Our Practice in Manchester

Our Approach

Signs of Safety


Evidence Based & Knowledgeable

Signs of Safety is the practice framework used in Manchester. This solution focused, strength based approach that places our 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? It may be the application of a theory to understand family functioning. Being knowledgable means we invest in our own development, being informed of relevant research and practice developments. Using our knowledge of theories we think critically in analysing the information we have, reflect on our practice and rationalise our decision making. 


1. The Signs of Safety Approach to Child Protection Casework. www.Signs of Safety.net, online accessed January 2020.

2. See: 

  • Cooperrider, D. L. (1995). Introduction to appreciative inquiry. In W. French & C. Bell (Eds.), Organisational development (5th edition). San Francisco: Prentice Hall.
  • Cooperrider, D. L., & Srivastva, S. (1987). Appreciative inquiry in organizational life. In W. Pasmore & R. Woodman (Eds.), Research In Organization Change and Development (Vol. 1, pp. 129-169). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.
  • Cooperrider, D. L., & Whitney, S. (1999). Appreciative inquiry. In Holman, P. and Devane, T. (Eds.), Collaborating for change. San Francisco: Berrett- Koehler Publishers.

3. These standardised measures are accessible through Research In Practice which is accessible with your free Manchester organisational account. 

Developed by: Stephen Brock, M.S.W., Social Work Consultant. s.brock@manchester.gov.uk © 2020