This blog is written by Dr. Peter Yates (Edinburgh Napier University) and James Cox (Social Work Scotland) who hosted Carlene Firmin when she made a recent visit to explore Contextual Safeguarding in Scotland.
The seminars I have attended over the years have usually been greeted with comments like ‘very interesting’, ‘challenging’ or even ‘stimulating’ (at best – plenty of unrepeatable descriptions at worst) – but rarely have I heard words like ‘amazing’, ‘extraordinary’, ‘inspiring’ and ‘game-changer’ being used, and more rarely still using them myself. But these were my responses and those of delegates who attended Dr. Carlene Firmin’s presentation on Contextual Safeguarding at a seminar in Edinburgh on the 22nd May. It was a remarkable event - an extraordinary synthesis of ideas and theories ranging from Bourdieu’s social theory, group dynamics, child development, systems theory, solution-focused work, situational crime prevention, community social work, and no doubt other ideas that flew by – all brought together to produce something practical, something that sounded like common sense, something that could actually make a real difference to the lives of children and young people in Scotland.
The seminar was hosted by Edinburgh Napier University and organised in partnership with the Association of Child Protection Professionals, Social Work Scotland, Stop-it-Now Scotland and the Contextual Safeguarding Network. 120 delegates registered and attended the event, including frontline practitioners, University staff and senior leaders in policy, practice and research from Scottish Government, Social Work, Police, Health, Education, the 3rd sector and private sector.
In the seminar’s main presentation, Dr. Carlene Firmin MBE from the University of Bedfordshire outlined the core principles underpinning the Contextual Safeguarding approach, and described the key tools and practice changes that could give effect to this way of thinking about protecting adolescents at risk in extra-familial contexts. The key message was that, when working with vulnerable adolescents who are at risk of harm for whatever reason, context matters. Contextual Safeguarding is an approach which entails consideration of a young person’s environmental and social context, their peer group, the places where they feel safe and unsafe, as well as the vulnerabilities that may arise from their familial context. We need to respond to children and young people at risk of significant harm, not just significant harm attributable to parents. Contextual Safeguarding wraps around our existing approach to child protection rather than replaces it.
Carlene identified some of the key opportunities and challenges for incorporating a contextual approach within our existing framework – in particular Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) and the National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland. The presentation provoked some lively questions and discussion, and the seminar itself was followed-up by two meetings involving key policy and practice personnel in Scotland. This created a clear agenda for change that has the potential for fundamental and far-reaching developments in child protection and safeguarding practice across Scotland. For example, clear commitments were given to incorporate Contextual Safeguarding within the current revisions of both the GIRFEC National Practice Model and the National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland. A number of immediate action points were identified locally, and some local authority areas are considering piloting whole system change in light of the presentation and discussions. Follow-up meetings are planned for the Autumn, and updated information will be channelled through this website.
Watch this space!