Signs of Safety Research

The challenge of implementation in complex, adaptive child welfare systems

A realist synthesis of Signs of Safety

26 May 2023

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  • English



Implementing a new initiative in any complex system is known to be deeply challenging and children’s services are no exception in this regard. Yet understanding implementation is important to support service planning as well as to avoid inappropriate (de)commissioning. Complexity-informed Realist methods are well established, especially in health sciences research, but have seen little uptake in social work, despite calls to embrace the approach. This paper utilises a Realist Synthesis to understand and evaluate how interactions between children’s services interventions and the context they are introduced into can influence implementation and outcomes. We present six emerging programme theories on how the interacting effects of reasoning and resources in varying conditions affect implementation of a popular framework for child protection social work, Signs of Safety. Our findings demonstrate that interactions at multiple systemic levels affect implementation and provide practical guidance to inform service development and delivery. Further, we contribute testable Realist Context-Mechanism-Outcome configurations (CMOCs) and discuss how these can form the basis for a Realist Evaluation.


Published in Children and Youth Services Review Vol 150, July 2023 - accessible here

Last updated Friday, 26 May 2023 12:22:23 AM