted to be trained is that they strived for congruence in the way the workers approaches clients and the way managers approach employees. When talking to one of the managers I was struck by how enthusiastic she was about the solution-focused, signs of safety approach to child protection. She explained the approach really contributed to the sense of fulfillment she and her co-workers had. She told me that even when there is a severe crisis, they went there with confidence and optimism. It really works, she said.
On a sidenote, when reading a chapter by Andrew Turnell on the signs of safety approach, I was struck by the following wonderful passage: "[T]he foundational ideas of the tradition continue to engage and challenge me, and cause me to increasingly adopt a position of humility about what I think I know. I have been, and still am, energized by this process and I can only see my extended journey in the brief tradition continuing as I continue to explore ways of utilizing the ideas and practices both within and outside of the therapy room" (source: Handbook of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy: Clinical Applications).