Key Practice Components of the “Partnering for Safety” Approach
1. Development of Good Working Relationships: Practice in the "Partnering for Safety" approach is imbued with a spirit of inquiry and curiosity, using family engagement processes and a shared language for all the critical child protection concepts, to help create constructive working relationships among the child, family, friends and professionals involved in the work.
2. Use of Critical Thinking and Decision-Support Tools: Once those stakeholders are working together, PFS makes use of a collaborative framework and the best of state-of-the-art child protection research to jointly assess family situations and to arrive at clear statements of both the danger to the children and the safety goals for a successful child protection intervention.
3. Creation of Detailed Safety Plans for Enhancing Daily Safety of Children: Finally, PFS incorporates a process for working with all of the stakeholders to develop and implement collaborative, understandable, achievable and behaviourally-based safety plans that enhance the protection of children on a day-to-day and ongoing basis.
These three key practice components are explored in more detail below.
Development of Good Working Relationships
Child protection research consistently shows that the development of good working relationships among all stakeholders involved – both professional and familial - is strongly associated with positive outcomes. The “Partnering for Safety” approach moves towards this objective in three main ways:
- Solution Focused Interviewing (SFI) – Originating with the work of Steve DeShazer and Insoo Kim Berg at the Milwaukee Brief Treatment Center, SFI is a questioning approach or interviewing practice based on a simple idea with profound ramifications – that ‘the areas people pay attention to grow’. The use of solution-focused questioning in the child protection context was greatly refined by Andrew Turnell and Steve Edwards (1999) in their development of the “Signs of Safety” approach. SFI and the Signs of Safety approach highlight the need for child protection professionals to ask families about their ‘signs of safety’ in as rigorous a way as their ‘signs of danger’.
- Strategies for Meaningful Child Participation – While children are the focus of any child protection intervention and most professionals agree that obtaining children’s perspectives are vital for child protection work, consistently accomplishing this task has been daunting for even seasoned professionals. The “Partnering for Safety” approach incorporates a number of tools and practices (for example: the ‘Three Houses’, ‘The Safety House’) that allow children, in developmentally appropriate ways, to meaningfully contribute to both the assessment and safety planning process.
- A Common Language and Operational Definitions - One of the biggest roadblocks in developing collaboration and effective relationships in child protection practice is the lack of a common language for even the most basic words that are used to assess families and situations. Words like “safety”, “danger” and “risk” are used vaguely, inconsistently and can prevent stakeholders from understanding each other and making effective plans together. The “Partnering for Safety” approach draws on the language developed within the Signs of Safety approach and the Victorian Risk Framework to offer some common language that both families and professionals can make use of to work together.
Critical Thinking and the Use of Decision-Support Tools
Good assessment in child protection involves being able to look both at the factual data in any given situation, but also at our own internal lenses, assumptions and biases in the service of coming to the greatest clarity possible about what is happening for a child. In the “Partnering for Safety” approach, there are two major ways of moving toward this goal:
- Case ‘Mapping’ and the Assessment and Planning Framework – The PFS assessment and planning framework has been developed through our own practice experience with families and draws extensively on both the Signs of Safety framework and the Massachusetts safety mapping framework. The process of case ‘mapping’, which was initially developed by Andrew Turnell and Steve Edwards within the Signs of Safety approach, involves the use of a collaborative assessment and planning framework to organise all the key information known about a child and family at any given time, into key domains relevant to the goal of enhancing ongoing safety for the children. This process is designed to be inclusive of the family, their identified networks and other involved professionals from the beginning of the case through to case closure. The case mapping process can also be used in supervision and case consultations to bring clarity and focus to casework and case planning, and is a critical step in the development of rigorous and long term family safety plans.
- Integration with the Structured Decision Making® Assessments – In child protection casework, there are regular critical, key decisions that need to be considered in almost every case (i.e. opening and closing cases, bringing a child into care, what should go on a case plan, etc). Research into child protection decision-making indicates that unfortunately these key decisions are frequently made in an inconsistent fashion using inconsistent criteria. Structured Decision-Making assessments bring the best of child protection research and aggregate data into tools that can be used by caseworkers to ‘check’ their thinking and intuition at these key decision points to ensure these immensely important decisions are consistent and congruent with research, best practice and organizational policy.
Creation of Detailed Family Safety Plans for Enhancing Daily Safety of Children
Building on the rigorous and innovative work of Susie Essex, Colin Luger and John Gumbleton in the Resolutions Model and the development of these ideas within the Signs of Safety approach, PFS includes a comprehensive and collaborative family safety planning process designed to enhance the future safety of the child.
- Strengthening Safety and Support Networks – The axiom that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is never truer than in child protection work when caregivers have been found to act in ways that create danger for their children. Drawing on the wisdom of the Resolutions Model and the Signs of Safety approach, as well as Family Group Conferencing (FGC) and Team Decision-making (TDM) approaches, “Partnering for Safety” offers strategies for building an informed safety and support network of people around the child and enlisting their help in developing and implementing detailed family safety plans.
- Detailed Family Safety Plans – The safety planning process involves collaborating with all of the significant people in a child’s life to develop a long-term, detailed safety plan that describes the specific and day-to-day arrangements that the family and the child’s identified safety network will put into place to ensure that the child will be safe in the future in relation to the identified dangers. The safety planning process also involves monitoring and reviewing the plan over time to ensure the people involved are successful in working together to provide ongoing safety for the child.
 The ‘Three Houses’ tool was developed by Nicki Weld and Maggie Greening from New Zealand.
 The 'Resolutions' approach was developed in the UK during the 1990's by Susie Essex, Colin Luger and John Gumbleton.