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Signs of Safety and the Paradox of Simplicity: Insights from Research with Social Work Students

White, Caroline; Bell, Jo; Revell, Lisa


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Dr Lisa Revell
Lecturer in Social Work / Director of Student Experience


Signs of Safety (SOS) is a widely adopted approach in child protection internationally. However, very little is known about the effectiveness of students’ learning and engagement with this approach. To our knowledge, this is the first study to explore social work students’ perceptions and experiences of SOS based on training and use of the approach during final practice placements. Interviews, focus groups, and surveys were undertaken at two time points: post-training and during placement. Findings highlighted student appreciation of SOS which was perceived as easy to use, promoting clear communication, and enabling collation of information within a simple structure. However, the perceived simplicity of SOS was also problematic in respect of recording information, and in developing balanced communication which facilitated relationship building, alongside skilful use of authority. These findings suggest that the apparent simplicity of the SOS framework, applied in the context of complex child protection and family work, can present a paradox for social work students. It is vital that, in adopting SOS, agencies do not seek to over-simplify a complicated and challenging area of practice, and that ongoing support from experienced practitioners is provided to enable novice social workers to apply this approach effectively.


White, C., Bell, J., & Revell, L. (in press). Signs of Safety and the Paradox of Simplicity: Insights from Research with Social Work Students. Practice: Social Work in Action,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 13, 2022
Online Publication Date Mar 3, 2022
Deposit Date Feb 14, 2022
Publicly Available Date Mar 4, 2022
Journal Practice: Social Work in Action
Print ISSN 0950-3153
Electronic ISSN 1742-4909
Publisher Taylor & Francis
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords Signs of Safety; Child protection; Social work education
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Copyright Statement
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.

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