SOP-Safety organized practices

Ulla Peters | 06.10.2020

The main concern of SOP is the safety of children and young people. What does this mean for the work with families? And how do we succeed in building safety systematically and sustainably?

Child care is about ensuring the wellbeing of children. But experience in child care practice shows that children are not always the focus of professionals and services. Research shows children often do not have a voice. Frequently, there are many professionals involved and they face families in distress and complex dynamics. This sometimes creates insecurity, fear and confusion. Therefor professionals sometimes do not ask the right questions that would help them to systematically ensure children’s needs and safety.

Practice models addressing the safety of children – as in SOP – were developed in Australia around 20 years ago.

The main idea is to develop practices focusing on the safety of children and to ensure that everyone – family members, professionals, youth courts – knows and understands them.

Working with families, we are looking for signs of existing safety in everyday behavior of care givers. These signs are observed and described in detail. (Turnell & Edwards 1999)

The meaning of safety varies from languages and contexts. In the English language for example there is also the word “security”, referring more to security in public space or of data. “Safety” also refers to protection and to absence of harm.

In SOP we use „safety” in reference to knowledge about trauma, attachment and resilience, about neglect and sexual violence and about relationship dynamics.

We also reflect:
What is society’s conception of children’s wellbeing?
How are parents’ and children’s rights and duties defined?
When does society interfere with families?

In SOP safety is seem as a crucial factor helping children to grow up in a healthy and successful way. Safe spaces and relations protect children from harm. Because children are vulnerable when harmed by care givers, upon which they depend existentially.

SOP differs from other approaches because of a radical transparency in the work with children und parents. A basic belief is that the best protection is created when everyone involved knows, what is going on, what has happened, who does what and what does it mean for the children. Also, transparency is used to describe what is needed to change harmful situations.

These core questions are used to describe the situation together with parents and their social networks and with all professionals involved. In that way, shared knowledge is created about harm, resources and steps towards changing worrisome situations.

This knowledge is systematically documented in a language that everybody involved understands and it guides the process of professional support. Roose refers to “participatory reporting“ (Roose & Bie 2008), in which different perspectives, agreements and the monitoring of the process are included and understood by everyone.

Although SOP methods seem simple, working with SOP is not easy. SOP needs continuous training and professional reflection, because only professionals who feel safe and well cared for are able to work with others to ensure safe spaces and relationships for children.

In the blog you will find short texts on questions in the context of SOP. These can be practical experiences as well as references to research, new findings and interesting articles and books.

Ulla Peters

The reform of child and family welfare (AEF) and the protection of youth (PJ)


Eric Sulkers on SOP