On October 8th 2018 we held our first Context Safeguarding Conference in a neighbourhood. Based on a traditional Child Protection conference, a Context Safeguarding Conference focuses on a particular location (such as a school, a peer group or a neighbourhood) instead of focusing on an individual child. The aim of our Context Safeguarding Conference was to provide a coordinated multi-agency response addressing the risks to vulnerable adolescents in a neighbourhood setting, thereby reducing the risks to a larger cohort of young people and the wider community. Like in a Child Protection Conference, the Context Safeguarding Conference was led by an Independent Chair and framed through a Child Protection lens.
Some of you may be aware that over the past few months the Contextual Safeguarding team piloted a neighbourhood assessment in Hackney looking at adolescent safety and vulnerabilities and the role of all members of the community in safeguarding young people. The location was chosen based on a number of safeguarding concerns identified through partnership data, including incidents of assaults, CSE, crime reports and tensions linked to ‘gang-activity’ or criminally exploited groups. Embedded practitioners conducted a contextual assessment in the neighbourhood by engaging young people, residents and local businesses in addition to core stakeholders present in traditional children and family assessments. A youth advisory panel was also set up to inform the neighbourhood assessment and was instrumental to identifying safeguarding concerns and coming up with solutions.
Bringing key partners together that wouldn’t otherwise meet
The Context Safeguarding Conference was attended by key partners including community organisations, local businesses, one secondary school in the area, the area Regeneration and Housing Teams, the local youth provision (Young Hackney), Safer Neighborhood Teams and the Hackney Learning Trust. The attendance overall was excellent and the conference brought together key stakeholders that would otherwise not have had a chance to meet and discuss safeguarding concerns. The participation of local businesses was particularly valuable – one local supermarket, for instance, played a key role in safeguarding young people who came into their shop when they found themselves in danger. In general, community stakeholders know who are the most vulnerable young people in their neighbourhood but struggle to see how they can contribute to safeguarding them. Involving them as key stakeholders in this process helped them consider how they can contribute to a safety plan for young people in their area. In this respect, having an Independent Chair as an objective lead is essential to a successful Context Safeguarding Conference: everyone has a responsibility to safeguard young people in neighbourhoods and a Context Safeguarding Conference should not prioritise a particular partner’s agenda.
Social work-led approach
A Context Safeguarding Conference should be approached from a vulnerabilities and welfare perspective as opposed to a crime prevention approach. Focusing on the vulnerabilities and risks that young people face in the neighbourhood enabled crucial conversations with community representatives, surfacing issues that would not necessarily be shared in crime reports or community safety conferences. This approach shed light on the normalisation of substance misuse, drug dealing and criminal exploitation of young people in the neighbourhood. Community representatives and businesses were aware of crime taking place but didn’t feel capable to address these issues and, in most cases, didn’t report them. The availability of community resources and the impact of regeneration in the area were also raised as key concerns. Crucially, residents felt disenfranchised from and by the decisions made in their community. The neighbourhood assessment was key in thinking about how to better include young people and their families and carers to influence the landscape of their area.
The Context Conference prioritised five areas of focus from the neighbourhood assessment:
An action plan has been developed from the assessment. Actions from the conference were varied and addressed both broader approaches and specific targeted work to try to reduce harm, such as the focusing of detached youth provision at specific times and locations. Substance misuse was addressed through expanding interventions for young people in local schools and medical practices. As well as focusing on interventions with young people measures were taken to increase engagement of residents. This included encouraging third party reporting of safeguarding concerns through the use of existing meetings and newsletters and the provision of bystander training to support the development of a network of community champions.
This Context Safeguarding Conference was a great success and a significant step forward in our Contextual Safeguarding journey. Learning and resources from the neighbourhood assessment pilot, including on how to hold a Context Safeguarding Conference, will be packaged into a toolkit and shared on the network.