Part 2B: Approach to multi-agency assessment in child protection 78 National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland 2021 Version 1.0 September 2021 Strength-based approaches 2.247 Effective engagement to reduce risk is more likely within approaches which stress respectful and rights-based communication with children and families, build upon strengths that have been evidenced, address need and risk, and work with the interaction of relationships and factors in the child’s world. There are a range of such approaches. These are examples. 2.248 Signs of Safety (SoS) is a model of child protection and family support which is based on structured development of partnership between professionals and family members, and between professionals themselves. The model works by encouraging shared understanding and ideas about what needs to change, and by defining shared responsibilities in steps towards achieving these changes. This contrasts with approaches which depend on externally imposed solutions. 2.249 A Signs of Safety assessment is defined as a ‘mapping’. This is organised under three, or sometimes four, headings, defining ‘what we are worried about’ (the harm, danger statements and complicating factors); ‘what is working well’ (including elements contributing to existing strength and safety); and ‘what needs to happen’ (the safety plan). An SoS assessment records harm that has occurred, future danger and complicating factors, which include interacting risks due to factors like poor mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, and domestic violence. 2.250 The model integrates respectful, open-minded and detailed exploration of risks and strengths with step-by-step action to achieve and sustain change in order to increase safety. It is recognised that coercion and co‑operation can be compatible, and offering choice is significant in forming plans that will hold firm. Plain language is fundamental to forming shared agreements in stressful and urgent circumstances. Family group decision-making (FGDM)/family group conferencing 2.251 FGDM is an independently co‑ordinated process which empowers family members to shape plans for children. The process is applicable in a wide range of urgent circumstances when partnership with families is essential – for example, to develop participation in an agreed safety plan for a child at risk of significant harm. 2.252 Children and young people are normally involved in their own FGDM, although often with support from an advocacy worker. This is a voluntary process and families cannot be forced to have a FGDM. 2.253 Families, including extended family members, are assisted by an independent co‑ordinator in the crucial preparation phase before a family meeting. In the first part of the family meeting, shared purpose and parameters of decisions that can be made should be confirmed. Social workers and other professionals must be clear about concerns; available supports; and how the meeting outcome can inform other processes. The second part of the meeting is private to the family, who work through recommended elements of a plan for the child. In the final stage of the meeting all participants work together to crystallise practical steps in partnership. The principle of the model is that the family plan should be supported, unless, in the assessment of those with statutory responsibilities, it would not be safe. Review meetings are often a helpful part of the process. 2.254 FGDM is not a form of assessment and does not absolve statutory agencies from their responsibilities in this respect. However it is a way to explore known strengths and potential supports in partnership, keeping the child’s needs and voice central.