Relationship focused, Strengths based Practice
➥ We believe the basis for change lies within children’s family relationships and network. Within existing networks to build resilience and capacity to resolve difficulties and end harmful behaviours.
➥ We value working together with children, residents local services, and partner agencies to promote safe, happy, healthy and successful future for Manchester’s children and young people and families.
➥ Our work is informed and purposeful through the use of tools, complementary models, and research to evidence decision making and the most appropriate support and interventions.
➥ Building on strengths and working together, with our partners, to develop empowered supportive and problem-solving networks. Through non-judgemental, respectful engagement that honours children’s families and our own experiences.
➥ Signs of Safety has been adopted by Manchester City Council Children’s Services as the overarching practice framework for all of our work with children and families.
➥ This purposeful and collaborative way of working recognises families strengths and expertise to develop their own solutions to promote the safety and wellbeing for children and young people.
Signs of Safety
➥ Applying a stance of critical inquiry, asking our best questions to gain detailed, behavioural information, with examples, not making assumptions, remembering every family functions in their own, individual environment.
We Work Skilfully:
➥ Asking our best questions and taking time to listen to children, families, and partners to understand their stories.
We Work With:
➥ Children, families, our partners, communities and each other with a shared understanding.
We Work to Strengthen:
➥ Identifying, and building on what is working well. Validating strength and using healthy challenge.
We Work to Enable:
➥ Using our knowledge, professional curiosity, making the best of opportunities to promote impactful change.
➥ Ensure children and families are safe, can aspire, succeed, live well and grow up healthy and happy.
➥ For all children to have the opportunity grow up having fun, opportunities to take part in leisure and culture activities, and having good social, emotional, and mental wellbeing.
➥ To build resilience within children and families, ensuring children have a voice and opportunities to contribute in their community.
➥ Provide stability for children to allow them to have healthy, meaningful and supportive relationships, with less children living away from their families
© 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.
1. The Signs of Safety Approach to Child Protection Casework. www.Signs of Safety.net, online accessed January 2020.
3. These standardised measures are accessible through Research In Practice which is accessible with your free Manchester organisational account.