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Practice Guidance – Signs of Safety





The social work model Signs of Safety is in the process of being rolled out across the five HSC Trusts in Northern Ireland.

Guardians are increasingly engaged in cases where the model interfaces with the Court process.

The following guidance is based on the practical experience of Guardians across the three NIGALA offices.  The aim of the document is to provide guidance to Guardian’s navigating children’s cases through the Courts where Signs of Safety tools are being utilised.  This guidance is a work in progress and will be revisited and revised as the model is increasingly embedded.

A further aim of the document is to provide a consistent approach by NIGALA Guardians to cases involving Signs of Safety across the region.



The document addresses the Guardian role in response to identified tools and processes utilised in the Signs of Safety model.


Interface between Guardian role  and Signs of Safety

Attendance at Safety Network Meetings – Meeting with Safety Network

The role of safety network meetings is for the family to work with the social workers to develop a plan which ensures that the child/young person will be safe from harm.


One way Guardians can address the robustness of a Safety Network is by attendance at safety network meetings, where they can observe family dynamics as well as seek clarification for the purpose of their own investigation where necessary.


There are also other agreed ways in the guardian role to seek and gain assurance about the robustness of the Safety Network, ie, when the Guardian has working knowledge of the individuals in the safety network as part of their broader involvement in the case.


The role of the GAL is to assure themselves that the child is safe – so in this context the Guardian needs to assure themselves that the Network is robust, reliable and safe. This can be achieved both by attendance at Safety Network Meetings where the guardian has an opportunity to observe family dynamics and to clarify issues. 

Alternatively guardians can highlight gaps in safety as part of ongoing collaboration with Social Workers. 

Guardian attendance at the Safety Network Meetings is at the Guardians discretion.


Safety Mapping Meetings

Guardians should attend Safety Mapping Meetings where possible as these meetings are aligned with Looked After Children Reviews. As with LAC reviews the guardian is not part of Trust decision making, the guardian role is to observe and seek clarification, highlight gaps and concerns they may have as part of their own enquiries in keeping with openness and collaborative working. 


Danger Statements

It is agreed that Guardians are not contributors to Danger Statements but comment on them in the same way as Guardians comment on Threshold Criteria.




Guardian role in commenting on Trajectories.

Trajectories are Trust documents.  Guardians do not sign trajectories.

Detail of trajectory.   A shorter trajectory is more reality based.

Guardian role re Trajectory- point to areas agreed, highlight gaps and concerns in keeping with role of the guardian.

The trajectory has to be approved by the Court as part of care planning and be consistent with Care Planning in care proceedings


Words and Pictures.

Guardian role in Words and Pictures.

Guardian role with Words and Pictures- highlight effectiveness of tool, as indicated the experiences of guardians vary. Comment on whether it has been completed, highlight gaps and efficacy of tool.



 Scaling is a tool used in Safety Mapping Meetings and LAC reviews / conferences etc.

Guardians should not participate in scaling exercise in the same way as guardians do not contribute in decision making re child protection registration and decisions re Trust Care Planning, compromises independence and our focus on the child.

The Guardian has to comment in an independent way on behalf of the child; independent of both parents and Trust (Independent means independent of the local authority(Trust) and parents)  Manual of Practice Guidance for Guardians and Litem and Reporting Officers HMSO.

Parent’s perceptions of the Guardian role in the case could be undermined if Guardians contribute to scaling.

Should the guardian change their position when they have completed their enquiries– reference to gal taking part in scaling in a more optimistic manner may compromise Guardian in evidence later in the case.

Guardian role in the system is a checking and balancing role – outside of the Trust decision making group.