Chief Social Worker updates on reform of NI’s Children’s Social Work Service

Date published: 02 October 2019

Chief Social Worker Sean Holland today congratulated social workers, especially those at the frontline, for their hard work to improve services to families and children in the social care system.

His comments came as he gave an update of work undertaken at the regional launch of the Signs of Safety training programme in June 2018 which is part of a wider programme of reform of family and children’s social services in Northern Ireland.


Since the launch of the programme, 68% (1,700) of all social workers in children’s services, have been trained to use Signs of Safety across Northern Ireland. A further 500 will be trained by March 2020. More than 1,200 representatives of safeguarding partner agencies have also received training or have attended awareness sessions. More training will be provided to partner agencies over the coming months. 

Sean Holland said: “The investment in Signs of Safety is part of the ongoing programme to transform health and social care services in Northern Ireland, to bring about the changes needed to ensure that our social care system can continue to deliver high quality care focused on prevention and early intervention.

"By April 2020, we will have invested £15 million in family and children's services, including investing in the roll-out of Signs of Safety. This additional transformation funding provides a unique opportunity to deliver real and lasting improvements in the services we provide.

“In the longer term, the investment in family and children’s social services has the potential to address the negative impacts of childhood trauma that we know leaves a lasting mark in many areas of adult life and across multiple generations.

“Building on the skills and experience social workers already have, training in the Signs of Safety approach will enable them to respond quickly to the needs of children and families, identify what is working well within the family, and agree solutions aimed at keeping children safe from harm.”

Mr Holland said: “I recognise the hard work undertaken across agencies to improve our services to families and children. As part of implementation of the Signs of Safety approach, social workers across all five Trusts have been working to streamline supporting documentation and strip out as much unnecessary bureaucracy as possible. The aim is to enable social workers to spend more time in direct contact with children and families.

“Social workers working in children’s services in NI have a vital role in supporting families and protecting children from harm. The Signs of Safety approach has helped families to recognise and understand why social services are concerned about them. It gives parents the opportunity to be part of the change they need to make. We have heard from parents that they have built good relationships with their social workers. We have heard that the strengths-based approach to social work practice has helped to break down barriers between families and services.

“We have come a very long way in 15 months but we accept that we still have more to do. I’m hoping that we will learn today that we are, though hard work and dedication across Trusts, the Courts, the police and all the other partner agencies, making a positive difference to the lives of children and their families.”

Notes to editors: 

1. For media enquiries about this press release, please contact the DoH Press Office on 028 9052 0575 or email For out of office hours please contact the Duty Press Officer on 028 9037 8110. 

2. Follow us on Twitter @healthdpt

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