Signs of Safety: Findings from the second evaluation by King’s College London

Dr Mary Baginsky

Dr Mary Baginsky is Senior Research Fellow at the NIHR Policy Research Unit in Health and Social Care Workforce. (1,109 words)

The report on the second round of Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme funding for the 10 MTM (Munroe, Turnell and Murphy) Signs of Safety (SofS) pilots has just been published. The strengths-based approach to child protection and safety is widely used around the world, as well as in two-thirds of local authorities in England (Baginsky et al., 2020). The term ‘Signs of Safety’ refers to a model of practice that consists of:

  • principles that privilege relationships with children and their families
  • disciplines in relation to assessments, behaviours and language
  • tools for assessment and planning, as well as for use with children and families.[1]

It is not known to what extent a ‘pure model’ of SofS is in place in English local authorities. The survey that identified its use also showed the variations – and pick and mix approaches – that  were in place.

Back in 2014 when the 10 MTM pilots were recruited the idea was that they worked to the model above which was developed into a whole system design that MTM considered essential to support, monitor and build high-quality SofS practice based on a supportive organisational culture and the commitment of those in senior leadership positions. The first evaluation found that: Continue reading

Child and family welfare services: where do we go next?

Dr Carl Purcell, NIHR Health and Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College London. His book, The Politics of Children’s Services Reform: Re-examining Two Decades of Policy Change, is just out. (849 words)

As we emerge from the current crisis, we must rethink how we resource and deliver child and family welfare services. The incredible contribution made by everybody working in the NHS is now widely appreciated. But we must remember that there are many others working to protect the most vulnerable in our society who also deserve our recognition. Furthermore, as we move, tentatively, towards easing the lockdown the skills, knowledge and dedication of teachers, childcare workers and social workers, to name just a few, will be vital to ensuring that we are able to identify and support the most vulnerable children and families.

However, as we place greater demands on schools, local authorities and a vast array of voluntary sector agencies we must recognise that before the current crisis our child and family welfare system was already under significant strain. In my new book I reflect upon recent national policy developments to help explain how we arrived in this position. As we chart a way forward, three aspects of the contemporary system need to be addressed.

First, we need to reconsider the extent to which, and how, we provide financial assistance to those who need it most. Since 2010 welfare payments and tax breaks offered to the poorest families have been reduced or withdrawn. Progress made in reducing child poverty over the preceding decade has been reversed, with over 4 million children now living in poverty, many of them in working households (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2018). Moreover, the current crisis has demonstrated how precarious and insecure many people’s jobs are, and we have seen record increases in benefit claims. Many more families have been pushed beneath the poverty line. Continue reading

Social Austerity – Child Protection and Human Rights

Dr Mary Baginsky

Dr Mary Baginsky

Senior Research Fellow at HSCWRU, Dr Mary Baginsky, reports from a conference that took place in Komotini, Greece,1-3 November. (456 words)

I spent last week in the small Greek city of Komotini which nestles in the foothills of the Rhodope Mountains near to the borders of Turkey and Bulgaria. It has a minority Muslim population, many of whom came from Turkey originally and formed a protected population under the Treaty of Lausanne. They have mostly chosen to stay in Greece through to recent times.

The Democritus University of Thrace was established in July 1973 and is based in Komotini, Greece, with other campuses in Xanthi, Alexandroupoli and Orestiada. The Social Work Department was established in the 1990s. I was invited to contribute to a conference on Social Austerity – Child Protection and Human Rights. Most of the contributions were in Greek with intermittent simultaneous translation. In addition to finding it difficult to concentrate on the translation when animated presenters were more of a draw, the fact that the written programme was all in Greek meant that the subject of each presentation was a surprise. Continue reading

Child protection social work: call for study participants

Nicola Anderson is a child protection social worker who is also conducting a study of what affects child protection social workers working directly with parents. If you would like to take part or learn more about the research please contact Nicola: nicola.anderson@study.beds.ac.uk (441 words)

Engaging parents in direct work is an important part of working in child protection. Sometimes it can be a very difficult task as social workers are entering people’s private family life and interventions can feel invasive. Parents are justifiably reluctant to allow this. Parents can express their feelings to the social worker involved and this can sometimes become aggressive. Social workers meet aggression so often that reducing aggression has now become part of social work (Taylor 2011). Schools of thought are that social workers contribute to parents’ negative feelings as a result of their communication or practice styles. There are movements towards changing the way social workers communicate and work with families with the emphasis on respect, listening and ensuring parents understanding of and involvement in plans and processes, for example motivational interviewing and signs of safety. Continue reading

Families and children’s services: international perspectives

Dr Mary BaginskyMary Baginsky is Senior Research Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London. (565 words)

Early in September I had the privilege of attending the International Conference on New Perspectives for Outcome-Based Evaluation and Research on Families and Children’s Services’. It was held at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and emerged from a collaboration between the University, the International Association for Outcome-based Evaluation and Research on Family and Children’s services (iaOBERfcs) and the Zancan Foundation, based in Padua, Italy. It brought together over 150 participants from 14 countries. The conference opened with children and young people performing traditional Chinese drumming and dragon dances and was followed by opening addresses and presentations. As interesting as the latter were, I was still contemplating how the girls at the back of the dragons had danced for 15 minutes while bent at an angle of 90 degrees. Continue reading

Progressive children’s legislation in reverse gear?

Children Act 1989 report (1991)The Policy Institute at King’s and the Social Care Workforce Research Unit have reproduced a 1991 report into the implementation of the Children Act 1989, and updated it with a new foreword and introduction, the latter by Jane Tunstill, who here discusses current legislative proposals. (1,408 words)

It is no coincidence that the longest-running play on the London stage, The Mousetrap, which is still being shown after 64 years, is based on a key tragic event in the history of childcare policy in this country. Agatha Christie recognised that the death of Dennis O’Neill in 1945, at the hands of his foster parents, was a topic to engage the attention of her readers, and audiences have certainly proved her right. The tragedy, and subsequent enquiry, directly triggered the Children Act 1948, which introduced a national framework of children’s departments responsible for the systematic oversight of the welfare of children.

The recent release of Ken Loach’s new film, I, Daniel Blake, has reminded commentators of the popular feeling aroused by his 1965 film, Cathy Come Home. The image of children being taken forcibly from their homeless parents by social workers had a powerful impact on attitudes and national child care policy. Indeed, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) issued guidance in 1971 that no social worker should receive a child into care because of homelessness alone. The 2013 film Philomena attracted huge popular acclaim for its portrayal of the Roman Catholic Church’s forced adoption of the babies of single mothers, and 2016 saw a papal apology for the practice. Continue reading

Common causes: the origins of the Child Poverty Action Group and its relations with social work

Caroline NorrieCaroline Norrie is Research Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit in the Policy Institute at King’s. (1,049 words)

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) is 50 this year. As part of the celebrations, last month the Social Care Workforce Research Unit jointly hosted a seminar with the Social Work History Network to highlight the history of CPAG and its links with the social work profession.

CPAG is the leading national pressure group working to end poverty among children, young people and families. It campaigns to influence policy; produces information about access to benefits; and provides training for professionals across the UK about welfare rights (including tax credits, and universal credit). Continue reading

An insight into Behavioural Insight – or the evolution of a grudge about nudge

Dr Mary BaginskyMary Baginsky is Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit in the Policy Institute at King’s. (830 words)

When the Department for Education published the Behaviour Insight Team’s (BIT) report on decision-making in intake teams in children’s services earlier this year the sharp intake of breath from many social work academics could be heard across the land, followed by a Twitter tirade. What had led to this?

In another place I have railed against the trend for think tanks and the like to label a shallow dip into a subject as ‘research’ and then to go on to make huge claims that are intended to, and sometimes do, influence policy. But in the past I have also been seduced by the ideas that have emerged from BIT, also known as the ‘nudge unit’. Its stated aim is to apply insights from academic research in behavioural economics and psychology to public policy and services. So when the unit advised the HMRC to change the wording on some of their letters, the result was an extra £200 million collected on time; and when it found that it was clearing the rubbish out of lofts that stood in the way of people insulating them they suggested providing a subsidised loft clearance and the rate at which insulation was happening soared. However, my admiration did not stretch to the findings of the report on social workers’ decision-making. Continue reading

Sequeli welcomes the First Annual Report of the National Panel of Independent Experts on Serious Case Reviews

Sequeli is a social enterprise not-for-profit limited company which provides training for chairs of mental health investigations, domestic homicide reviews, children’s Serious Case Reviews (SCRs) and adult safeguarding SCRs. The First Annual Report of the National Panel of Independent Experts on Serious Case Reviews was published last month. Here, Gillian Downham, Sequeli‘s founder and Director, addresses the issue of the effectiveness of SCRs (and the training associated with them) that is raised in the Report. (652 words)

As Director of Sequeli, I have worked hard for over a year developing courses, seminars and training materials for the Department for Education’s (DfE) ‘Improving the Quality of Serious Case Reviews’ training programme. It has been a pleasure to work with experienced colleagues, among them members of the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London, as well as the NSPCC and Action for Children. I have been steeped in the subject. So not surprisingly I have a few comments on the Panel’s first Annual Report.

Firstly, this is a very welcome Report. It is good to see the Expert Panel have been so assertive on the initiation of children’s SCRs (suspecting that alternatives to SCRs are on many occasions ‘proposed as a way of evading publication’) and publication of SCR reports. The need for independence, thoroughness, openness and proportionality has been the bedrock of the Sequeli approach and at the centre of the DfE training. It is heartening to see these mentioned throughout the Annual Report. Continue reading

Looked after children and offending: reducing risk and promoting resilience

In this guest post, Gareth Crossman, Executive Director of Policy, Communications and Fundraising at TACT, a fostering and adoption charity, highlights research done with the University of East Anglia on the topic of looked after children and offending. (371 words)

In 2010, TACT and the University of East Anglia’s Centre for Research on the Child and Family were awarded a research grant by the Big Lottery Fund. This funded a major project examining the relationship between children in care and the criminal justice system. One hundred young people, along with local authorities across England and Wales, took part in a series of detailed interviews and surveys. The aim was to investigate the factors that caused young people in care to be at risk of entry into the criminal justice system. And, crucially, what were the factors that could promote resilience and help keep them away from criminalisation.

Young people in care are often stereotyped as likely to become criminals. There is no doubt that statistics about prison populations show disproportionate numbers of people who have experienced being in care. However, nine out of ten young people who go into care will never come into contact with the police. The research bore out what TACT’s own experience told us; that when the care system works well it can prove hugely effective in keeping young people out of the criminal justice system. However, negative experiences can lead to greatly enhanced prospects of criminalisation. Continue reading