Children Youth

The Signs of Safety (SOS) Approach

Submitted by Rhiannon Aird, Signs of Safety Project Management Supervisor, Highland Shores Children’s Aid

Signs of SafetyAs community service providers, we all share a mutual goal…for children and youth to thrive and families to be empowered.  At Highland Shores Children’s Aid we continue to build on the transformation agenda and strive to engage children, youth and families further in our work with them, recognizing that they know their situations best and want the best outcomes for themselves and their children.  We believe that one of the tools that will assist us in our work with families is called the Signs of Safety (SOS).

The Signs of Safety approach was developed during the 1990’s in Western Australia. It was created by Andrew Turnell and Steve Edwards in collaboration with over 150 West Australian child protection workers and is now utilized in jurisdictions in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Sweden, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Japan.

The impetus to create the Signs of Safety approach arose from Steve’s 16 years of experience as a front-line child protection practitioner working primarily with Aboriginal communities.  In 1989, he and Andrew began collaborating after Steve became interested in the brief therapy work Andrew was doing with families experiencing problems with their teenagers. The result of this collaboration between 1989 and 1993 was the beginning of the Signs of Safety approach.

The approach focuses on the question “How can a child protection worker build partnerships with parents and children in situations of suspected or substantiated child abuse and still deal rigorously with the maltreatment issues?” This strengths-based and safety-focused approach to child protection work is grounded in partnership and collaboration. It expands the investigation of risk to encompass strengths and Signs of Safety that can be built upon to stabilize and strengthen a child’s and family’s situation. It identifies the needs and wishes of the child and family as the leader of the plans and puts ownership back in the hands of the family while taking into consideration risk and/or child safety.  This approach is designed to be used at all stages of the child protection process.

Community partnerships are a key component in the successful implementation of the Signs of Safety approach.  This can include joint responses by the Society and appropriate community partners to child protection matters, with consent, and/or participating in case consultations with the Society and families.

This year, the Society will be implementing the Signs of Safety approach within the organization.  In the coming weeks, HSCA staff will be offering to provide brief overviews of this approach to individual agencies and community groups in the hope that by working together we can create a Community Safety Network.  I also hope to attend an upcoming meeting of the Network to provide an overview of the SOS approach to the membership.  Representatives from various agencies will also be invited to attend a two-day Signs of Safety training at HSCA to assist in providing an understanding of the shift we are making, what to expect from our staff when working with our common families in the near future and to begin working together to establish a Community Safety Network.

The Signs of Safety approach has resulted in successful outcomes for many children, youth and families since its inception and Highland Shores Children’s Aid is excited about the opportunity to work together with members of the CYSN for the benefit of families within our communities.

If you have any questions, please contact rhiannon.aird@highlandshorescas.com or 613-962-9291 x2852.

Wendy Anderson, Coordinator, Children and Youth Services Network

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