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

  • Clearly articulate the statutory agency's goals for the case in terms of what constitutes enough safety for the case to be closed.
  • Incorporate the family's strengths and resources as much as possible.
  • Encourage things the family is already doing to create a safe environment and also draw upon identified exceptions.
  • Include the family's own safety ideas as much as possible.
  • Draw on the family's general goals where there is a likelihood that these will increase the child's safety.
  • Always use those people who are willing (and have the capacity) to take action.
  • Wherever possible agency plans should be presented in the light of family goals and aspirations and their position regarding the problem.
  • Incorporate compliments where the family is already moving towards either their own or agency goals.

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:

  • Generally Traveller and Romani families are afraid of social workers.
  • Generally social workers are afraid of Traveller and Romani People.
  • Traveller and Romani children are 3 times more likely to be involved in child protection systems than any other child.
  • Traveller and Romani Families often experience mental health difficulties when living in houses.
  • Traveller and Romani Families often experience racially aggravated assaults when living on a site.
  • Traveller and Romani Families are prosecuted if they travel.
  • Housing Law has determined that Traveller and Romani people are not considered to be Traveller and Romani people if they do not travel.
  • Traveller and Romani children are less likely to experience equality in education and health care provision.
  • Traveller and Romani children face discrimination on a daily basis.
  • Traveller and Romani Families have been forced to survive by living beyond the gaze of the dominant society since the 16th Century.
  • Populism and a transgenerational community psychology has maintained separation ever since.