Manchester has produced a set of standards that cover the core Early Help and Social Work activities and clearly sets out what is required and routinely expected by our practitioners. These standards are based on the notion that our staff;
What are Practice Standards? Practice Standards are an agreed set of expectations that describe the service provided and practice that should be carried out by all practitioners Children’s Services. Many of the standards are legally set through government guidance and legislation, or are based on valid and reliable research. They are the framework for supporting good practice.
These standards do not stand alone and should be viewed as part of delivering on service strategies inline with national standards, legislation and Manchester's own policies and meeting procedural and operational requirements.
Our Manchester, Our Children
In Manchester we have a clear vision for Children’s Services. Our Manchester, Our Children is a plan for all children and young people. While some people may require more support than others, fundamentally the same aspirations apply to all. It is also a partnership plan, jointly held by all the city’s agencies and organisations that work with children and young people. In terms of structure, the plan sets the direction for how we as a city and the partnership will deliver on this vision, focused on four overall outcome priorities, four things we are passionate about, four principles, and five behaviours for how we work.
To support this vision becoming reality there needs to be a healthy, professional culture fostered by skilful, responsive, relationship focused and strengths based practice. Where we work together and trust each other, take time to listen, own what we do and aren’t afraid to try new things, and, are who pride and passion in our work and Manchester.
Our Golden Threads of Practice
In Manchester, all practitioners are expected to practice using the Signs of Safety framework.
This is a strengths-based, safety-organised approach focusing on working in partnership and holds families and organisations accountable for their actions, building on their strengths to create safety for children and young people with a view for them to remain in the family network wherever it is possible to do so, considering permanence from the outset.
Signs of Safety is more than writing assessments in a particular way. It has an underlying philosophy and principles which workers are expected to demonstrate in all aspects and interactions of their work and has been adapted to be used within all areas of service.
To support this practice Manchester has identified 6 Golden Threads of Practice, around which the practice standards are organised.
Working With, Not Doing To
Working relationships are fundamental, with families and other professionals. Relationships must be forged skilfully to allow healthy challenge, accountability and recognition of positive work.
We are not the expert of families experiences, using humility in practice. Families know more about their own lives than we do. They know what works well and who is helpful. We draw on their expertise allowing a partnership to form.
Stance of critical inquiry, always being prepared to admit you may have it wrong - As Eileen Munro observes, “the major source of error in child protection is not being prepared to admit you may have it wrong”.
Asking detailed, behavioural questions, with examples stops us from making assumptions and challenges our own views as professionals, remembering every family functions in their own, individual environment.
Landing grand aspirations in everyday practice.
Good pieces of practice should be recognised, celebrated and shared with colleagues so that continuous learning can take place.
The Underlying Philosophy of Signs of Safety
Working relationships are fundamental, with families and other professionals - Relationships must be forged skilfully to allow healthy challenge, accountability and recognition of positive work.
We are not the expert of families experiences, using humility in practice - Families know more about their own lives than we do. They know what works well and who is helpful. We draw on their expertise allowing a partnership to form.
Stance of critical inquiry, always being prepared to admit you may have it wrong - As Eileen Munro observes, “the major source of error in child protection is not being prepared to admit you may have it wrong”.
Asking detailed, behavioural questions, with examples stops us from making assumptions and challenges our own views as professionals, remembering every family functions in their own, individual environment.
Landing grand aspirations in everyday practice - Good pieces of practice should be recognised, celebrated and shared with colleagues so that continuous learning can take place.
The Principles of the Safe & Together Model
Our practice model for assessing and intervening where domestic abuse, controlling and coercive behaviours are featuring, which is aligned and compliments Signs of Safety, is the Safe & Together model. This model has three key principles:
Safe and Together is a child centred, perpetrator pattern base approach.. Meaning understanding the behaviours of controlling, coercive and abusive behaviours, how these impact family functioning, and, the child.
Effective use of these Signs of Safety framework, the Safe and Together model and other tools and resources supports us in achieving our aim to work with families, not ‘do to’ families.
We are more likely to achieve ongoing change if we work with families using clear language, empathy, and gain detailed and specific examples of behaviours. To identify worrying behaviours, safe behaviours and people, strengths to build upon and what needs to change.. Partnering with children and survivors through our approach of haring their experiences, identifying and utilising individual, family, network strengths and resources to achieve shared safety goals.
Engaging Children, Parents & Carers
The basis for change lies within the child’s family relationships and network. Relationship focused practice engages with individuals and their existing networks to build resilience and capacity to resolve difficulties and end harmful behaviours. It is non-judgemental, respectful engagement that honours children’s families and our own experiences, building on strengths and working together, with our partners, to develop empowered supportive and problem-solving networks.
It is understood that our involvement with a child/ family may be a source of stress, therefore, our presentation is respectful, professional and confident. Being mindful of how our interactions may impact future work with our service and other professionals.
Advice, Guidance & Support (AGS)
In Manchester community partners and families concerned about the safety and wellbeing of a child or young person will be able to access advice, support or guidance and discuss their worries with a qualified Social Worker or Early Help practitioner in a timely manner and receive an appropriate response. In turn strengthening our partner relationships.
Using sound professional judgement we ensure that children and their families receive the right level of support and appropriate interventions at the right time, and our community partners are provided with quality advice, support and consultation at the first point of contact. To ensure children and families are supported to build their resilience in the most least intrusive manner possible at the earliest opportunity.
When receiving a contact that a child may require our services and support we engage the person reporting using our best questions to gather the best information from the caller to understand their worries, what may be working well and the appropriate next steps.
During discussions with our partners we ensure to:
It is best practice to allow survivors or non-offending parents to identify any current safety planning that they are actively undertaking and partner with them to what safety measures they can implement to support them.
In cases of domestic violence we ensure the survivor’s safety plan is recorded on their own file.
Where appropriate we should agree outcomes that the survivors or non-offending parents want to aim for and start the plan with them of how to get there. We ensure to provide information about how we may respond.
Assessment Visits: The First Visit
Children and families will have a timely response with a first home visits focused on developing effective working relationships with children and families.
The first visits are our opportunity to promote effective partnerships with families. Employing empathic listening, respectful communication, open questioning, and reflection are all crucial in presenting as open, honest, fair and understanding.
This is balanced with an ‘eyes wide open’, boundaried and authoritative approach that contains anxiety and ensures the child’s needs remain central. This involves being clear with the family of the reason(s) of our involvement and what it entails, involving them in assessment and planning (unless doing so would place a child at further risk of harm as discussed as part of a strategy meeting).
All children/families should be visited within 5 days of the referral being made for social work intervention. However, if the risks are significant or there are concerns for safety because of us visiting, our response will be informed through a strategy discussion.
In Early Help we ensure to visit within 5 days of a family being allocated to the Early Help Practitioner.
We are clear with the family what our worries are by sharing our draft danger statements and safety goals.
We engage with all family members and are prepared with with our best questions to ask and what is to be achieved during the first visits.
We promote family ownership for the safety and wellbeing of children at the first visit by mapping the situation with parents to identify parenting strengths, their worries and are prepared to answer questions they may have as openly and honestly as possible.
We ensure to provide clear information to children and families about what is happening and processes in a format that is helpful to families. Interpreters, leaflets and other communication methods should be used where necessary to allow all families to fully engage in the process. Families are provided a copy of the complaints procedures and organisational contacts.
We ensure to learn who is in the family network, living in the home or not, and the child’s significant relationships to identify people who could support the child/family as part of a safety plan by developing/reviewing a genogram with the family.
We ensure to confirm the next visit/contact with the family and ensure the family have contact information for the visiting/allocated social worker and team manager before leaving.
Every effort is made to see and speak with the child(ren) alone and to understand their lived experience.
If a child has made a disclosure or there is an allegation they are being physically harmed by their carer, abused, being exploited or has stated they will be harmed we always consult with a Team Manager to outline a plan of action before leaving the vicinity of the child’s home.
Family Network Meetings
As part of the Signs of Safety framework, Family Network Meetings should be facilitated as part of all interventions to promote families ownership of plans and ensure the involvement of the child’s and family’s network of support.
The central organising question to the family is ‘what do you think needs to be in place to show everybody including MCS that the children will be safe and well looked after, and for MCES not to be involved?’ Therefore, we ensure our concerns are understood, being clear about the dangers statements, safety goals and bottom lines, and the family and network have a clear vision of what a meaningful safety plan might look like.
Child Protection Conferences
This is the opportunity to engage the family in the process of change to create safety for the child. Developing a trajectory with the family will be key to how we engage them to become the drivers of the safety plan.
Child Protection Conferences may be challenging for families and we will work in partnership with families to ensure the right people are involved in the right way. Ensuring it is a place where all involved are able to have a voice and be heard.
Working with Our Children’s Carer’s
All of Our Children deserve the best possible care when living outside of their family network, living with approved foster carers that are appropriately informed, skilled and supported to ensure a child or young person is safe and their needs are met. Foster carers are members of the child’s network working with a child, and should be recognised and respected for the knowledge, skills and experience they bring to their role.
While the child’s social worker holds responsibility for specific advice or support in relation to the child and their Care Plan and Placement Plan, Our Children will be highly supported through the collaboration of the child’s Social Worker, Supervising Social Worker and Foster Carers as a network of care and support for them.
As a rule of thumb, the carer’s first port of call for advice, guidance and sharing information about the child will be their SSW. The SSW should facilitate a meaningful professional relationship with open communication and information sharing, a focus on meeting the child’s needs and support for the carer’s practical and emotional needs.
The SSW’s primary responsibility is to monitor and support good fostering practice in the placement and in so doing clearly should get to know the child or young person. Equally, the child’s social worker should provide the carer with advice and guidance about the care of the child or young person. They should communicate with each other on a regular basis.
Foster carers' have the right training and development opportunities are familiar and made aware of new policies and guidance, and check in my supervisions with them that they are incorporating the learning into their practice.
Case Transfers (Healthy Transitions)
Case transfers are led by the needs of the child to ensure that transfers of cases between workers or services are conducted seamlessly, with as little disruption or delay to the child and family as possible, and with no interruptions in service.
Clear and effective communication will be a feature of all transfers between services. With the child, family and professionals in the network informed about the transfer between services as part of the next steps of support and service. This will also include the child in an age appropriate manner, as we know that children require healthy endings to professional relationships.
All practitioners and managers have a shared responsibility for how MCES shapes the experiences of a child, young people, and their family/carer when the focus of the work moves from the remit of one service to another.
Our transfer process actively involves direct discussion between transferring/receiving workers and managers to agree an appropriate way forward.
It will be good practice for the transferring and receiving practitioners to attend a joint home visit, as this is an opportunity for the child and family to be introduced to the receiving practitioner and to ask questions. During this visit the plan and case trajectory should be reviewed so there is clarity and continuity for the child and family.
The transferring out Early Help/Social Work team will ensure:
The receiving Early Help/Social Work team will ensure:
Case Closures (Positive Endings)
As part of relationship focused and strengths based practice, children and families are involved throughout the assessment and planning processes, and case closure is no exception.
Partnering with the family regarding how and when to complete services begins from the outset of involvement and allows for supportive, shared closure process.
Case closure must be a carefully planned process, just like other phases of casework. Children and families are particularly vulnerable to inadequate preparation, which may result in frustrated feelings and anxiety. On the other hand, with good preparation, the case closure process helps the family to the next stage and can be a positive experience for everyone.
The goal of our involvement is not to prevent all problems but to help children and families to build on their strengths, develop skills and motivation to anticipate problems, avoid them when possible and deal with them effectively as they arise. Working with families on closure issues and feelings will likely increase their confidence in handling future difficulties.
Recording plays a key role in closure to evidence the efforts made by families, ourselves and partners and how this has impacted on the child’s quality of life. Accurate and effective recording provides the foundation for partnering with families in the future should there be a need.
We ensure that the child’s file is up to date, which includes:
In addition the closure process should:
The Child’s Voice
Communication is the means through which we make friends, build relationships, express our feelings, thoughts and emotions, make choices and engage as part of our society. It is also the way in which we indicate when we are not safe, feel scared or have been hurt. We will always strive to understand how best a child or young person communicates, verbally and/or behaviourally. Understanding that a child of any age or ability has the means to communicate.
Through effective direct work with children and families we ensure active participation in the assessment and planning process, seeking out the views of each child and young person to understand what they may feel is working, what they may worry about and what needs to change.
Our work reflects and considers a child’s daily lived experiences, the care they receive, the significant events in their lives and how these have impacted them (negatively or positively), to understand who is, or is not, contributing to them being safe, happy, healthy, and successful.
Where children are too young or do not have the ability to verbalise their views, we will still strive to hear them, using observations between them and their family and seek the views of those who know the child best to capture their voice.
What does “see the child” mean?
Seeing a child or young person includes not only seeing them, but also the context in which they live. How the environment and people they interact with impacts upon them to build knowledge about the child’s daily lived experience and how their parent/ carer is promoting their safety and wellbeing.
Seeing the child means being present in the moment with them, considering the child as an individual and what direct work may be best to undertake with them given their situation.
When seeing the child we consider:
There is strong evidence that working with children and young people wherever possible, instead of doing things to them or for them produces better outcomes and helps to build confidence and resilience. Therefore we involve children and young persons in the work we do on their behalf.
Our work with children and their families can be their opportunity to unpack worries they may have been holding onto for some time. In our direct work we provide interventions that facilitate change and promote resilience.
We understand it may be stressful and traumatic for children and young people to continually retell their story.
Therefore, we ensure to have read and understood the information that is held on our records about what they have previously shared, the child or young person and their families, and provided by other professionals, to avoid children and young people from having to retell their story.
We understand forming a relationship with a child is a process and it may take time for them to feel safe to speak openly. Therefore, where possible we take our lead from the child regarding pace and content when undertaking direct work with them and use the best resources with to enable them to share when they are ready.
A child or young person needs to understand who we are, our role, why we are visiting, what the plans are to ensure their safety and wellbeing, and we are prepared to answer questions they may have as openly and honestly as possible.
How the child or young person will be engaged through appropriate direct work to provide them with the best opportunity for them to share their experiences in their own words, and, allow us to confidently understand the situation from their perspective. Including how the child or young person’s views will be recorded.
Appropriate planning and preparation will be in place. This means getting a clear sense of what direct work needs to be done. For example:
Voice of a Child: Assessments & Plans
The voice of a child should be reflected in all our assessments and plans. This includes:
Life Story Work
We recognise and respect that children and young people need to be able to make sense of their history. Children and young people should be provided with the information and support to make sense of their life story and journey. This is everyone’s responsibility.
We understand that we have a responsibility to capture a child’s unique life experiences and journey. We do this by sensitively collecting information that is important to them about their family, friends and significant relationships. Ensuring life story work is considered from the point our initial involvement with a child and their family and reflected in the recording of our work, the quality of our assessments and ensuring children and young persons views are reflected in their plans.
Along with maintaining accurate, up to date case records when we are supporting a child through CiN, Child protection, Care or Early Help planning the Words & Pictures safety plan or explanation is a key piece of of life story and we ensure this is in place.
When carrying out dedicated life story work on behalf of a child or young person:
The 'Managers footprint' refers to evidence of a manager’s oversight, guidance and direction, quality assurance, analysis, supervision, and reasoned decision-making on the case record of a child or young person.
Collectively, this evidences the manager’s footprint and impact they have had on the case; and in this sense is a key component of the package of support offered to practitioners, children and their families.
The manager’s footprint is the primary way in which practice standards are upheld for each individual case. This needs to evidence the support they have provided, direction given and any challenge to the practitioner, while demonstrating understanding, insight and oversight of the critical issues for the child.
This requires the manager to focus upon:
We strive to get it right the first time for our children and ensure that there is case management direction and guidance on the file upon allocating a practitioner for a child, as part of management oversight.
We ensure allocations are made with the best interest of the child, considering the composition practitioner’s caseloads, their professional capability and their requirement to gain professional experience. It is recognised that this will not be possible in every instance.
Management oversight is evidenced from the point of allocation with guidance and direction for carrying out necessary work and case management duties.
Clearly written analytical insight from the team manager on critical and key documents for the child; such as assessments, and Early Help, Child Protection and Child in Need plans, Child Permanence Report’s, court documents, placement plans, reports for panels, reports for children’s reviews.
Evidence of quality assurance activity including case audits and performance management and providing balanced feedback, ensuring good practice is identified and practice issues are appropriately responded to and actioned.
We ensure that children and families do not unnecessary experience changes in practitioners or multiple practitioners unnecessarily.
The work we do requires strength of character and stretches an individual’s core skills and abilities. The role also places the person, uniquely, in the midst of the lives of children and families, to encounter many complexities and assume many responsibilities. Given this, practitioners and their managers can expect the best supervision and support to enable them to undertake their role effectively and with confidence.
Effective supervision will combine performance management with improving quality of practice, supporting the worker, ensure continuing professional development and contribute to the development of a learning culture. Providing a safe context, as part of effective supervision, enables practitioners to develop, engage in good practice, and, exercise effective professional judgement and decision-making.
Both manager and practitioner share responsibility for carrying out their role in a collaborative process and preparing for supervision. We ensure that practitioners and managers make use of a child’s chronology, genogram, and direct work; to ensure a holistic understanding of the child’s world; to promote reflective discussion; to develop next steps, and; to promote evidenced based judgements. Ensuring we are able to answer the question: Who is doing what to whom and what is the impact?
Records of supervision will reflect the Signs of Safety Framework and be recorded within one week of formal supervision. Records of ad-hoc supervision are the responsibility of the supervisor to add to the system within 48 hours of the discussion.
Quality of decision making and interventions:
Further personal learning, career and development opportunities:
Caseload and workload management:
Line management and organisational accountability:
Signs of Safety Group Mapping
The purpose of SoS group supervision (case mapping, case Trajectory, Harm Matrix mapping, etc) is to build strong team habits of analysis and judgement to foster more agile confident decision- making and practice. The group process for thinking through cases will promote learning and provide support to workers through a shared sense of carrying risk within the whole team.
Reflective Group Supervision
Reflective developmental group supervision is offered to NQSW’s by the Social Work Consultant team as part of the ASYE offer. It is encouraged as ‘good practice’ within Early Help and Social Work teams for developing worker resilience, shared learning and practice improvement.
Our work relies on understanding the links between behaviours and what this means for the child in the short and long term (impact). The question being asked is: Who has done, or is doing, what, when and how it impacts upon the child?
A well developed child impact chronology and genogram is the foundation of a high quality assessment providing understanding of the immediate and cumulative impact of events upon a child.
Done effectively, the child’s impact chronology helps to place children at the centre of everything we do. With accurate chronologies underpinning the continual process of assessment and planning, being used in our direct work practice to promote engagement from children and families.
It is expected that the child impact chronology is used to inform decision making:
As part of the continual assessment process the chronology should be used:
Both the child’s chronology and genogram will inform our work both as part of our information gathering for assessments and analysis to understand a family’s functioning and how the child may be impacted through as a result.
As part of the assessment process the child’s family genogram is reviewed with the child and family to ensure all members of the child’s family and household and significant adults (especially those who provide care, financial support, discipline to the child) are identified and these people are fully considered/assessed in relation to:
Through the use of the child’s genogram we check that the family’s details (e.g., names, spellings, relationships, and dates of birth) are correctly recorded.
We continually review the child’s genogram with the child and family, capturing any changes in the family structure, anyone the family has identified as possible supports to achieve safety goals and review possible kinship carers for the child as part of ongoing contingency planning.
Quality of Assessments & Plans
The child’s safety and quality of life (happy, healthy and successful) is paramount in all assessments. Our practice in Manchester is conducted under the Signs of Safety framework and all assessments are undertaken using the Signs of Safety risk assessment and the seven domains that comprise it.
This is complemented by the use of other models and tools. This includes the Safe and Together Model where there is concern of domestic abuse and controlling and coercive behaviours and tools like the Graded Care Profile2 to inform assessment where neglect is concern.
In order to carry out effective assessments and plans all practitioners and those with oversight of their work must understand the Signs of Safety framework and its components and the complimentary models and tools used in Manchester to inform assessments.
Assessments will not be static but reflect a continuous process (assessment, analysis, planning, and re-assessment).
Management oversight must provide an independent review of assessments, keeping the focus on the child's needs and the adequacy of parenting over time, and promote the strengths based approach of Signs of Safety, understanding that this will support practitioners work.
Planning for permanence for children and young people begins at the point of assessment, having three particular aspects:
We strive to work jointly with professionals to promote more robust and efficient assessments, with less duplication for families, shared experience of the work and multi agency ownership of outcomes.
As a process of intervention, this involves assessment planning and preparation for how we will carry out an assessment and using the right tools or models in the right circumstances.
When carrying out assessments, the assessment process must begin immediately with a focus on:
The Signs of Safety Assessment process asks practitioners to move quickly to completion, and, where this does not happen there will be a clear rationale recorded by the manager as to why more time is required, what information/work needs to be done to complete the assessment, with a clear date for completion.
Evidence Informed Assessments
As a professional organisation evidence based working is incorporated into our assessments to promote confident decision making, which is considered, transparent and appropriate to the child’s and family’s needs. Drawing on sources of evidence that include:
While we will listen to and record the views of families we also understand that accepting information at face value can lead to assumptions being made and we utilise professional curiosity to explore the reliability of the information provided, using triangulation; where different perspectives are sought about events or information to understand what is factual and what is not.
Assessments are multi-agency informed, completing checks with partner agencies and other local authorities, and information from them about the family is considered in relation to the safety and well being of the child or young person.
We ensure to support our judgments and limit the influence of bias (such as over optimism, stereotyping, confirmation bias, fundamental attribution error, etc) through the use of:
“The evidence-informed practitioner carefully considers what research evidence tells them in the context of a particular child, family or service, and then weighs this up alongside knowledge drawn from professional experience and the views of service users to inform decisions about the way forward.”
- Barratt and Hodson (2006).1
Analysis in Assessments
Analysis moves us on from information collecting to actionable planning. Every assessment we complete has an analysis that tells the reader about how the child’s care or circumstance has impacted on their safety, well- being and quality of life, considering their physical, emotional, social and cognitive development; detailing who has done what when and how this has impacted upon the child being safe, happy, healthy and successful. Providing a clear understanding of what needs to change and basis for planning. Considers adult capacity for change and how this may inform plans for children or young people and what it may mean for the child/young person if change is not realised.
A good analysis allows us to be clear about:
We ensure our assessments provide informed judgements, considering all the information in relation to the concern(s) in the assessment, using the Signs of Safety risk assessment, with other relevant models or tools through:
Writing up a Child’s Assessment
All cases should be reassessed to reflect a continuous assessment process, which considers all family members and significant adults in the child's life, and, be clear about what has changed for the child and the family in terms of harm, complicating factors, strengths and safety compared to previous assessments. Taking into account the progress, or lack of, made against the child’s plan, the child’s age and developmental needs.
In Manchester re-assessment periods consider the child’s situation and plan with a view of ensuring that the right support and plan is in place for the child or young person at the right time.
Re-assessment timeframes are:
Whenever there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm a strategy meeting should be held.
Strategy meetings are valuable opportunities to share information and develop a multi agency response to ensure children are safeguarded appropriately. It is recognised that many Serious Case Reviews have noted a lack of partnership working which has resulted in serious gaps in safeguarding.
During Strategy Meetings consent can be overridden if significant harm has been evidenced or suspected.
The purpose of the Strategy Meeting is to decide whether a Section 47 Enquiry under the Children Act 1989 is required and if so, to develop a plan of action.
A Section 47 Enquiry must always be commenced immediately if there is a disclosure, allegation or evidence that a child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm. This applies equally to new, re- referred and open cases.
We ensure strategy meetings are chaired by Team Managers, who take responsibility for the accuracy of the information recorded.
Strategy meetings will be face to face meetings, involving Police, Health, Education and other partner agencies that may be working with the child or family in accordance with Working Together. Where this is not possible telephone strategy meetings will take place.
However, we always ensure that it takes the form of a meeting if there are concerns about:
We ensure that the decisions and actions from the strategy meeting are recorded, along with the rationale through the development of draft danger statement(s), safety goal(s) that are factual and based on all the relevant information shared during the meeting. If it is decided that the threshold for a Section 47 enquiry is not met the rationale for this is recorded and what, if any, action will be taken.
Strategy meetings will formulate SMART actions and outcomes and will include timescales, agency and individual responsibility for each agreed action, including the timing of police investigations and relevant methods of evidence gathering. The means and date for reviewing the completion of agreed actions (i.e. further strategy meetings).
Plans & Planning
Our intervention with families should be focussed on securing permanence for children, increasing resilience, empowering families and decreasing dependance. Ensuring children are safe, healthy, happy and successful.
Plans are developed in recognition and acceptance that the family and the family network spend the most time with the child and are therefore able to offer the highest level of protection and support. Developed in collaboration with the child’s family network and focus on identifying clear expectations/ actions that address particular stressors, triggers or issues.
Plans are child relevant. Creating explanations and safety plans, together with parents, that are age- appropriate and capture the issues without trivialising or minimising the seriousness of the concerns is the core skill of putting children in the middle of the safety planning work.
We are clear in understanding that one of the key functions of a child’s plan (whether, Early Help, Child in Need, Child Protection of Care Planning) is to ensure that each child has permanence. This can be achieved for children through the following ways:
We actively support families and their networks to utilise their strengths, promote healthy behavioural change, and develop resilience in families. Ensuring harmful behaviours are clearly addressed to promote the safety and well being of children and young people.
We ensure to apply SMART principles (Specific, Measurable Agreeable, Realistic and Timely) to all our plans. With actions that are directly related to the worry/danger statements and wellbeing/safety goals, to ensure plans are actionable and promote behavioural change.
It is the role of practitioners, managers, CP Chairs/ IROs (if involved) and other professionals to ensure plans are not only multi agency informed and actionable, also, our ‘bottom-lines’ and trajectory (timescale for change) are clear. Detailing what must be addressed and specific actions/tasks for the case to be stepped down or closed, or, a Care Order discharged in cases of family reunification.
This relies on planning meetings, visits and reviews taking place within timescales; it also relies on the child being visited, seen alone and their views being heard and recorded throughout the duration of the plan. Visits should be focused on progressing actions agreed in the child’s plan.
Goals detail what it will look like and what will be in place when achieved, addressing particular vulnerabilities and utilises strengths, and the behaviours needed to ensure the child’s safety and well-being.
There is clear contingency planning in place for the child as part of the family’s and services’ contributions to any plan, which will clearly states what we will do if bottom lines are not met.
There should be the same level of scrutiny applied to all plans whether a child or young person is being supported/safeguarded through Early Help, Child in Need, Child Protection or Care Planning with robust management oversight.
It is expected that practitioners and managers will have read and understand the Right Intervention, Right Time protocol, which covers the Step up, Step Down processes and joint working between Social Work and Early Help services.
Early Help Planning
Child in Need Planning
Child in need planning should aim to support the family to not only meet the needs of a child, but also support the parents and their family/ professional network to develop a plan they will take responsibility of and carry forward.
It is expected that practitioners and managers will have read and understand the guidance and procedures related to Child in Need planning detailed in, Manchester Children in Need Guidance and Procedures, 2017, which includes the main timeframes in CiN casework and incorporates children in special circumstances:
The Family Network meetings, in particular, should be facilitated in all cases so that the best plan can be developed, and always before escalating to child protection procedures or requesting a Looked After Child placement. Family Network Meetings should be used to explore and, if possible, plan family-based actions to reduce risk. Judgment will be used to decide when it is safe to take this step rather than move straight to strategy discussions or seek an agreement for Looked After Children.
We ensure that If a decision is made at an ICPC or a RCPC that the child should be made the subject of a CIN Plan the draft child in need plan developed by the CP Chair will be developed further and both the child and parents/carers are supported to participate in the development of the Child in Need Plan.
Where a child subject to CiN planning transfers between individuals, teams or services we ensure relevant transfer protocols and procedures are followed, when:
Child Protection Plans
All children receiving support through Child Protection Planning will have met the threshold to be at risk of significant harm. Plans should be purposeful and clear at how safety for the child will be developed by the family with professional support. With every child protection plan inclusive of the child through the use of a Words & Pictures safety plan.
We ensure that children, families and professionals clearly understand our bottom lines and there is a clear trajectory for the work and activities to be carried out in developing a safety plan the parents and their family/professional network will develop, take responsibility of and carry forward after a period of monitoring.
We ensure the first core group meeting will take place within 10 working days of the ICPC and within 7 days the Child’s Protection Plan is updated, recorded and shared with the core group members.
We ensure that if a family network was not identified at the ICPC that a family network meeting is organised, either as part of a core group meeting or as a separate meeting, inline with the family’s views.
We ensure the core group meets at a minimum of every 6 weeks, (good practice every 4 weeks) or more frequently to ensure effective communication, shared responsibility of management of risk and responsive to changes in the family.
At each core group meeting we ensure:
It is ensured a Review Child Protection Conference (RCPC) occurs within 3 months of the Initial Child Protection Conference and subsequent RCPC’s occur every 6 months.
We ensure conference reports evidence the progress, or lack of, made against the child’s plan and these are reviewed with the family and shared 5 days before Review Child Protection Conference.
We ensure our CP Chairs and IROs provides scrutiny of the progress and effectiveness of the child’s protection plan between conferences.
We ensure to continue to work with the family for a minimum of 3 months through Child in Need after a case is stepped down from child protection to ensure changes made are maintained, and this is supported by CP Chair oversight.
The Child’s Timeframe: Avoiding Drift & Delay
Working openly and honestly with families we are clear from the outset of any child protection planning, where the trajectory is defined, that if the required changes are not being realised by the 3rd RCPC, or if the level of risk is increasing or remaining unchanged, that legal advice may be sought through the process of a Legal Gateway Meeting and the Letter Before Proceedings may be issued.
To prevent delay for a child and where the child’s plan is not progressing in a timely manner, or, that if progress is not being realised, we ensure this is considered to explore the appropriate next steps, and, there is management oversight reflecting this.
Care Plans & Care Planning
Care plans are collaborative the children, their parents and other significant adults in the child’s life are actively consulted about, and involved, in the child’s plan for their care. Where the child or young person’s families will be encouraged to take part in their reviews, expecting that their views will be listened to and will help shape the child’s Plan.
For Our Children we ensure that their Permanence Plan is incorporated into the child’s Care Plan and practitioners and managers are familiar with and understand Manchester’s Permanence Policy - Our Manchester, Our Children - Securing Permanence Policy, Procedure and Guidance.
As part of effective care planning, every child or young person should have access to advocacy and be informed of their rights while living away from their families.
It is an expectation that the Permanence Plan includes one or more parallel contingency plans and we ensure parents are informed of the reasons why more than one plan is being made to meet the child’s needs and prevent unnecessary delay. Where clarity is reached around which option is most likely for a child. This needs to be reflected in the Care Plan.
We ensure social work reports includes the views of the child, their parents/carers and multi agency partners, and evidences the progress, or lack of, made against the child’s plan are available to the IRO ( Independent Reviewing Officers) 48 hours prior to a child’s planning review taking place.
Children’s participation in their reviews and care planning is encouraged by discussing their care plan and any changes to it with them and supporting them to attend, participate and contribute within their review meetings. If they are unwilling or unable to attend their care planning review meeting we present their wishes and feelings, ensuring these are taken into consideration, at their review.
We ensure significant change to a child’s or young person’s care plan are not made in isolation.Proposed significant changes to the child/young person’s care plan have been considered by the child’s IRO at their Care Planning review. (e.g., change of carers, contact arrangements, change of school).
That unplanned events leading to a change of the child’s care plan (e.g., hospital admission, school exclusion, breakdown of care arrangements), the IRO is informed to agree these changes as soon as possible.
We ensure our IROs provides scrutiny of the progress and effectiveness of the child’s care plan between reviews.
We ensure are child’s health needs are understood to inform the child’s care plan and our children have timely Health Assessments, with initial health assessments within 5 days of placement and subsequent health assessments:
Personal Education Plans
We ensure that every from the age f 2yrs old up to 18yrs old has a PEP that clearly sets out how the child will be supported in education and this informs the child’s care plan.
Where Our Children Live
We will endeavour to place children in family placements unless there are clear reasons why residential care or an alternative type of placement is the better option, and, siblings are placed together, and, ensure to support them to spend time with their birth family, except where this may not be in the child’s best interest. That children and young people are living in properly approved foster/residential homes that are suitable to meet their needs and will be supported to heal from any traumas and develop their resilience.
We ensure to develop well informed, balanced and accurate profiles about Our Children to provide to the Centralised Placement Team when seeking alternative care arrangements for those who are not able to be cared for within their family network.
When a child/young person comes under the care of Manchester Children Services the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) service (SIU) is notified within 2 working days (ideally within 1 working day) so that an IRO can be allocated to the child, a review of the child’s care arrangements is convened in timescale and the IRO given the opportunity to visit the child prior to the first Review of Care Arrangements.
We ensure that all other professionals involved in the child’s or young person’s life are informed of the child’s legal status within 5 working days of the child becoming looked after including the host authority if placed out of county.
Where an emergency, unplanned admission into care has occurred a Child and Family Assessment is completed within 45 days, in time for the child’s second care plan review to consider the child’s care arrangements.
We always give consideration to convening a Disruption Meeting in relation to children whose placement has ended abruptly or on an unplanned basis, or where this is an imminent possibility.
Wherever possible, a child will be moved by their allocated social worker, and, if the child does not have appropriate suitcase to move their clothing and personal items we provide this for them. Ensuring Our Children dignity and do not move with their belongings in a bin liner.
Placement Planning Meetings
Good practice will be that Placement Planning Meetings, that will set out how the placement will meet the needs of the child, take before the child moves to the placement, or if not possible, within 5 working days of the placement starting.
We ensure the child's child's personal history, religious persuasion, cultural and linguistic background, racial origin, as well as, the child's health and education needs and how these are to be met in placement to ensure careful matching.
We ensure it will also include the arrangements for registering the child a GP, dentist and optician. Ensure that the Placement Plan is recorded and given to all relevant parties.
All of those involved in a child’s care keep the child’s wishes and feelings at the forefront and can clearly and accurately answer the question: What is life like for this child in this foster home?
Pathway Plans & Leaving Care
If a young person remains in care until adulthood, Children’s Services will ensure that they are supported when they leave care, including through remaining in their foster placement (Staying Put), at least until they are 21 (or 24) if in full time education, to give them a positive start to independent living. This support will include personal assistance with living independently and with accessing and making the most of education and employment opportunities.
Social works and managers should be familiar with Manchester’ Leaving Care Policies.
When the young person reaches 15 years and 6 months of age, we ensure to start developing their Pathway Plan with them, and this is
completed with the young person and their Personal Advisor from the Leaving Care Team. Pathways Plans are informed through an up to date assessment of the child’s needs and includes their future aspirations.
We ensure that a young person’s plan is reviewed every 6 months by the allocated practitioner until the young person turns 18 and the personal advisor thereafter.
Our Transition Planning for Children with Disabilities Moving into Adulthood
We acknowledge that the transition from Children’s Services to Adult Services is a stressful time for families and young people, as it is often perceived as an unknown journey. That is why the role of the Transition Team is so vital.
If done well, the worries of the unknown is taken out of the process through the use of a transition plan, with shared responsibility, that clearly sets out the next steps for that young person.
Our focus for the transition period is on working together to help them achieve independence and best outcomes and as normal a life as possible. Therefore, we ensure that young people, with their families, lead on their plan.
Children and Young People possess great strength and capability. We ensure to listen to the aspirations of those young people growing into adulthood and promote their hopes and dreams they have for themselves. We will always involve young people and their families in developing their plans, ensuring Person Centred Planning is used. This means the young person is encouraged to participate in the way they can best do this, even if they are non verbal.
We ensure to explore, in creative ways, the best means of working with families (like holding coffee mornings in schools) to tell parents about the process and developing a Mentoring Scheme with families who have been through the process, helping others to negotiate the transition to adulthood.
We ensure a multi agency approach is taken and we acknowledged we must be involved with multi agency meetings to develop plans before the child turns 18.
If a disabled child has an Education Health Care Plan (EHCP), they are entitled by law to a transition plan being considered and discussed at ages 14 to 18 to look at the areas of their life when they reach adulthood. These areas include:
We ensure to becoming knowledgeable of, and understand, the young person before they turn 18, attending their meetings post 16.
We know EHCPs can continue to 25, depending on whether the young person continues to attend education and plans should be made as to what the young person wants and what suits them best in terms of education, work or activities. We will be a part of the reviews for the EHCP and contribute accordingly.
The Transitions Team is dependent upon others informing about a young people needing a service. We ensure that a young person does not have a gap in service between Children’s Services and Adult Services and that no case will be missed, as the Transitions Team will help them navigate to their plan for adulthood.
The recording of case notes, uploading of documents, accuracy of details for a child and involved professionals is key to multi agency working, timely decision making and a child's life story. The importance of recording information is central to our practice so that a child may have a thorough understanding of their journey and that this contributes to their sense of identity and wellbeing, providing the basis of the life story for our children.
Use of Language
Our recordings should use language which does not blame families (this is something which has been unfortunately common amongst professionals when talking about survivors of domestic abuse, young people who are exploited and people who suffer ill mental health).
Timeliness & Professional Practice
There is clear evidence that an individual’s recollection of events and ability to retain information declines over time, and, key pieces of information may be omitted or not recollected accurately. Therefore maintaining timely accurate, factual and non judgemental case recordings is central to our work and the responsibility of everyone.
© 2021-22 Stephen Brock
Developed by: Stephen Brock, M.S.W., Social Work Consultant.
Working Skilfully with to Strengthen and Enable
our work of supporting children and families we must have an unrelenting focus on developing our skillset. Putting knowledge and learning into practice on a daily basis and continually develop our professional competence in:
• Our use of langue and adopting a questioning approach which includes our best questions to explore the experience and understand a child’s experience and family’s functioning;
• Our effective the use of tools (e.g., chronology, genogram, mapping, standardised measures, direct work) in our work with children and families,
• Providing high quality supervision;
• To identify the right support at the right time through high quality analytical assessments;
• Being able to coproduce plans with families and professional partners;
• Being aware of our own limitations and professional development needs to remain effective in our practice;
• Planning effectively to maximise our efforts and time;
• Our use of authority.
Working with underpins our practice at all levels. This is clear in our practice framework, Signs of Safety, and in our chosen risk assessment model for domestic violence, Safe & Together. It is expected we are ‘working with’ children, families, our colleagues and partner agencies. Why is this important? Think of a time when you have felt your views did not matter, without influence about a significant decision in your life. When this happens it can be disempowering and cause feelings of resentment, discouragement and unwillingness to participate in next steps to help make changes. Working with means being aware of our use of authority, ensuring that everyone understands what we are doing and trying to achieve using plain language, being open and honest. It means involving, at every opportunity, children, parents and families when we conduct assessments and develop plans with them that empower families as drivers of the plan. As a manager it means leading from behind and supporting practitioners to find the solutions for the challenges they face, and, listening to them and involving them in decision making.
Work to Strengthen
Despite even the most challenging of circumstances there will always be a strength to build upon. Using our skills of analysis and through appreciative inquiry we identify these within children and families, no matter how small they may seem. Working with, we amplify these strengths and use them as the foundations for further success and to foster new strengths, within both families and ourselves. This means we are open about what we are trying to achieve and asking of others. So that others can see opportunities to contribute to a solution to the challenge or problem being faced as part of a solution building network. Bringing people together in this way strengthens individuals and networks providing the foundation for enabling change. In practice we strengthen:
• The factors providing safety and promoting the wellbeing for a child;
• The healthy functioning of the family and their network;
• The health of relationships;
• The effectiveness of our interventions.
Work to Enable
Our work should always be to provide the means or opportunity for children to be safe, happy, healthy and successful. Whether this is through our work with families, carers and children themselves. This may mean advocating to make something possible, providing practical support or making things easier to achieve.
What does this mean in our practice? It is the culmination of all the above, our skilful work with others to strengthen for the purpose of enabling. This means in our direct work we open up opportunities, to make it easier for children and families to talk about what the need to talk about and participate in developing solutions that they can have ownership and be acknowledged for achieving.
In our own learning and development we increase our knowledge, our skills and capacity to advocate for others and provide the right practical support to allow us to effectively enable others. As a practitioner this means investing in our own professional development to enable ourselves. As a manager this means not owning a practitioner’s problem. Rather, being skilful in providing supervision and guidance that is done with and allows practitioners to develop their own practice and doing what is in our ability to create the conditions for effective practice.
Relationship focused, Strengths based Practice
The importance of human relationships, which we rely on to survive and thrive, is nicely summarised here, and the need for healthy nurturing relationships for children is clearly evidenced.
“Over the past several decades, early childhood policies and programs for young children experiencing significant adversity have been influenced by converging theoretical models and extensive empirical research. The most influential of these developmental frameworks highlight the critical importance of nurturing relationships and mutually responsive interactions between adults and young children…”1
Therefore, our practice starts with a focus on relationships. The quality of relationship between children and their parent or carer. The quality of our relationships with children and families. The quality of relationships with our colleagues and partner agencies. Our practice demonstrates efforts to develop constructive working relationships between professionals and family members, and, between professionals themselves, laying the basis for effective practice.
Compassionate relationships, working ‘with’ not ‘doing to’ is the foundation of human change and growth. Our work with parents and carers to ensure that children and young people have nurturing relationships in place. With the aim that permanence is achieved for children at the earliest opportunity. Manchester’s Practice Standards have been developed with an importance upon relationships. From how we engage through to how we evidence the impact of significant relationships and what this will mean for a child or young person.
With children, our focus on relationship is reflected on our direct work, our assessments and their plans. Where children’s and young person’s views are clearly reflected, considered and we show how we are acting upon them.
As with families, relationships in the workplace characterised by cooperation, trust, and fairness, encourages like future interactions with everyone believing the best in each other and inspiring each other in our work.
Individual practitioners are not solely responsible for the development and health of relationships with children, parents or carers and families. Those that support frontline practitioners, whether management or administrative, must also play a full part in creating the conditions in which positive relationships can flourish. To this end, Manchester’s practice is organised around a framework founded in strength based, solution focused theory: Signs of Safety.
Strength-based practice concerns itself principally with the quality of the relationship that develops between those providing and being supported, and, what the person seeking or in need of support brings to the process.2 A strength based approach also requires us to understand the problems others face, identifying harm (potential or realised) while calling out the strengths and abilities, and, educating in the service of change.3
Solution-focused practice is built on the work of Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg. Developed within a therapeutic context, Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) holds a central notion of ‘exceptions’: however serious, fixed or chronic the problem there are always exceptions and these exceptions contain the building blocks of the client's own solution. Steve de Shazer and Berg were also interested in determining the goals of therapy so that they and their clients would know when it was time to end. They found that the clearer a client was about his or her goals the more likely it was that they were achieved. Finding ways to elicit and describe future goals has since become a pillar of solution-focused brief therapy.
Signs of Safety is the practice framework that organises how we develop constructive relationships to arrive at solutions that are informed by the involvement of children and young people, and coproduced with parents and carers, families, and colleagues.
1. Shonkoff, J. P., & Fisher, P. A. (2013). Rethinking evidence-based practice and two-generation programs to create the future of early childhood policy. Development and psychopathology, 25(4 Pt 2), 1635–1653. doi:10.1017/S0954579413000813
2. Duncan, Barry & Miller, Scott. (2000). The Client's Theory of Change: Consulting the Client in the Integrative Process. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration. 10. 10.1023/A:1009448200244.
3. Bertolino, B., & Youth in Need, Inc. (2010). Strengths-based engagement and practice: Creating effective helping relationships. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Signs of Safety, Solution Focused
Signs of Safety is the practice framework used in Manchester. This solution focused, strength based approach places relationships with children, parents and families at the heart of our practice.
“The approach focuses on the question ‘How can the worker build partnerships with parents and children in situations of suspected or substantiated child abuse and still deal rigorously with the maltreatment issues?’ This strengths-based and safety-focused approach to child protection work is grounded in partnership and collaboration.”1
The Signs of Safety assessment format is organised around three central questions:
• What are we worried about? (Past Harm, Future Harm, Complicating Factors)
• What is working well? (Strengths, Safety)
• What needs to happen? (Safety Goals, Next Steps)
This assessment format provides the practitioner with a clear, plain language, means to capture both the professional’s and family members’ views regarding harm, existing strengths and safety, and, develop shared goals. Appreciative inquiry underpins this process. Where practitioners do not assume to know, rather, remain open minded about what we may think we understand, respecting that the child and family are the experts of their experience.
This all begins with our best questions. Of which the first question in the EARS process, a technique commonly used in solution-focused brief therapy, is critical for a purposeful, positive conversation. The EARS process provides a structure to the conversation, much like a how to guide, to draw upon in our daily practice. Through this we foster a culture of appreciative inquiry (AI).
The process of building a culture of appreciative inquiry in and around frontline practice is grounded in the day in, day out work of the frontline practitioner, the supervising practitioner and strategic practitioners.
Appreciative inquiry is an approach to organisational change developed by David Cooperrider and colleagues. Who found that focusing on successful, rather than problematic, behaviour is a powerful mechanism for generating change.2 In our frontline practice we are applying appreciative inquiry with families to facilitate a process of change using the Signs of Safety framework.
In Manchester the Signs of Safety assessment format is complimented by practice tools such as the Child Impact Chronology and Genogram, evidence informed models such as the Safe & Together Model (re: domestic violence), evidence based assessment tools such as the Graded Care Profile2, the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) and standardised measures (AUDIT – C, Depression, anxiety and stress scale, Emotional Regulation Questionnaire, Home Conditions Assessment, Maternal and paternal ante-natal attachment scales, Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support, Parenting daily hassles).3 Used effectively these tools inform and develop our knowledge of the unique experiences of children and those that care for them, help check our bias’, provide with a clear understanding of what needs to change, and, can support the co-production of high quality, evidence based, assessments involving children and parents. Leading to plans that are built on the presenting strengths and expertise of the child and family, which effectively address any danger.
Practitioners working within Children’s Services are unique in their practical and theoretical knowledge. This knowledge informs how we analyse the impact of adult behaviours (both harmful and nurturing) upon children. It is with this professional knowledge that we answer the question: What does this mean for this child? using our knowledge of theories we think critically in analysing the information we have, reflect on our practice and rationalise our decision making.