Developing contextual responses to the abuse and exploitation of young people


Looking back on 2019: a year of growth and change for Contextual Safeguarding



2019 has been a year of significant growth in the Contextual Safeguarding programme. Our team is more than four times the size it was this time last year. Likewise, the number of areas testing Contextual Safeguarding or adopting the approach has grown beyond anything we could have anticipated. 10 sites are formally testing, and a further 10 are implementing outside of tests or via the design of contextual interventions, and a further 18 are in touch with us as they prepare to embark on the approach. Violence Reduction Units in a number of areas have expressed an interest in using Contextual Safeguarding in the design of their work. We have undertaken conversations with leaders in Wales and Scotland as they explore the relevance of the approach for their child protection systems. We are also starting to think about Contextual Safeguarding in other elements of children’s services beyond statutory children’s social care support –including in early help, youth work and youth justice settings. As the approach scales, diffuses and broadens we learn about its potential, and its pitfalls, and continue to document and share these via our practice network. The size of our practice community ensures the continued richness of the approach – and that we have learnt so much about the practice implications of the framework in 2019.

We’re lucky to be part of the ever-growing web of governance arrangements and to witness such interesting conversations. From the first VCS Implementation Group in January 2019, where VCS organisations deliberated the long term implications of Contextual Safeguarding, to the first Local Authority Implementation Group in September 2019 where over twenty local authorities sent representatives to discuss common themes arising from championing a Contextual Safeguarding approach in their local authority. It’s been fantastic to observe the reach of the Contextual Safeguarding Programme rapidly spread across the UK (and even internationally!) and look forward to seeing what happens in 2020.

We’ve just spent the last 6 months working with our 5 scale-up sites (Bristol, Kent, Knowsley, Swansea and Wiltshire) mapping out their current approach to extra-familial harm through a range of practice observations and meetings with practitioners and teams. We’ve been warmly welcomed into each site, and it’s been great to see how enthusiastic the sites are for Contextual Safeguarding, and the innovative practice taking place! It’s been really interesting to see the regional variations to extra-familial harm and system responses. Nationally we’re seeing variations of the types of harm young people are experiencing; as well as the different responses to child protection plans. For example, in some places, criminal exploitation that has its roots within families is more prevalent than other places. It has been especially interesting to reflect on how large rural areas overcome challenges, and to that extent – we’ve reflected that implementing change at scale can be especially complex in large geographical areas. We have also welcomed two new members to the team, Clive Diaz (Senior Research Fellow) & Vanessa Bradbury (Research Assistant), who are both thrilled to be joining the momentum of this project.

Also, over the last year we’ve been working with 16 schools across England, extending our study into harmful sexual behaviour in schools, as part of the Beyond Referrals 2 project. We’ve been fortunate enough to speak with young people about their thoughts and ideas about how schools can address sexual harm. We’ve worked with a diverse range of schools, this time particularly prioritising young people with special educational needs. Initial findings reveal the extent of sexual harm in schools and the challenges of school responses. From the pervasiveness of victim blaming, to the challenges of zero tolerance policies, and the need for space for young people to reflect and voice these issues and the response they deem important for schools to implement.

We’ve also been working on two projects in order to understand the nature of and response to extra-familial harm. The first is an evaluation of Rescue and Response, a pan-London safeguarding partnership set up to identify and support young people who are affected by ‘county lines’. We have been getting to know the project and learning from practitioners about the challenges of safeguarding young people from the harms associated with ‘county lines’; challenges that are amplified in a context of service cuts and austerity. The second project is ‘Securing Safety’: a national study into the rate, cost and impact of relocation as a response to extra-familial harm in adolescents. We have distributed a survey to 20 local authorities who have worked very hard to get data back to us on the rate at which relocation is used in their local area. We’d like to say a massive thank you to all the staff at those local authorities who have manually sourced and inputted data over a period of two months – it wasn’t an easy task! Both projects have left us reflecting on local and national responses to extra-familial harm; how these forms of harm are recorded through social care systems, what resources are required to keep young people safe and how local areas can work with families and communities to create long-lasting responses that tackle not just individual experiences of harm, but the social conditions that underpin multiple forms of harm for multiple young people.

In addition to this, we’ve learnt so much from the practitioners we’re working with in Hackney, Hounslow and Safer London. In Hackney we’ve been working hard to consolidate the project’s learning over the last two years, and to transfer ownership for Contextual Safeguarding to ‘business as usual’ teams. To be useful to incredibly busy teams across Children’s Services, the learning and resources need to be as simple and streamlined as possible – to help us see young people, and our work to safeguard them, through a lens that foregrounds and targets the contexts of extra-familial harm. I think that the ‘peer group triangle’ has real potential to make meetings about multiple, connected young people more helpful for everyone – practitioners and the young people discussed. As part of the embedding work in Hackney, we’ve been working with case management systems to embed Contextual Safeguarding. Given how important these systems are for organising Children’s Services’ work, this could have big implications for what Contextual Safeguarding practice looks like across the country, which highlights the importance of consultation and testing.

Further to this, Hounslow’s PEACE project is a great opportunity to think about Contextual Safeguarding interventions with young people, and what these might look like in detail. This learning could also have broad application across sites: it could generate intervention examples and tell us more about the scope of an intervention project to create change within its wider safeguarding system.

Last but not least, the Safer London project into peer support interventions has helped us understand a lot more about the potential for Voluntary and Community Sector organisations to provide interventions for connected young people, particularly interventions that build on the support that young people can – and do – offer each other.

We’d like to thank our members for your support. We hope you have a Merry Christmas and a happy new year. 2020 will be another exciting year for Contextual Safeguarding so please keep your eyes peeled for more!

If you have any questions please contact

Best wishes,

The Contextual Safeguarding Team

Posted: 16 Dec 2019

Author: Destiny

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