Evaluation of MTM’s Signs of Safety Pilots: Evaluation report & Evaluation report appendices

Mary Baginsky, Ben Hickman, Jess Harris, Jill Manthorpe, Michael Sanders, Aoife O'Higgins, Eva Schoenwald, Vicky Clayton

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned reportpeer-review


Signs of Safety (SofS) is a framework for child protection practice consisting of
principles based on conceptual and practice elements. It was developed in Western
Australia during the late 1980s and 1990s and is described as a strengths-based,
safety-organised approach to child protection casework. There is a need for robust
evaluations of SofS for 2 reasons. The first is that there has been an absence of
evidence of its efficacy (Sheehan et al., 2018 and Baginsky et al., 2019), with some
evaluations that are most often referenced failing the test of independence (see Oliver,
2014 and Gillingham, 2018). The second is that despite the evidence base for SofS not
yet being strong, work conducted during this evaluation found that it is being used in
some form in two-thirds of local authorities (LAs) in England.
The Round 2 evaluation provided the opportunity to develop a multi-method approach to
evaluating SofS, including an in-depth exploration of 5 of the pilot sites (deep dives), a
staff survey, an examination of assessments, a contrast study, an analysis of national
outcomes data at an LA level and a difference-in-differences analysis. None of the
different strands of analysis found significant and robust improvement across outcomes
in relation to practice, staff wellbeing and retention, or the removal of children from their
homes. The quasi-experimental approach found no moderate or high strength evidence
that SofS positively affected the outcomes for children and families. Furthermore, the
qualitative work found that the visible changes observed seem to be down to good
leadership rather than the programme itself.
There was a lack of consensus across the pilots on the nature of SofS. While some
viewed it as a practice framework, others viewed it as one element of a wider practice
framework that might encompass various approaches such as reflective and systemic
practice and trauma informed practice. There were practitioners who saw it as a way of
working differently with families, referring to it as a value system or overarching approach. But there were also those who described it as an assessment tool or an assessment structure, and some viewed it as a tick box exercise by which they navigated their recording systems. MTM’s vision of SofS supporting whole system change towards a prevailing culture that was both less procedural and less compliant was not a priority across most of the pilots, with only 1 of the 5 deep dive pilots viewing system change as an immediate goal. The fifth was the pilot shown in this evaluation to have made most progress in embedding SofS. Senior managers believed the national organisation around SofS led to more, rather than less, prescription. They also believed they had made significant progress on their journey of change by taking ownership of it and developing a model that fitted their context.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherThe Department for Education
Commissioning bodyDfE Department for Education
Number of pages69
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-83870-136-9
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jan 2021


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