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Signs of Safety ‘not a magic bullet’ says evaluation

The Signs of Safety English Innovations Project is not a ‘magic bullet’ for the challenges that face children’s social care, an evaluation of the programme has found.

However, Signs of Safety which has become one of the most widely adopted research-based programmes aimed at improving practice in child protection services in England, has the potential to help improve services for children and young people, the evaluation added.

“The evidence showed that the Signs of Safety framework was workable where authorities made the necessary commitment of trust in their staff at all levels, backed up by resources and time,” said Dr Mary Baginsky, lead author of the evaluation. “However, there may be scope for other tools to be incorporated to support practice.”

Ten English local authorities received substantial funding from the Department for Education’s Innovation programme between autumn 2014 and spring 2016 to develop or extend their use of Signs of Safety with the help of its founders, Professor Eileen Munro, Dr Andrew Turnell and Terry Murphy.

The evaluation found:

  • Social work managers and social workers in the 10 local authorities were overwhelmingly positive about the benefits of Signs of Safety in supporting children.
  • They reported that Signs of Safety had provided fresh opportunities for social workers to involve families to a much greater extent than had been the case previously.
  • Participants in this evaluation envisaged that it would take five years to achieve the cultural changes that were needed for Signs of Safety to make a significant impact.

There were challenges of course around taking up a new way of working at a time when many of the local authorities faced difficulties in recruiting and retaining social workers at the same time as receiving higher numbers of concerns about children. Local authorities were also facing budget constraints, and several were in the middle of a major reorganisation.

Munro, Turnell & Murphy Child Protection Consultancy (MTM), who coordinated the project, agreed that there are no magic bullets in the difficult and complex work of child protection and reforming services that have long held workers back from being with and working effectively with families. They said: “This report adds to the growing evidence base for Signs of Safety and provides a current baseline, together with our own action research report, from which to further “demonstrate in a conclusive way how practice and organisational implementation works” in the second phase of the EIP.”

The research team based its conclusions on evidence from interviews and surveys with over 50 strategic leaders, 470 social workers and 270 families at two points in time, as well as analysing case files and local authority statistics.

The main report is available here.




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