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Meet Lynn

"We examine the process to see what we can do to support the family"

In 2010, Lynn took on the challenge of introducing the Signs of Safety model to the Halton CAS.

Signs of Safety is a case conferencing model that brings people—staff, families, children, whoever is invested in the welfare of the child—to the table to help develop a safety plan for the child or children. Those at the table are people who will help us hold the person or people endangering a child accountable for the safety of the child.

“We look at the strengths that the family and that group of people bring and put in place ways to keep the child safe. For example, a family may challenge a parent by saying, ‘We know you have been saying you will stop drinking, but you have said it before and you haven’t done it yet. Now, we will check in daily and if you are drinking, we will call you on it and the children will come to our house to ensure their safety.’”

“This method has been shown to keep children safe and out of care, and it empowers families by building on their strengths. Even if the risk to the child is found to be too great and the child must be admitted to care, we have at least engaged the family in the discussion around the development of a safety plan.

We’ll have the conference at various times during our involvement. When a child is admitted to foster care, the conference will be within a week to two weeks of a child coming into care.”

“We want families at the table early. We want to hear from them. We want their voices shaping the safety plan.” And we want to develop permanency plans as quickly as possible for children, with everyone fully aware of the expectations, the situation, the options and where they stand. An adoption worker would also follow the discussion so that all permanency options are considered.

What happens now when a child comes into care is that court papers are served, lawyers become involved and all too often, battle lines are drawn. The Signs of Safety model challenges that process. Instead, we want to look at what we can do to bring safety into a family so that the child can remain within the family. We examine the process to see what we can do to support the family.

“The need for this kind of change was clear: child welfare has become increasingly patriarchal. With our authority, we are often perceived as directing families as opposed to working with families. Expectations the Halton CAS may have of parents to complete courses or counselling may not always be the most effective way to change behaviour.   But when you bring in the family, you find out that things are broken, but that’s not always been the case. So you may hear ‘My grandmother always kept me in line’ and when she’s on the scene, she has more influence than a once-a-week visit to a counsellor.

Halton’s diverse community requires that we consider the diverse needs of our families. We have seen how effective this model is from our colleagues in Peel. The conference model is working well there. Our perspective on abused children isn’t going to soften—our mandate is to ensure the safety of children—but we can bring in other methods and take small steps and certainly look at other approaches to safety.”

How did Lynn get into this work?

“I met a social worker who seemed to be able to do some practical things to improve kids’ lives and I thought… that’s what I want to do.”