Developing contextual responses to the abuse and exploitation of young people

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Considering young people's safety in urban planning proposals

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The NHS London Healthy Urban Development Unit (HUDU) recently reviewed its Rapid Health Impact Assessment (HIA) Guidance Tool. The tool is designed to assess the likely health impacts of development plans and proposals. Members of the Contextual Safeguarding and the Public Health teams in Hackney assisted with this review by considering how Contextual Safeguarding principles could be incorporated into the guidance tool to ensure children and young people’s safety. A copy of the tool with Contextual Safeguarding changes highlighted is available on the Partnership Engagement page of our toolkit.

This was an engaging piece of work which highlighted the many synergies between Contextual Safeguarding and Public Health approaches to child protection.

In recent years, the focus on protecting children from ‘significant harm’ has broadened to a much more positive approach. Concerns are now directed to supporting and promoting children’s overall development and wellbeing, and reducing risk factors at all levels, including the societal, community, the family and the child. This has widened the reach of possible interventions and implications for a range of professionals and services (Parton, 2019).

Contextual Safeguarding takes a similar approach. It expands the remit of our child protection system beyond the family setting to address harm or risk of harm in public spaces. An underlying principle of this approach is to work in partnership with individuals and sectors who have influence over these environments to make then safer. [1]

The review was thus a timely opportunity to consider how public health approaches in relation to urban planning can make environments safer for children and young people. The HIA guidance covers seven key areas of focus such as: Housing quality and design; Access to healthcare and other services; Crime reduction and community safety, etc. While initially Contextual Safeguarding seemed to best support crime reduction and community safety, it quickly became clear that it could be incorporated throughout the tool as a cross-cutting theme.


For example, planning can help design spaces to reduce the risk of young people being harmed or exploited on housing, communal or public transport facilities by reducing isolated or unlit areas. In addition to the provision of healthcare services, planning can promote accessible and safe social spaces for children and young people, such as youth centres or sports facilities.

When considering the provision of different services, it is important to differentiate between the needs of younger children and those of adolescents. The ‘Access to open space and nature’ section of the tool initially only considered play spaces and equipment for younger children. Consultations with young people, in Hackney and through other projects, tell us that adolescents feel there are not enough community spaces where they can ‘hang out’ and generally don’t feel consulted or considered in matters related to development in their communities. [2]

This revised version of the tool emphasises the different needs of adolescents across a range of contexts. For example, when considering ‘Access to work and training’, planners can consider providing job opportunities of apprentices for young people in the community. Planning should also consider the implications of certain public health decisions, such as reducing the concentration of hot food takeaways, on young people’s safety. Due to lack of places where they can socialise, many young people in Hackney spend time in takeaway shops. Increasing diversity of shopping facilities should be accompanied with alternatives for young people to have access to warm food and socialise in safety.

If planning proposals are to respond to the needs of the community, they should be developed in consultation with differentiated community groups (such as children, young people, residents, families, businesses, faith groups, community organisations). Community members and professionals working in the area all have a responsibility to safeguard young people and can positively shape the environment by acting as ‘community guardians’. This could involve directly intervening where it is safe to do so, or sharing information so that it can be responded to by others. As someone who is ‘on the ground’, professionals and users of community facilities have the capacity to notice, report and respond in partnership with others to make environments safer.

The Contextual Safeguarding Neighbourhood Assessment toolkit can be adapted to assess and develop responses to risk in neighbourhoods with communities. The toolkit contains templates, examples of community engagement methods and guidance for conducting neighbourhood observations, business and residents surveys. The Safety Mapping exercise available on the toolkit can help planners identify where residents (including young people) feel safe or unsafe in the local area.

Reference:

N. Parton (2019a) ‘Changing and Competing Conceptions of Risk and their Implications for Public Health Approaches to Child Protection’, in B. Lonne, D. Scott, D.Higgins and T.I Herrenkohl (Eds.) Re-visioning Public Health Approaches for Protecting Children (pp.65-78). Switzerland: Springer

[1]You can read more about the implications of Contextual Safeguarding for Public Health have been considered in a previous blog.

[2]See the ‘Hackney Wick and Islington through young people’s eyes’ podcast on our Videos and Podcast page.

Posted: 01 Oct 2019

Author: Delphine Peace

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