About SOP

What is SOP?

Safety Organized Practice (SOP) emphasizes skills in family engagement, rigorous assessment, and critical thinking to create sustained safety, permanency and well-being for children and their families. “Safety Organized Practice” is an umbrella term for the blending of various solution-focused techniques, including:

  • Safety Mapping

  • Networks of Support

  • Structured Decision Making (SDM)©

  • Signs of Safety

  • Appreciative Inquiry

  • Solution-Focused Interviewing

  • Motivational Interviewing

  • Cultural Humility

  • Group Supervision

  • Reflective Supervision

  • The Consultation and Information Sharing Framework® (Sue Lohrbach, 1999)

  • The Three Houses and Safety House

  • Review, Evaluate, Direct (RED) Teams

  • Trauma-Informed Practice

Why SOP?

Historic approaches to child welfare work – agency-driven and generally relying on an individual parent to succeed or fail on their own with a boilerplate, service-based case plan – have not achieved the outcomes hoped for children and families. While some parents are able to successfully meet the objectives of a service-driven case plan so that children can remain or return home, challenges remain. Many social workers have experienced a case where the parent completed all required services, but worries remained that they hadn’t made the necessary changes in behavior to keep their children safe. Other workers have seen families make phenomenal changes while surrounded by the support of formal service providers, only to have everything fall apart once the case closes and the parent is again isolated and alone. Further, in typical child welfare practice, children and youth are interviewed and assessed, but are not always meaningfully involved in defining and planning for their own safety, permanency and well-being.

Safety Organized Practice aims to address these and other limitations of standard child welfare practice by providing tools, strategies and a framework for practice intended to achieve lasting behavior change by parents. SOP also promotes age-appropriate involvement of children/youth in their own cases, and development of natural support networks that will help ensure child safety both during and after child welfare involvement. Just a few differences between traditional child welfare practice and Safety Organized Practice include:

Practice AreaBefore SOPWith SOP
Engagement No specific approach or strategies for engagement are indicated; relies on each worker’s own approach to what engagement means; often translates to being nice in interactions Skilled, intentional use of solution-focused questions, motivational interviewing and specific tools (i.e., Three Houses, Safety House) as engagement strategies with children/youth, parents and the network
Voices of Children and Youth Children/youth are typically not meaningfully involved in safety planning or case planning Children and youth’s voices are intentionally sought out using specific interviewing tools and incorporated into safety planning and case planning
Case Plans Agency-driven, service-based and “cookie cutter;” often prescribe the same services for all parents (i.e., mental health services, substance abuse services and parenting classes for every individual) Behaviorally-based, individualized and culturally sensitive; driven by the voices of the child, family and their people; involves the support of a network
Safety Plans Frequently rely on the parent who caused the harm or risk to the child to keep the child safe Require involvement of a safety network to ensure child safety
Critical Thinking No clearly defined methods of applying critical thinking to referral and case decision-making  Provides a systematic method of documenting and critically thinking through all available information about a case

SOP takes abstract concepts – strength-based social work, engagement, teaming, assessment, case planning, critical thinking, even safety – and translates them into concrete tools and strategies for working with families. It helps social workers develop a deliberate, consistent skill set to translate these ideas into effective on-the-ground work with kids, families and their people. Use of SOP, like any practice approach, does not guarantee positive outcomes; however, it does provide a framework for best practice and a set of real-world tools that help social workers partner with children, youth, families and their networks to best set them up for success.

As an added benefit, anecdotal reports from counties indicate that use of SOP increases social worker job engagement, satisfaction and morale. Workers who use SOP report increased satisfaction in interactions with families and excitement at seeing the impact of using tools such as the Three Houses with children or Circles of Support with a parent who is disconnected from their natural support network. SOP provides strategies to let social workers do the type of work they came into this field to do.

Values/Principles of SOP

There are three primary values or principles of SOP:

Increased Safety, Permanency and 
Good Working RelationshipsImproved Critical Thinking

Achieved through:

Meaningful engagement of children/youth, families and their networks of support to achieve the least restrictive safe placement; customized, behaviorally-based plans; and shared accountability

Achieved through:

Cultural humility; authentic teaming; appreciative inquiry; and trauma-informed, solution-focused and collaborative practice

Achieved through:

Mapping worries and what’s working well to develop shared understanding of harm, danger and what needs to happen to ensure safety

As noted under “Good Working Relationships,” cultural humility is part of the core values and principles of Safety Organized Practice. All of the tools and strategies of SOP are intended to be used with a lens of cultural humility in working with children/youth, families and their networks.

Intended Outcomes of SOP

Intended outcomes of SOP, when implemented to fidelity, include:

  • Improved teaming and working relationships
  • Increased collaborative decision-making processes
  • Increased children's and youth's voice
  • Increased family engagement in collaborative safety and case planning
  • Increased understanding of reasons for child welfare involvement
  • Increased participation in case plan interventions and services
  • Increased safety for children
  • Increased behaviorally-focused interventions that meet family needs
  • Increased placements with relatives or NREFMs
  • Increased placement stability
  • Increased lifelong connections for children/youth and families
  • Increased natural support systems for children/youth and families
  • Increased trauma-informed and culturally relevant practice
  • Decreased entry to care
  • Decreased time in foster care
  • Decreased disproportionality
  • Decreased recurrence of maltreatment
  • Decreased re-entry rate
  • Decreased contested hearings
  • Increased social worker satisfaction and retention
  • Improved agency culture and climate
  • Healthier kids, families and communities


The values, principles and practices of SOP informed the development of the California Child Welfare Core Practice Model (CPM), which began in 2012 and identified practice and leadership behaviors to guide practice, service delivery and decision-making behaviors for county child welfare agencies. CPM subsequently informed the state’s Integrated Core Practice Model (ICPM), released jointly in 2018 by the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) and Department of Health Care Services (DHCS). The ICPM gives guidance and direction beyond county child welfare agencies to include juvenile probation, county behavioral health agencies and system partners for best practices for the delivery of timely, effective and collaborative services to children, youth, non-minor dependents (NMDs), and families. ICPM incorporates CPM, the Katie A. Core Practice Model, Continuum of Care Reform (CCR) and other practice approaches to provide guiding principles and standards around expected practice for child welfare, behavioral health and juvenile probation.

SOP values, language and approaches are embedded in the philosophy and practice behaviors of CPM/ICPM. In turn, SOP provides concrete tools and strategies for child welfare staff to operationalize or “live” the practice behaviors of CPM/ICPM with children and families, as well as for leaders at all levels to “live” the leadership behaviors of CPM/ICPM with their staff. CPM/ICPM is the guiding framework for the way child welfare agencies aim to practice in California, and SOP provides a toolkit for how to bring that framework to life in day-to-day child welfare work.

Integration with CFT & CANS

Collaboration with networks to assess and create safety, permanency and wellbeing is at the heart of Safety Organized Practice. We often say, “No network, no plan,” as children, youth and families need relatives, friends, and other natural supports for lasting safety. Many counties integrate SOP approaches into their facilitation model for Child and Family Team Meetings, as well as their work to strengthen and monitor networks in an ongoing way. Effective use of SOP engagement skills can contribute to thorough and collaborative information-gathering for completion of the Child and Adolescent Strengths and Needs assessment. When completed periodically, the CANS assesses changes in child/youth wellbeing. This can help to evaluate the impact of changing parental behaviors, and focus case planning on priority needs of children and youth.