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2.2.17 Signs of Safety - Child Protection Practice Framework

Last Modified: 24-Mar-2022 Review Date: 02-Jan-2019


To guide child protection workers use of the Signs of Safety Child Protection Practice Framework (the Framework) including the assessment and investigation of concerns of abuse and/or neglect, provision of child centred family support and responding to children in the CEO's care.

Note: CEO refers to the Chief Executive Officer of the Department of Communities (Communities).

  • Child protection workers must apply the Framework from the point of duty interaction to case closure. This includes cases relating to children in the CEO's care and child centred family support.
  • When a child protection concern is received, child protection workers must discuss with the referrer:  what has happened to the child that worries you; what do you think is going well for this family and/or child; and what do you need to happen to be satisfied the child will be safe in the future?

  • Child protection workers must develop harm and danger statement when actual significant harm has occurred (or danger statement when there is likelihood of significant harm but actual harm has not occurred).

  • The Signs of Safety map (Assessment and Planning Form) must include harm statements and/or danger statements, complicating factors (if any), existing strengths, existing safety, safety scale (judgement), safety goals (family and Communities'), and next steps.

  • Child protection workers must prioritise capturing the child’s voice and consider the use of Three Houses, Fairy and Wizards and Words and Pictures to engage with children.

  • Signs of Safety meetings must be undertaken when:

    • a child has suffered significant harm, or is likely to suffer harm as a result of abuse and/or neglect
    • the child’s parents have not protected or are unlikely or unable to protect the child from harm, and
    • a safety plan is required.
  • Signs of Safety meetings must occur on a regular basis in the initial period when a child enters the CEO's care, to determine, in a timely manner, whether there is enough safety for the child to be reunified with their parent(s).

  • During the Signs of Safety meeting the child protection worker must discuss all relevant information with both parents to the extent possible without compromising the safety of the child or a parent, disclosing the notifier’s identity and/or the criminal investigation as agreed with the Western Australia Police (WA Police).

  • Prior to commencing safety planning, the child protection worker must develop danger statements and safety goals, and should attempt to reach a shared understanding of these with the family.

  • When violence is still occurring and a joint meeting could increase the danger to a partner and/or child, the Signs of Safety meetings (including safety planning) must occur separately with both parties. Refer to Chapter 2.3: Safety planning for emotional abuse - FDV.

  • When Communities is working with families to achieve the safety goals, child protection workers should involve the parents and the children to develop a ‘Words and Pictures’ to explain to the child what has happened that led to the serious child protection concerns.

  • All safety plans must be based on straight forward behavioural safety goals that describe what we need to see the parents doing to keep their child safe.

  • Safety plans must be written in clear and straightforward language that is understood by all children and adults involved in the safety network.

  • Safety plans must state how the plan will be monitored and reviewed in relation to the safety goals.

  • The team leader and/or district director must endorse the safety goals and plans.

  • Contact plans must support the safety/family goals and safety plan.

  • When working with children in the CEO’s care, child protection workers must develop a ‘Words and Pictures’ explanation with the parents within three months of the child entering provisional protection and care to explain to the child the reasons for Communities' and the Children's Court’s (the Court) decision that the child could not live with their parents.


Process Maps
Not applicable

Information and Instructions

  • Questioning approach
  • Signs of safety mapping
  • Next steps - safety planning
  • Working with children
  • Appreciative Inquiry
  • Documentation
  • Questioning approach

    The questioning approach is used in all aspects of the Framework, including signs of safety mapping, safety planning, working with children and Appreciative Inquiry.

    Refer to the following (in related resources) for further information:

    • EARS prompts to develop a questioning approach
    • Types of questions and examples
    • Suggested questions when working with Aboriginal people, and 
    • Skilful use of authority.

    Signs of safety mapping

    A Signs of Safety (SofS) meeting is a process of ongoing assessment to gather information, undertake analysis and reach a judgement at a point in time.

    A SofS meeting can be undertaken:

    • as an internal process to clarify what Communities is worried about before going out and talking to the family, and/or
    • as an external process with the family and/or key stakeholders.

    When planning a meeting with a child’s parents and/or extended family, child protection workers must consider family dynamics, participant safety and how this may impact on the person’s capacity to participate in the meeting.

    The meeting process generally starts with ‘what’s working well’ and moves back and forth between ‘what are we worried about’ and ‘what’s working well’.  At the joint meeting with the family in particular, it may be helpful to open with the questions ‘why do you think we are here?’, ‘what do you think our concerns might be?’ This will get Communities' main concerns (what the worries are in relation to harm/danger to the child) on the table and make space to talk about ‘what’s working well’ where we begin to identify existing strengths and safety.

    During the process further information should be gathered to clarify if missing information and complicating factors are harm/danger or existing strengths/safety. A judgement is made against the safety scale to determine the level of safety for the child. This informs what needs to happen next and whether safety goal(s) and safety planning is needed. Refer to the SofS map (Assessment and Planning Form 255).

    Refer to the following (in related resources) for further information:

    • Considerations for supervisors when internally mapping a case
    • Facilitation – facilitating a Signs of Safety meeting with families 
    • Solution focussed scaling questions
    • Practice principles that build partnerships
    • Genogram
    • Developing family trees with Aboriginal families
    • Developing social network maps with Aboriginal people
    • The family map (ecomap), and 
    • Signs of Safety Meeting brochure.

    What’s working well? (existing strengths/safety)

    To identify what is working well (on the right hand side of the two columns map and the middle column on the three columns map) involves assessing:

    • existing strengths and observable behaviours that indicate protection and safety for the child, including those directly relevant to the danger statement, and 
    • existing safety including actions taken by parents and caring adults to make sure the child is safe when danger is present.

    The use of exception questions such as ‘tell me about a time when the problem could have happened but didn’t?’, ‘what did you do instead?’ and ‘when was the last time you did this?’ should be used.  

    During this process child protection workers should also consider who within the family network may be able to participate in safety planning at the next meeting.

    What are we worried about? (in relation to harm and danger to the child)

    To identify what Communities is worried about in relation to harm involves sorting the concerns into the following categories:

    • past harm to the child
    • future danger for the child
    • complicating factors (aspects of the situation that make it more complicated), and 
    • missing information.

    Since past behaviour is a predictor of future behaviour, child protection workers need to have a clear understanding of what has happened to the child in the past, including the risk of harm.

    Child protection workers may begin by asking: ‘what are the worries regarding the child that makes this an open case to Communities?’ or ‘What has happened to the child that worries us?’

    Questions need to be asked that make explicit the behaviours that are impacting/affecting the children and how these behaviours of the parent(s) or caregiver(s) are causing harm or creating danger for the children. The worries and harm should be articulated in simple, clear and behavioural words including details of the history and severity of what has or is happening for the children.

    Where there are a significant number of incidents that may overwhelm the process to develop a map, workers should focus on the first, worst and last incidents, including a description of frequency.

    Questions should be asked to ascertain:

    • the type, pattern, degree or severity and opportunity of harm
    • significant and/or persistent nature of the abuse and/or neglect, and
    • likely effect and impact on the child’s safety and wellbeing.

    For more information refer to:

    • Chapter 2.1: Assessing and Responding to Child Protection Concerns for Children in Care, and
    • Chapter 3.4: Planning

    In cases of family and domestic violence identifying harm and future danger to the child requires an understanding of the harm and possible future danger for the non-abusive adult victim. Refer to Chapter 2.3 Family and Domestic Violence for further information.

    Harm statement (actual harm)

    A harm statement is the description of who (name of person/s if known) caused harm (describe the behaviours) to whom (child) and the impact of that harm on the child. Also include relevant statements of past harm that have been substantiated.

    Danger statement

    A danger statement is a description of what Communities and others at the meeting are worried might happen to the child in the future if nothing changes. The danger statement must be based on the harm statements where significant harm (actual harm) has been substantiated.

    Where Communities has determined that a child is likely to suffer significant harm (future danger), child protection workers must only develop a danger statement (a harm statement is not required because there is no evidence that actual harm has occurred). 

    Complicating factors

    Complicating factors are issues that are identified that may make a case more difficult. Examples could include mental health issues or alcohol and drug use. These are not the actual abuse or neglect, but make the abuse worse, or stop the parents addressing the danger. Child protection workers should seek further information to assess if it is a danger/worry.

    Child protection workers may need to consult with the team leader or senior practice development officer to distinguish if the complicating factor is a danger/worry.

    Missing information

    Missing information can be related to the complicating factor and child protection workers should seek further information to assess whether it is a danger/worry or strength/safety. A frequent example is who else is in the house with the child.

    Safety scale (judgement)

    After completing harm statements and/or danger statements, complicating factors, existing strengths and existing safety, a judgement needs to be made to determine the level of safety for the child.

    The judgement is undertaken using a safety scale where participants are asked "on a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 means that there is sufficient safety for the child to stay with the parents and Communities will close the case, and 0 means if nothing changes in the current situation, the child will be taken into care, where would you rate the situation right now?"

    Other examples of safety scales can include:

    • On a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 means that there is sufficient safety to return the child to the parents’ care, and 0 means the recurrence of similar or worse abuse for the child is certain, where would you rate the situation right now?
    • On a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 is their life is on track and they have everything they need emotionally, socially, educationally and practically to continue to grow up as well as they and you could hope, and 0 means the child’s life is out of control, there are no good supports in or around the child and their life is going backwards fast, where would you rate the situation for this child right now?
    • On a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 meaning the problems are solved, and 0 means you are certain the child will be abused again and you believe we should take action immediately, where would you rate the seriousness of this situation?

    Following this, the worker can then ask, "You rated the situation a 3, what can be done to increase the situation to a 4?" The use of a scaling question here could give information about possible actions that may lead to immediate progress. 

    When asking a scaling question child protection workers should:

    • write down the parameters of the scale, and 
    • in a group situation, make sure the same question is asked of each person and note down each individual judgement. 

    Child protection workers can use the questioning approach when undertaking safety scaling to determine what needs to change to move up the scale. Child protection workers may ask a supplementary question such as "what makes this a number 5 for example rather than 4?"

    Child protection workers should consider the following when using scaling questions:

    • Scaling questions can cause confusion as participants may get ‘stuck’ in the number, rather than the desired outcome
    • The description of what the number means in behavioural terms is the important part of scaling
    • Participants can be asked to imagine what it would look like to be a 10 on the scale and describe it, and 
    • The scaling should be presented verbally or visually. Options for presenting the question visually include: using a whiteboard; butchers paper; post it notes or physically positioning people on an imaginary line.

    Child protection workers should consider using the same questions over time to map movement/progress. The same questions can be asked of the parents, the child, the safety network and the other workers involved. When progress has been made, child protection workers can ask the participants "what has improved to lift your/their rating to a XX on the scale?"

    Other uses for scaling questions

    Child protection workers can use scaling questions as an engagement tool at duty, during an assessment, safety planning, Appreciative Inquiry or to formulate and review case and care plans. Scaling questions can be asked of children, parents, the safety network, workers in Communities and in other agencies, and those referring a concern to Communities. In cases of family and domestic violence scaling questions can be used to elicit and monitor the non-abusive adult victims’ assessment of the level of risk posed by the perpetrator. 

    Scaling does not have to be from 0 to 10. For children, scaling can be completed by the use of diagrams and pictures such as a line which goes from a sad face (0) to a smiley face (10). Workers can be creative in how they construct scales and they can also take other forms, for instance a dart board score with 0 being off the board and 10 being a bullseye.  Refer to Solution Focussed Scaling Questions (in related resource) for further information.

    What needs to happen?

    If there is not enough safety and protection for the child, the child protection worker should translate the danger statements into safety goals.

    Safety goals and family goals

    The safety goals are developed out of the danger statement and include:

    • Communities' safety goals - the specific behaviours that need to be seen for us to be confident that the child is safe, and
    • Family safety goals - the family’s ideas about what needs to happen to keep the child safe.

    ‘Words and pictures’ safety explanation

    Child protection workers should involve the parents and the children to develop a ‘words and pictures’ to explain to the child the following for:

    • Children in the CEO's care: why Communities and the Court decided the child could not live with their parents, and
    • Children with a safety goal: what has happened that led to the serious child protection concerns.

    Refer to Words and Pictures Article, Words and Pictures Example, Checklist, Questions for the Child and Questions for the Parent (in related resources) for further information.


    Next steps - safety planning

    Child protection workers must develop a safety plan based on the safety goals that were developed with the family, safety network and Communities, to establish how foreseeable danger and threats to a child’s safety will be managed. The safety plan should describe the next steps in working with the family towards building future safety for the child.

    ​Safety planning can also be used for children in the CEO's care when assessing for reunification and planning contact. For further information on safety planning refer to The Signs of Safety Child Protection Practice Framework - Chapter 9: Safety Planning (in related resources).

    When developing safety plans, child protection workers should give the family choices and options where possible. The goals of the safety plan need to be realistic and achievable for the family. It is important to foster a sense of family participation and choice.  It is easier to help people start something new rather than to stop something. 

    Wherever possible, talk to each family member about what we are  looking for, rather than what must be stopped. Providing specific information to the family about how aspects of the plan can be demonstrated is helpful. This also allows child protection workers to clarify with the family when they say they have met points of the plan with questions such as: ‘When did it happen?’; ‘Who saw this?’ and ‘What did you do?’

    The ongoing identification of realistic goals is a way of deciding on the particular indicators for building safety and reducing risk. Even if some family members do not agree with the facts of the case, it is possible that they will agree that ongoing safety is a worthwhile goal. Child protection workers should focus on safety in the future to minimise the opportunity for families to get stuck in discussions about what happened in the past. 

    Taking time to define what ongoing safety will look like (‘how will we know when we get there?’) helps families know the end point and have some ownership in defining it. This process aims to build our relationship with the family to facilitate cooperation.

    Safety network

    After the child protection worker has engaged the immediate family in a shared understanding of the danger statement(s) and safety goal(s), the family will then be asked to identify people who might be able to be part of a safety network.

    The aim of developing a safety network is to develop a network of people who can respond to and manage the foreseeable threats and dangers to a child. The family must identify who can be part of the safety network so that the child can be safe.

    The family must tell the safety network in detail why a safety network is necessary, what the safety goals are and invite them to be part of that network to keep the child safe. The safety network will then be involved with the family to develop the safety rules.  Telling people in the safety network what has happened or is likely to happen to the child is a difficult task and families will need support from the child protection worker to do this. Refer to Helping families to develop a safety network, Roadmap: Family-Owned Safety Planning and Building safety when harm is denied (in related resources) for further information.

    Allowing families and the safety networks to develop and manage their safety plans requires child protection workers to develop confidence and competence in working with risk. Team leaders should take into consideration child protection workers' confidence and competence when managing complex cases.

    Safety plan

    A safety plan is developed from the safety goal(s)/family’s safety goal(s) and must:

    • be developed from straight-forward statements about the dangers that are understandable by everyone, including children (danger statement and safety goal)
    • involve an extensive network of informed friends and family
    • describe specific behaviours that address the dangers, keep the child safe and protect the alleged perpetrator from further allegations
    • be created together and cover in-the-home, in-the-car (bus, train), at-the-school and at-the-park as necessary
    • be developed, refined and implemented successfully over time, and
    • be endorsed by Communities.

    Safety plan rules must be:

    • specific
    • measurable
    • achievable
    • realistic, and 
    • time limited.

    The safety plan rules must articulate:

    • how the abuse/neglect will stop or be managed
    • what will happen instead, and
    • how the network/family will know that the child is safe in relation to the danger statements.

    Refer to Elements of a safety plan (in related resources) for further information.

    The safety planning process gives the family the opportunity to show how they can put actions into practice and allows child protection workers to review this with safety network members on a regular basis.

    As part of the safety planning meeting, the child protection workers must clarify the expectations of people in the safety network, including their roles and responsibilities in relation to the safety plan. Child protection workers, with their team leaders, must continually assess the suitability of the safety network involved in a safety plan and determine if these people make it safer for the child or not.

    The plan must include the non-negotiable safety rules, different levels of consequences and how this will be acted on.

    Considerations that may be helpful when developing a safety plan for allegations of sexual abuse cases could include:

    • ability of the primary caregiver to be protective and acknowledge, understand and take action in response to the risk posed by the alleged abuser
    • identification of other people in the network who may be able to increase safety
    • alleged abuser not being left alone with any children at any time, and 
    • daily care of the child by the primary caregiver including toileting, bathing etc.

    Considerations that may be helpful when developing a safety plan for allegations of physical abuse cases could include:

    • strategies to manage/reduce stress at trigger times, such as feeding, night waking, financial difficulties, anniversaries of previous injuries or deaths, unexpected illness
    • management and monitoring of medical care and treatment for injuries or illness, and 
    • agreement to minimise the use of rough play.

    Considerations that may be helpful when developing a safety plan for allegations of abuse and neglect cases where family and domestic violence is still occurring and/or escalating could include:

    • strategies to increase safety for the non-abusive adult victim and child in the home and external environments
    • mechanisms for monitoring and changing or containing the behaviour of the perpetrator
    • developing a personal safety plan for the non-abusive adult victim
    • partnering with other agencies and non-government organisations (where appropriate) to manage the identified risks, and 
    • carefully planning and managing risks around separation, particularly if there is Family Court involvement and/or child contact arrangements.

    Reviewing the safety plan

    Child protection workers must review the plan and consider actions taken by the family to reduce danger and improve safety.

    Child protection workers and the family need to consider:

    • the age and vulnerability of the child in determining how often the plan needs to be reviewed
    • how progress, both positive and negative will be tracked, and 
    • what to do if there are immediate concerns for the safety of the child prior to the next review date.

    The frequency of the review will be determined based on the needs of the case. When new information is received the safety plan will need to be reviewed


    Working with children

    There are some useful resources available for child protection workers to involve the child in the assessment and in case planning for children in the CEO's care. Refer to Talking with Children (in related resources) for further information on the considerations of working with children and complete the consent form on the last page.

    The following related resources should be used to help children understand why professionals are intervening in their lives and in safety planning. The working with children resources include:

    • ​Fairy and Wizard tools: a variation of the Signs of Safety assessment and planning form and the Three Houses Forms. The focus remains on what worries the child, what is good in their lives and what would they like to see or have happen. For further information refer to:
  • Fairy and Wizard – prompts and considerations, and 
  • Fairy and Wizard Form.
  • Words and Pictures: a process for explanation about serious child protection concerns to children and young people that involves the use of words and pictures that the child understands. This process is used with children who have come into care or have a safety plan in place. For further information refer to: 
  • Words and Pictures - Article
  • Words and Pictures - Example
  • Words and Pictures - Checklist
  • Words and Pictures - Questions for the Child, and
  • Words and Pictures - Questions for the Parent.
  • Three Houses tools: a practical method of undertaking child protection assessments with children and young people. For further information about three houses and the alternative turtle form refer to:
  • Three Houses – a tool for gathering information 
  • Three Houses Version 1, and
  • Three Houses Version 2.
  • When interviewing Aboriginal children or those from culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) backgrounds, references to mystical or magical imagery such as wizards or fairies may cause fear or confusion, due to different cultural and spiritual beliefs. Child protection workers should check for culturally appropriate or relevant symbols and adapt their interview scripts accordingly.

    Where English language barriers exist, asking children about their 'dreams' may cause confusion or anxiety if they only understand this in the context of sleep. Explain the purpose of the questions to the interpreter beforehand and ask them to provide an accurate translation with the right context. Use simple and clear language when asking about wishes or hopes for the future, to minimise confusion. For further information refer to Language services - managing interpreter issues in child protection practice in related resources.

    Child protection workers should refer to to the Principal Policy and Planning Officer, Cultural Diversity (head office) for additional information about cultural and/or religious issues that should be considered for engaging effectively with CaLD communities.


    Appreciative Inquiry

    Appreciative Inquiry (AI) assumes that there is something good/positive/successful that has occurred when working with the family. The process involves the search for specific details regarding what happened to lead to the positive outcome and the role of the person involved.

    Signs of Safety utilises the AI technique as a tool for enabling family experience and worker’s practice wisdom to inform the ongoing growth and development of practice depth. Using the EARS prompts to develop a questioning approach (in related resources) child protection workers, colleagues or supervisors ask questions that help child protection workers or family members reflect on and describe in increasing detail what they have done well, how they came to do it and what challenges they have overcome.

    Purpose of an AI

    The purpose of AI is to:

    • encourage reflective practice to build practice depth by exploring what happened, what behaviours took place and what strategies were involved, in an effort to do more of the same and build on this for the future
    • share good practice within a team to promote team learning and best practice
    • acknowledge what is going well, as a way of building relationships that enable everyone to talk more constructively about the difficult things, and 
    • build hope, energy and confidence for working on the difficult things.

    Planning and participating in an AI

    AI can occur as part of supervision, in team meetings, or in a separate meeting. AI involves an interviewee and facilitator and is enhanced by the participation of others as observers.

    Recording and consent

    Consideration should be given to video recording an AI to promote learning. A video recording provides a useful reflection tool for the interviewee and facilitator and can be used as a staff training tool.

    Informed consent must be sought prior to video recording an AI and agreement on the future use of the video should be discussed and noted. It should also be acknowledged that the interviewee and facilitator have the option to withdraw consent at any stage. A notation should be included on the AI video acknowledging consents have been received and who the target audience is.


    An effective AI relies on the skill of the facilitator asking the questions and managing the process. For further information on the questioning approach refer to the following related resources:

    • EARS prompts to develop a questioning approach
    • Types of questions and examples
    • Suggested questions when working with Aboriginal people, and
    • Solution Focussed Scaling Questions.

    The facilitator needs to set and provide a safe environment for all staff. Facilitators should refer to Appreciative Inquiry Guide (in related resources) for further information about the role of a facilitator and considerations when planning an AI.

    The facilitator may find it helpful to have a support person who can provide advice and guidance.


    Observers play a critical role, identifying good questions asked and good descriptions of behaviour. Observers are active participants and should make notes by using the resource Appreciative Inquiry Participant Notes to help provide feedback at the end.

    Undertaking an AI with children, family members and key stakeholders

    Undertaking an AI with children, family members and key stakeholders needs to be comprehensively planned, with consideration given to the purpose of the AI and any individual needs. If the AI is to be recorded child protection workers should complete Form 141. Where the child is in the CEO's care, a director of case practice needs to provide approval for filmed material to be shown.



    All SofS work undertaken by the child protection worker must be recorded on the child’s file. This can include scanning handwritten documents to Objective or typing up exact copies of handwritten documents. Refer to Objective Naming Conventions for Signs of Safety Documents (in related resources) for further information.

    Documents which should be saved on the file include:

    • SofS map (Assessment and Planning Form)
    • pre-birth or pre-hearing mapping
    • review of SofS mapping
    • safety planning
    • review of safety planning
    • Words and Pictures
    • Three Houses
    • Fairy and Wizards, and
    • other information documented in a file note.

    Documentation should include an analysis of the information captured and can be written by the child protection worker or the facilitator of the meeting. The analysis of the information should be shared with the family/key stakeholders and placed onto the child's file.

    When undertaking a review of a SofS meeting (including safety planning), the review should be recorded as a new stand-alone document and references made to the previous map or plan where relevant.