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Risk and Safety Planning Practice Guide


    This Practice Guide outlines the process for the development and implementation of a safety plan, created in collaboration with the child and family.

    A safety plan is developed at the commencement of contact with a child and family when high or very high risk to the safety of the child has been identified. The safety plan must address the immediate risk and provide safety for the child in the short term.

    Once safety is increased, the practitioner can work with the children and family building on existing strengths and providing support in other areas of the children's and family’s life.

    This practice guide provides guidance about:

    • when to develop a safety plan
    • engaging with the children and family to develop the safety plan
    • identifying safety concerns, acknowledging children's right to safety and identifying family strengths and protective factors when setting safety goals
    • maintaining safety throughout the case management process
    • reviewing progress of the safety plan.

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    Keeping children safe and reducing the need for involvement with statutory child protection services is a core aim for the CFSS. This Practice Guide outlines the ‘how to’ in undertaking safety planning. The process of completing the Safety Planning tool (Appendix 1) provides an opportunity for practitioners to have an open and transparent conversation regarding immediate safety issues with a family. It enables a family to think about their child’s immediate safety, as well as their own and develop strategies to minimise the impact of situations that pose a risk to their child living safely at home.

    A safety plan must:

    • be initiated at the commencement of contact with the child and family and be completed by the end of the third visit with the family
    • be developed in collaboration with the child, family and the family’s extended support network
    • consult cultural peers on cultural aspects, strengths and opportunities
    • describe the risks or concerns that prompted the referral for the child
    • identify achievable safety goals to address each risk or concern
    • outline what the family, practitioner and members of the support network and kinship network must do to ensure the child’s immediate safety in the home
    • be clear about what the child will do if feeling unsafe
    • be recorded in clear and family-centred language that is understood by the child, family members and extended support network
    • state how the plan will be monitored and reviewed
    • be signed and provided to the child (if age appropriate), family and any other person involved in supporting the plan and child's safety
    • be endorsed by a supervisor and uploaded on C3MS.

    If unable to engage with the child and family, the practitioner should consult with their supervisor to determine next steps in relation to the unaddressed risk and safety. This may include an appropriate escalation strategy.

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    Key Concepts for Practice

    The safety plan must be co-created with the child and family and by an informed safety network.(Signs of Safety – child protection framework 2011 p 28)

    To develop a safety plan, practitioners must use an inquiry approach, building on existing safety within the kinship or family group, wherever possible. The safety plan supports conversations such as why we are here, and how we will work together?

    Developing a safety plan can be overwhelming for families. For some families this may be the first time they have discussed the issues raised or considered the behaviour(s) of concern to be a risk. For others, where violence is present and ongoing, it may not be safe to discuss risk together and separate sessions may be required for each family member. Wherever possible and appropriate planning sessions in conjunction with the family are important to build a plan that is ‘owned’ by the family.

    The conversation must begin with a clear and concise description of the concerns identified and the reasons why SFS services are involved. This sets expectations for a clear and transparent working relationship. It is important to manage this conversation carefully and be mindful of the impact on the safety of the child, on other adults and children in the home and on the developing therapeutic relationship. The discussions between practitioners, children and families about risk and safety are crucial to building an open connection and mutual understanding about why SFS practitioners are present, and to build the trust within the relationship.

    Cultural safety is essential to our practice approach. It is important to communicate with families that the aim is to support children staying safely within their homes, strongly connected to family, culture, community and identity.

    Children are at the centre of all safety decisions. A meaningful safety plan is created out of an ongoing and often sometimes difficult process that is undertaken by the family and professionals together focused on what specifically is needed to be satisfied the child is safe. The process includes encouraging the family to lead a discussion about existing strengths and supports and what support would assist in keeping children safe within the home. The strength of the safety plan is the ability to create safety goals that sit alongside and address how support networks can assist the family to build on existing strengths and address risk concerns.

    At the heart of this work is a healing approach. For those already in the system (children and families, practitioners, and organisations) we must move away from a paternalistic approach, to one of inquiry, focusing on family led discussions. This approach, alongside listening to the family and others talk about their strengths, all supports keeping children safe. We must commit to actively listening to the voices of children and families throughout the process. (Signs of Safety – child protection framework 2011 p 15)

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    Developing the Safety Plan

    The development of the safety plan is a process of creating a road map to a place where the child continues to live safely within family, community and culture. Developing a safety plan for the child and family works toward:

    • A shared responsibility between family, professionals and services to keep children safe at home
    • Recognising the existing strengths and safety afforded by kinship, family and community
    • Keeping risks and children's worries in view and identifying who is accountable for agreed actions and behaviours
    • Actively engaging individuals to take and accept responsibility to end behaviour that places children at risk
    • Recognising that it is a collective response to children’s safety, and it is not the responsibility of one individual/ carer/ parent/practitioner
    • A shared understanding of what is required from whom and when
    • Being consistent in our practice and approach with children and families.

    When developing a safety plan, practitioners should reflect on the following questions:

    • Are the child's safety needs at the centre of the safety plan?
    • Is the child’s voice represented in the safety plan?
    • Is the child clear about what action to take if they feel unsafe?
    • Does the child feel able to take such action?
    • Are the family active participants in the development of the safety plan?
    • Have the family been told about the severity of the risk concerns identified? Do they understand the risk?
    • Can the family see their strengths, uniqueness, culture and identity reflected in the safety plan? How do we know this?
    • Does everyone mentioned within the safety plan, understand and agree to their part of the journey toward, or building on, safety within the home?
    • Do they have a copy of the safety plan?
    • What external agencies are listed as part of the plan (if any) and do they have a copy of the plan?
    • Is everyone's safety considered in the development of the Safety Plan?

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    Cultural Considerations

    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families

    SFS practitioners acknowledge the historical and ongoing impact of colonisation, dispossession, genocide, forced removal policies (Stolen Generations) and practices such as protection, segregation and assimilation on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The resulting intergenerational and complex trauma continues to impact individuals, families and communities and this can manifest as distrust and fear of agencies, particularly mainstream government agencies, as these are directly linked to previous harmful policies and practices. These experiences may cause individuals and families to be reluctant to engage. With this knowledge, engagement can be adapted in culturally responsive and culturally safe ways for Aboriginal children and families.

    Cultural consultation should occur prior to commencing engagement with a family to gain knowledge of the cultural context in which risks are raised and to guide the response and service intervention. Ensuring cultural due diligence has occurred by the referring agency, at the time of referral there should be information pertaining to:

    • child’s identity and language/nation group
    • child and family’s connection to culture and country
    • language spoken within the home
    • preferred communication/engagement style for the family
    • has the child/ family engaged with Aboriginal services and do they preference Aboriginal services?

    Consultation with wider Aboriginal kinship systems such as cultural decision makers /cultural authorities community Elders, Aboriginal workers, Aboriginal community-controlled organisations or staff in other organisations that know the family may also take place to assist in approaching family members and working in flexible ways to build rapport with children and families. These networks may be understood using eco mapping tools.

    If you are speaking with an Aboriginal person whose first language is not English, it is also important to seek advice about appropriate communication protocols. A practitioner may need an interpreter to ensure that language barriers do not compromise the quality of service.

    Culturally and Linguistically Diverse children and families

    When working with culturally and linguistically diverse clients, refugees and new arrivals, it is important that practitioners understand how the migration experience may impact on their engagement with services.

    Further consideration includes:

    • understanding any traditions and practices that may need to be considered
    • understanding of respectful engagement for CALD families, inclusive of gender appropriate discussion and where and who can participate in discussions (such as family decision makers).
    • Some families may not feel comfortable having practitioners working in their home. This may be underpinned by:
    • a fear or suspicion of authorities and government officials based on pre-migration experiences
    • a reluctance to seek support because of the stigma associated with seeking help from outside of the family/community group
    • a fear of jeopardising the person or family’s residency status in Australia
    • a previous experience of culturally insensitive interventions by professionals
    • cultural differences around power and gender.

    Before meeting with a family, consultation should occur with cultural consultants, workers or other organisations who have worked effectively with the family. It is important to ensure that any cultural protocols are observed while working with the family. Where possible a worker from the community or someone with cultural authority should accompany workers on home visits, particularly in the early stages of engagement.

    Effective communication recognises that different approaches and strategies may be required as well as sensitivity to the role of both verbal and non-verbal cues. If English is not a carers/parent’s first language additional time or a more flexible approach may be needed to support their participation.

    A practitioner may need an interpreter to ensure that there is clarity in all discussion and families' wishes are heard and understood, and decisions and processes are made clear. Due to strong linkages in CALD communities in South Australia, some local interpreters may be from the family’s local community or within their own family and could result in reprisal from the community. Tele-interpreters should be used in these circumstances.

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    Managers, Supervisors and Senior Staff are responsible for:

    • Supporting clinical case management processes that plan for a child's safety at the commencement of service delivery
    • Strengthening safety planning through clinical supervision, practice reflection and training
    • Guiding and supporting practitioners in completing the safety plan with the child/family/community as active participants
    • Ensuring staff know their obligations to continually monitor and respond to risks and to do so in collaboration with children, families, communities and service partners
    • Guiding practitioners through having difficult conversations with families and to reflect on their practice
    • Ensuring cultural consultations are available and regularly used at each point throughout the safety planning process.

    Practitioners are responsible for:

    • Adopting attitudes, behaviours and strategies that build on families' existing strengths to safely care for their children
    • Respectfully, sensitively and safely engaging with children and their families and extended family members to develop the safety plan and being mindful when it may not be safe for members to participate and addressing equal participation accordingly
    • Engaging in cultural consultations prior to, during and following the safety planning process
    • Ensuring cultural sensitivities and respectful cultural protocols are adhered to
    • Capturing the child’s voice in the safety plan by using age-appropriate tools
    • Establishing an inquiry approach, that is open and transparent
    • Seeking secondary consultation through clinical supervision with a line manager when required
    • Documenting and distributing the safety plan to all participants nominated within the safety plan, including the child (if age appropriate)
    • Ensuring that all agencies nominated in the safety plan, understand the shared responsibility for safety, even where it may not be their core business
    • Initiating a review of the plan, at any time, as indicated by the child, family, or practitioner
    • Discussing all relevant information with the carers/ parents to the extent possible without:
      • compromising the safety of the child or a vulnerable parent/carer
      • without disclosing the notifier's identity
    • If violence is still occurring within the home, that compromises the safety of any family member then meetings must occur separately with family members. (2.2.16 Signs of Safety - child protection practice framework)

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    Practice Strategies

    1. Prepare for the development of a safety plan

    • Review the referral request: Review the Pathways Assessment undertaken by the CFSS Pathways Service. Clarify any additional information including:
      • child’s cultural identity and background
      • need for interpreter services
      • for Aboriginal families, is an Aboriginal practitioner preferred?
    • Contact the person who made the referral: Ascertain the risks to the child and the family’s understanding of the risks, from the referrer’s perspective.
    • Consult with other services working with the family: Learn about the child and family’s experience in engaging with services. Build on understanding of risks, resilience, strengths and protective factors for the child and family and the best approach to engage with the child and family.
    • Consider if there is ongoing violence within the home: Consider the risk and safety concerns and discuss with your supervisor if a consultation with the Clinical Practice Team would be beneficial. Consider the safety of all members of the family to participate.
    • Consider other members of the family/kinship network that should participate in safety planning: When planning to meet with additional or extended family members, consider family dynamics and the safety of all participants to contribute openly.
    • Check for previous safety plans: If a previous safety plan has been developed, ask the child and family if it worked for them. Do they understand why they are being asked to develop another one?
    • Undertake effective cultural consultation: Be respectful to the family’s cultural background and consult with relevant cultural peers at multiple points throughout engagement, including other services or professionals that have worked with the family (see Cultural Considerations).
    • Raise case management challenges with your supervisor regarding ongoing child safety concerns: to identify an appropriate course of action.

    2. Engage with the family

    To develop a safety plan, it is important to:

    • Make contact in a timely way: Engagement must occur with the child and family as soon as possible to ensure the safety of the child and reduce the likelihood of statutory intervention. Some risks may be alleviated quickly, with additional advocacy or support. Timeliness is also important.
    • Establish respect: A family may be experiencing multiple and complex challenges and have varying levels of capacity to work with you. Be empathic to the possible shame or guilt carers/ parents may experience in not being able to meet their children's safety and wellbeing needs.
    • Be open, truthful and clear about safety concerns: Some families will not be aware that concerns have been raised about the safety or wellbeing of their child. Be prepared to have difficult conversations with families about patterns of behaviour that place a child at risk. Practitioners must clearly explain using simple language:
      • the nature and severity of the risks identified at the time of referral
      • the role of the practitioner to work alongside the family to address the risks — the ‘bottom line’ (non-negotiables) from the agency perspective as to safety that must be met for the children
      • the possible involvement of the Department for Child Protection (DCP) if changes are not made to ensure a safe home environment for the children.
    • Maintain an inquiry approach: Actively listen to the child and family about what has occurred for them and is occurring in the home. Learn about the family’s functioning, their strengths, protective factors and how they get through day to day.
    • Focus on the needs of the children: The first collective focus must be to the safety of the children within the home. This may include the safety of their primary care giver(s).
    • Focus on the family’s strengths: The intention of the safety plan is to build on the strengths and protective measures that already exist within the family.

    3. Work with the child and family to develop the safety plan

    Identify the risk and safety concerns – what are we worried about?

    • Work with the child and family to define the risk and safety concerns and record these on the plan: These concerns should be recorded in clear and simple language that the child and family can understand. When preparing these statements:
      • identify what risk or safety concerns the child or family may have
      • identify and discuss the risks identified in the Pathways Referral Assessment provided by the CFSS Pathways Service
      • continuously aim to build on the child and family's understanding of risk and safety (for children)
      • ensure notifiers are not identified.

    Identify family strengths - what’s working well?

    • Work with the child and family to identify their strengths and record these on the plan: This should focus on things that are happening in the family or that have happened that contribute to the safety and wellbeing of the children. Continually identify and honour the family for everything they can see that is positive in their everyday care and involvement with their children.

    Prepare safety goals – what needs to happen?

    • Ensure that safety goals are action-based and clearly define who is responsible for doing what to ensure the child and family’s safety. Safety goals should:
      • be SMART, that is, specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time limited. Don’t (inadvertently) set families up for failure. (2.2.16 Signs of Safety - child protection practice framework)
      • clearly outline the ‘bottom line’ actions that must be taken, from the practitioner's perspective, to ensure the safety of the child and relevant others in the home
      • be achieved in partnership and not place the responsibility of safety solely on the primary carers. This responsibility extends to all primary carers, adults, family and kinship networks and agencies working directly with the family. Working together and openly discussing risks, can help to increase awareness and build ‘buy in’.
      • for families experiencing family violence, focus on the responsibilities people have for being accountable for their behaviour. Support building understanding and insight to the impact family violence plays on the safety within the family.
    • Contact other parties identified in the plan by the child and family, and confirm their willingness, ability and suitability to participate in safety plan.
    • Safety Plan delays in development:
      • delays in the development of the Safety Plan (beyond the initial three visits) may occur for a myriad of reasons.
      • in these circumstances the Practitioner must consult with their Supervisor as to the circumstance in which a delay in the development of the Safety Plan is occurring.
      • the Supervisor must consider the delay In the context of the known risks, when extending the period for development of the safety plan.
      • this decision is to be recorded on C3MS and work flowed for noting through to the Regional Manager.
    • If the family refuses to engage:
      • the practitioner must consult with their supervisor.
      • the supervisor will seek direction from the Regional Manager.
      • the Regional Manager may seek additional consultation or direction from the General Manager SFS or consider a referral to the Clinical Practice team
    • Developing an individual plan for safety with the child:
      • in some circumstances it may be necessary for the child (age appropriate) to develop a plan for their own individual safety.
      • this might be in situations where the safety network for the child may be compromised if the parent was aware, further isolating the child and compromising their safety, or where non-protective/abusive behavior Is demonstrated by the primary carer.
      • in these circumstances a separate plan for safety (see APPENDIX 2) can be prepared with the child. This document is to be uploaded on C3MS and actions discussed with the 'safe people' identified within the plan. Consider using Circles of Safety with the child. (Circle of Safety and Support Tool - PDF 540 KB)

    4. Finalise the safety plan

    • Finalise the safety plan: When all parties are confident that the safety plan addresses all risk and safety concerns identified by the referrer, the child, the family and the practitioner, the safety plan can be finalised. To finalise the plan:
      • seek agreement from all parties involved in the implementation of the plan (the family, the child (if age appropriate) and any other person involved in its implementation). Gather agreement and commitment by signing or making a mark (child may wish to draw a picture).
      • record the supervisor’s name and contact details. This enables the family to contact the supervisor if they need to seek additional information or to query or resolve issues or concerns that cannot be resolved with the practitioner directly. (EIRD, Lived Experience Network, 31 March 2021)
      • record how the plan will be monitored and reviewed. This includes outlining the steps to take if goals are not working and risk continues or recommences (refer to “What if it isn’t working” section). There should not be any surprises for the family and should be aware of steps as they are about to happen. (EIRD, Lived Experience Network, 31 March 2021)
      • give a copy of the completed and signed safety plan to the parents, the child (if age appropriate) and any other person involved in its implementation.
    • Activate/present the safety plan to the family: Ask the family how they wish to acknowledge the start of the safety plan. This may include exploring whether the family (including the child) would like to have a meeting with professionals from the other agencies that are involved in the implementation of the plan.
    • Acknowledge ownership and bravery: The family must ‘own’ the plan. It needs to be in the family’s words, unique to the family circumstances. As practitioners, honour the bravery of the family working through a plan and stating the commitment this demonstrates to the children and family as something to be celebrated. (Planning for safety with at-risk families: Resource guide for workers in intensive home-based family support programs)
    • Submit the safety plan to a supervisor for endorsement: the final safety plan should be submitted to a supervisor for endorsement when completed.
    • Record the safety plan on the agency database: the safety plan should be uploaded onto C3MS.

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    5. Monitor and review progress

    • Regularly review and adapt the safety plan to reflect progress and changing circumstances: An initial review of the safety plan should take place during the assessment and case planning phase, around 6 to 8 weeks into engagement. The safety of the child must be monitored at every appointment. When assessing risk and reviewing safety during ongoing case management processes with the child and family, it is important to consider:
    • Make a report to DCP if a child is at immediate risk of harm: If at any time throughout the development, implementation or monitoring of the safety plan, the child’s safety is at immediate risk, discuss with the supervisor about making a notification to the Child Abuse Report Line.

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    Record Keeping

    Record keeping is a critical element of safety planning and should be conducted in a timely manner in ways indicated throughout this practice guide.

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    Australian Government, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Child and Family Community Australia, Planning for safety with at-risk families: resource guide for workers in intensive home-based family support programs, Iannos, M. & Antcliffe, G. May 2013

    Centre for Evidence and Implementation, Common Elements Background and Introduction, Explaining Common Elements, DHS, South Australia, Feb 2021

    Department for Human Services, Safe and Well: Child and Family Support System Roadmap for Reform, 2021

    Department for Human Services, CFSS Practice Guide: Safe Home Visiting, 2021

    Department for Human Services, Child and Family Support System Program Level Outcomes Hierarchy, 2020

    Department of Human Services, Case Management Framework, Safer Family Services, 2020

    EIRD, Lived Experience Network, Group meeting held to discuss “Risk and Safety Plans” 31 March 2021

    Gee, G. (2016) Aboriginal Resilience and Recovery Questionnaire (ARRQ)

    Government of Western Australia, Dept, of Child Protection, The Signs of Safety Child Protection practice Framework, Sept 2011 – 2nd edition (PDF 1.2 MB)

    Government of Western Australia, Dept, of Child Protection, The Signs of Safety Child Protection Practice Framework, manuals Nov 2020

    Leeds Safeguarding Children Board (2015) Guidance on the interface between Children’s Services Front Door and Early Help activity (including Common Assessment Framework CAF)

    Signs of Safety website

    SNAICC, National Voice for our Children (2017), Understanding and Applying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle.

    Turnell, A. (2009). Introduction to the Signs of Safety (DVD and Workbook), Resolutions Consultancy, Perth.

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    Risk and Safety Planning Appendix 1: Safety Plan Tool (PDF 725.1 KB)

    Risk and Safety Planning Appendix 2: Your Plan for Safety— Child's Plan Only (PDF 430.8 KB)

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    Related Guides

    Page last updated : 31 Mar 2022

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