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Understanding the change practitioners need to see

Once practitioners, families and the safety and support network have identified the main areas of concerns and the safety and behavioural change goals, everyone must then understand what changes need to be seen and maintained. As with all families, safety is something that is created and evolves as children grow and develop. Where abuse is a concern, families can struggle with ideas that they want to be a ‘normal’ family or that the safety plan is restrictive or punitive. It can be a process for families to adjust to doing things differently and interact in safe ways. Interventions should support families to develop:

  • skills to address harmful behaviours
  • a network to seek support from when they need it
  • an understanding of safe boundaries.

Some interventions with families do not have short timeframes and families require long term safety planning over a number of years to continually address risks and ensure the children in the household can grow up safe and well. Child protection practitioners can continue to discuss this concept during ongoing casework so that the extended timeframes of longer term safety plans, which often go beyond the timeframes of statutory interventions, do not come as a surprise.

Collaborative case plans

As practitioners begin to case plan, it is vital to identify and be clear about the changes that need to be demonstrated to show that the risk to the child has been reduced. This approach can help focus work with the child, family and community on measurable outcomes. Below are the strengths and protective factors to notice and build on when working with families where there is a risk of child sexual abuse. These ideas may need to be amended to reflect the capacities and circumstances of child and family, and their safety and support network.

Strengths and protective factors

Each individual and family have their own identified risk and protective factors. The following information is what the research tells practitioners to look for when assessing if children and families have integrated safety into their family. (Cedar Cottage, 1998; Salter, 1994; Levenson & Morin 2001; Yates, 2013).

The alleged abuser or offender can demonstrate that they:

  • are not blaming the child for disclosures
  • can follow the safe family rules
  • will not psychologically or physically harm or control family members.

The safety and support network can:

  • stay connected with the child and family
  • supervise the suspected alleged abuser or offender
  • notice and ask about the child’s emotional wellbeing
  • understand how manipulation and coercion may impact on their perception of the alleged abuser or offender, child and family
  • remain involved with the child and family.

The child:

  • is supported to develop and maintain supportive relationships with their family and community through the safety and support network
  • has developed age appropriate emotional literacy and can identify when they are not safe
  • can explain the safety plan and why the safety plan has been put in place
  • can demonstrate they can identify a number of safe people if they are feeling worried or unsafe.

The parent is able to:

  • adhere to the safety plan at all times
  • put routines in place to support the safety plan
  • understand the concept of manipulation and coercion, and explain how this could affect their child
  • notice when the child is distressed and ask them about it.

The impact of intervention and support

When considering interventions and support for families, manage expectations of change and assumptions that people will be grateful for any support. Change can be hard for people who have experienced poverty, intergenerational trauma, alcohol and other drug use, poor mental health and adverse life experiences. An important part of any intervention as a practitioner is to have realistic expectations about change and the impact we can have on families.

Self-care is also an important part of working with families and staff should be mindful of their own support options. These can include supervision, Employee Assistance Service (EAS), the implementation of a heathy work life balance and time for self-care.

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