Developing contextual responses to the abuse and exploitation of young people


Implementing a Contextual Safeguarding Framework in Hackney



Hackney Children and Families Services was first introduced to Dr Carlene Firmin’s contextual safeguarding framework in 2014 as part of the MsUnderstood project, to enhance local responses to peer-on-peer abuse using contextual methodologies. Contextual safeguarding draws upon theories of situational crime prevention and multi-systemic practices to recognise the relationship between child development, relational safety and environmental risk factors.

The Children and Families Services in Hackney has since then become increasingly alert to the potential for extra-familial contexts and peer relationships to pose risk of significant harm during adolescence and the need to apply a contextual approach to safeguarding within the context of peers, social media, schools and communities.

Based on learning from the MsUnderstood project, we wanted to partner with the University of Bedfordshire to take a whole systems approach to contextual safeguarding and together we submitted a bid under the ‘rethinking children’s social care’ strand of the 'Department for Education's Innovation programme.

The ‘Contextual Safeguarding Project’ will run over a two year period and it is anticipated that by the end of the two years there will have been a cultural shift across the borough. It is our vision that contextual safeguarding will be fully embedded into everyday working practices within Children and Families Services and across the multi-agency partnership in the community.

We launched the project on 11 May. Our initial focus has been to raise awareness of the project and to work alongside the embedded researcher from the University of Bedfordshire to undertake a full review of the children’s social care frameworks. This has involved a thorough examination of current systems, policies, procedures and meeting frameworks to establish how contextual we currently are,  before developing interventions to pilot.

Our initial observations are that there are pockets of existing good contextual safeguarding practice and interventions, but that learning is not always shared across the service and the wider community. At times different groups of professionals and stakeholders are dealing with the same challenges, and the interventions implemented are not always well coordinated.

As a project team, we aim to highlight existing good practice in place, and build on this to develop policies and guidelines enabling better coordinated responses to interventions addressing extra-familial risk. We also aim to identify any gaps and ensure that new interventions are developed, for example group work, multi-family therapy and interventions informed by models of detached youth work, social pedagogy, community psychology and restorative justice. We hope to develop peer and location based safeguarding conferences that reach beyond our current child protection framework to work as a partnership to effectively address extra-familial risks.

This might mean changing our referral process so that professionals and members of the community can make a referral based on a location or a peer group, rather than on individuals. It will also involve further developing our existing strong partnerships with the Police, Health, Education and Housing, and enhance our relationships with Community and Voluntary groups and local businesses, in order to provide interventions that address risks and create safer spaces that benefit multiple young people. We hope that this will lead to an opportunity to rethink safeguarding and help us develop a shared understanding of safeguarding within the community.

We are also seeking to work in partnership with a range of other Local Authorities to transfer knowledge and develop models of practice that can be built upon in multiple locations utilising principles identified by our embedded researcher and analyst. We know that young people spend time across boroughs and also online, which needs to be considered.

We are aware that there is great task ahead and that two years is a short period. We strongly believe that our success will be dependent on building strong links with the community, learning from existing good practice within and outside Hackney, and working alongside our partners to ensure long term sustainability.  

If you are interested in working alongside Hackney, sharing your learning with us or hearing more about Hackney’s approach to contextual safeguarding please get in touch via the network. We plan to set up regular development days that will be open for practitioners from outside the local area to attend so please contact us or visit the events page on the Contextual Safeguarding Network. 

Contact for more information.


Posted: 09 Aug 2017

Author: Delphine Peace

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