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Developing the safety plan

When safety planning around parental mental health issues, identify the immediate harm indicators for the child.

The best chance to identify harm and worries about keeping children safe is with the help of their family and safety and support network.

Consider these questions when developing the safety plan:

  • Are the parents and the network aware of what could be harming the child?
  • Do the parents and the network understand the safety planning process?
  • Do they know your current focus is on planning for immediate harm?
  • Are the parents and the network members accepting of a safety plan and willing to follow it?
  • Does the parent have capacity to consent to a safety plan, if they are presenting as very unwell?

Practice prompt

Consider if the actions in the safety plan keep the child safe tonight? If the answer is ‘no’, explore other options. Past behaviour can be a good predictor of future behaviour. Look for information about what has worked before to help keep their child safe as well as avoiding a repetition of interventions that have not worked.

Safety planning do’s and don’ts

Here are the actions to consider when safety planning where the danger relates to mental health. Further exploration of these issues is necessary.

Safety planning do’s Safety planning don'ts

Talk with the family using their language about how mental health issues are placing the child at risk.

Example: Tracy is feeling really flat and can’t get out of bed in the morning and is not able to care for Tyler. Tyler has been seen playing on the road alone and we are worried that he could get run over and be hurt or killed.

Write a mental illness as a worry without including the impact on the child.

Example: Tracy has depression.

Be clear about how the worry will be managed including:

  • by who
  • under what circumstances
  • timeframes
  • with what resources

Example: Tracy agrees that Sonia (maternal grandma) will come and stay to help her with Tyler for the next 2 days. Sonia agrees to stay with Tyler and Tracy and she will call Chelsea (CSO - 3400 4000 or 0421 234 567) if she is worried the safety plan isn’t helping. Sonia and Tracy agree to see Dr Smith (their local GP) at 10 am in the morning and Tracy will talk to Dr Smith about how she is feeling.

Put in place interventions that are unrealistic, have failed in the past or that don’t address the immediate worries.

Example: Tracy agrees to get out of bed in the morning and minimise the impact of her depression on Tyler.

Example: Tracy will address her childhood trauma so that she gets well and her depression is no longer a worry.

Be specific about who will do what and when.

Example: Dr John Smith, Tracy’s GP, (10 Smith Street, Cairns 07 4000 0000) will see Tracy for an appointment at 10 am tomorrow (DATE).

Be vague about the person who is responsible for carrying out the safety intervention.

Example: Dr Smith

Be specific about the person who is responsible for making sure the safety intervention is carried out. If a professional person is involved in the plan also include the organisation and the position of that person.

Example: Chelsea Sargent (CSO), Cairns Child Safety, will call Dr John Smith to ensure he knows the plan and to confirm the appointment has been made. Chelsea will contact Sonia Jones (grandmother 0421 234 300) to check how the meeting with Dr Smith went.

Be vague about the person who is responsible for checking in on the safety plan.

Example: CSO

Be specific about reviewing the plan

Example: This plan will be reviewed by Tracy and Sonia and Chelsea Sargent (CSO) on (DATE) to check on the worries for Tyler’s safety. They will make a new plan and talk about what happens next.

Be vague about the dates for review

Example: Next week


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