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Risk Assessment Summary (the Signs of Safety map or something equivalent)

  1. If you don’t have a written risk assessment summary, start one right away. If anyone else ever wrote one, start with that.
    1. Start a genogram and try to include all family members and friends that the children, parents and others mention.
    2. If you’re familiar with the family situation, make a list of harm, danger and worries, a list of strengths and things that were done to keep the kids safe, and list any complicating factors.
    3. If you’re new to the situation, or may be missing critical information, review the file and list the harm/danger/worries, strengths and complicating factors.
  2. Review your draft assessment with the family and make appropriate corrections and additions.
  3. Analyze the information you’ve gathered. Summarize the harm/danger/worries into statements that clearly and accurately describe the worries using words the family can accept. Invert these statements into safety goals that describe what the caretakers are doing when we’re not worried. Combine the harm/danger/worry (0) and safety goal (10) sets into safety scales. Identify agency bottom lines, if needed.
    1. Use group supervision or get help from someone with experience in your risk assessment process for your analysis, if needed.
  4. Take the safety scale(s) to everyone you can who knows the children to engage them in your risk assessment.
  5. Continue to update your assessment as new strengths and safety examples are shared or demonstrated, if new harm/danger/worries are uncovered, and as the safety scale(s) are used to gather information about risk.

Three Houses

  1. If you don’t have the children’s words, get them as soon as possible.
  2. Prepare a list of age appropriate, open-ended questions that might give you more clarity about what’s happening.
  3. Describe the three houses to the parents and get their permission. You can use the My Three Houses tablet app for this.
  4. Bring paper and colored pencils or crayons. Interview the children in a safe and private space. 
  5. Give each child a choice to start with the house of worries, house of good things, or house of dreams. 
  6. Use the paper, pencils/crayons, and houses to engage the children in the activity. Ask your prepared questions related to safety, care and supervision. Write down exactly what the child says. 
  7. Get the child’s permission to share the things the child says with their parents. 
  8. Consult with others, as needed, to figure out what to do if the child describes existing danger or doesn’t feel safe having their parents learn what they said.
  9. Appropriately share the children’s words with the parents.

Words and Pictures 

  1. If you don’t have a Words and Pictures story, draft one. 
  2. Base the story on the map. Include a title, describe a time when things were going well, describe who’s worried, tell what they’re worried about, describe what’s being done about the worries, describe any safety rules and plans that already exist. 
  3. Describe what’s happened in the third person perspective without blame or shame.
  4. Draw stick figures with word bubbles to illustrate the story. Avoid re-traumatizing those involved by drawing people reaching out for help in place of illustrations of people doing scary things. Don’t use clip art as it rarely helps tell the story or photographs that might have back stories we don’t know about. 
  5. Explain to the parents how a W&P story can help the children understand what’s happening, get everyone on the same page with the children, and clarify what needs to happen to keep the children safe in the family home. Review your draft story with the parents and make changes as needed until you have a story they’re happy to have read to their children. 
  6. Make reading the story to the children into a social worker led ceremony that opens up the secrecy that permitted maltreatment and elicits a commitment of future safety and good parenting from parents and network members. Allow the children to color in the pictures, if they want. Let the children take breaks when the story is too emotional. You can give the children red and green stop signs to signal this. Encourage the children to ask questions. Have everyone sign the story the children colored at the end of the ceremony. Make copies for everyone. You can take pictures with a smartphone or tablet if you want to leave the story with the children. 

  Safety Network

  1. If the parents don’t already have a strong enough safety network around the children, leverage them up to get one without delay. You can use safety circles to help them identify people to ask. 
  2. Accept parent’s fears when they act as if they’re scared to death to tell people what’s been happening in their family. Many parents have more than their share of reasons not to trust the most critical people in their lives. We need to understand these reasons in order to best protect children and parents as they engage in our safety planning process.
  3. Don’t let fear win. Children do best when they’re surrounded by safe, stable and committed adults. Parents who bring these people around their children are far more likely to do better themselves. They’re better and safer parents. It isn’t fair to them or their children if we leave them stuck in their fear. 
  4. In most places the laws permitting or requiring relative search for children at risk of foster care give agencies all the leverage they need to get parents to make sure children are surrounded by a strong enough safety network. We can use this authority with rigor and grace by giving parents the choice to either find network members they can work with or have us find network members for them.

Safety Plan

  1. Safety planning involves distilling the rules for how everybody needs to behave around the children to keep them safe and meet their needs. As much as possible, we want the rules and other parts of the safety plan to come from the family.
  2. Safety planning involves getting the parents and network to figure out what they can and will do to keep the things we’re worried about from happening in the future, starting with right now. This can seem hard because of our history of engaging parents in services to hopefully create some sort of change in the parents sometime in the future. It becomes simpler once we realize we don’t need to change the parents. What we need are clear and effective external rules that insure the safe care of children.
  3. The most important thing is to see safety planning as a process. We get together and make a plan. We check with the children, safety network members, and parents to see if the plan’s being followed and if it’s working. We use relationship questions to ask participants what they think others have said about the rules being followed and the plan working well. We improve the plan. We check again. We improve again. We check again. We improve. We check…

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