The Signs of Safety (SoS) is an innovative strengths-based, safety-organised approach to child protection casework. The model of its approach was created in Western Australia by Andrew Turnell and Steve Edwards and has attracted international attention and is being used in jurisdictions in North America, Europe and Australasia. However, it application with Traveller and Romani families has not been fully explored.
The primary assumptions of SoS
Signs of Safety
Traveller and Romani Advice and Information Network
The basic argument presented here is that a Signs of Safety approach might be used as a tool to blame Gypsy, Roma and Traveller parents for a position that might be exacerbated by structural inequality.
Where structural inequality is ignored, Serious Case Reviews have shown us that Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller families can be coerced to come to terms with and then cope with the social challenges that they face. Forcing families to cope with injustice can then lead to unwanted outcomes.
If a Signs of Safety approach is used, it should be applied in conjunction with good eco- mapping and include social factors which are impacting on the child. This might include, for example, limited access to safe and secure accommodation, education, and health care services, or even extend to recognise the potential impact of fear that might exist between social works and the family themselves.
Trailers, not houses (not suitable for all communities)
If social works are not careful, SoS could lead them to center on the welfare of the child by identifying interfamilial strengths and risks only. This is because it might be easy to overlook structural discrimination in a way that orientates social work away from social justice and structural determinism. Instead, the human agency of individuals become the focus of intervention. If the risk to the child is to decrease, family behaviours must change. This position might not address the fundamental principles of community based social work and ecologically based approaches to practice. Like any theory or model, SoS is only as good as the person using it, but might do well to include relevant social and structural factors identified above:
SoS and structural determinism?
Referrals are usually accepted where there is indication that a child is in need or at risk of harm. There are clear thresholds in Local Authority protocol. When suitable, SoS works to promote family strengths and brief intervention. But, how can this approach work with families who are systematically disenfranchised through structural discrimination? What happens if the child is considered to in need or at risk of harm because a parent or carer is unable to maintain and protect the child due to social injustice? Can SoS effect social justice and change, or does it require parents and carers to cope with situations beyond their control? For example, we know that: