Signs of Safety: Findings from a mixed-methods systematic review focussed on reducing the need for children to be in care
Signs of Safety (SoS) is a framework for child protection practice. SoS aims to stabilise and strengthen families through working in collaboration to identify and harness their strengths and resources. This places relationships between social workers and parents at the centre of child protection.
The objective of this study is to consider whether, how, for whom and under what
conditions (known as a realist approach) Signs of Safety works to reduce the number of
children entering and re-entering care, and/or to increase the number of children re-unified with their family.
How we went about it
A mixed-methods approach is used for this review; a quantitative assessment of whether Signs of Safety works to reduce the number of children in care is combined with a realist synthesis. The review uses the EMMIE framework (which considers Effect; Mechanisms; Moderators; Implementation; and Economics).
- Effect – There is little to no evidence to suggest that Signs of Safety is effective at reducing the need for children to be in care. This reflects a limited evidence base. However, lack of evidence is not the same as evidence that Signs of Safety does not work to reduce care. Nor does it establish that Signs of Safety does not have other possible positive outcomes, in fact, evidence suggests that Signs of Safety can lead to positive engagement with parents, children, wider family and external agencies.
- Moderators – A key moderator emerging from the review is that parents need to trust and collaborate with social workers if they are to develop a sense of shared responsibility for minimising risks to children.
- Implementation – The review identifies key barriers and enablers of implementation. There is huge variation in how Signs of Safety is implemented and limited specification of how it is possible to be sure high quality Signs of Safety is being delivered.
- Economics – The review found no evidence of sufficient quality to analyse for cost effectiveness.
A clear and operational design of what high quality Signs of Safety looks like in practice is a first priority, without it work on implementation or evaluation is difficult. Comparative evaluations of the model’s impact are a priority. Once evidence for the impact of high quality Signs of Safety is established, research evaluating the implementation of the approach is crucial.
The Centre has created a ‘Practice guide and an ‘Implementation guide’ that are intended to share the programme theory in ways that can support those seeking to practice, lead or evaluate services based on the principles of Signs of Safety.