This blog is written by Katie Latimer, Research Fellow in the Contextual Safeguarding team
Background to the ‘peers’ working definition
We often talk about young people’s ‘peers’ within Contextual Safeguarding research and practice. Often we’re arguing for greater recognition of the relevance of young people’s peer relationships for their safety and wellbeing. Whilst Contextual Safeguarding theory stems from Dr. Carlene Firmin’s reviews of peer-to-peer abuse, young people’s peers aren’t relevant only as a source of potential harm: young people can and do provide support and protection to each other.
I’m currently working with Safer London – a voluntary sector youth work organisation that provides services to young people across the city – to explore the potential for providing peer support interventions. Saying the word ‘peers’ again and again to Safer London practitioners, made me think, ‘hang on, what do I actually mean by this word?’
So I spoke to my colleagues in the research team, and practitioners I know through embedded research, and I put together a working definition. I’ve made this into an infographic, which you can see below. The graphic includes some notes, but the definition itself is actually pretty short: there are two necessary conditions of the peer relationship, relating to age and social connection.
The wording of the definition is deliberately vague. This allows it to apply to a range professional services, such as education, safeguarding and youth services. However, a ‘peer intervention’ could be designed against more specific relationship criteria, e.g. it could be made for young people who are close friends, or for young people who have a specific experience in common.
One of the notes in the infographic refers to ‘the social rules of the school’. This thinking is informed by Pierre Bourdieu, whose social theory underpins Contextual Safeguarding. He wrote about a two-way relationship between individuals and their social environments: we shape our environments, and are shaped by environments in turn. Individuals embody the social rules of the social fields with which they engage, depending on how well they are able to navigate a given space. We have a video about this, called ‘Social Theory and Contextual Safeguarding’.
I hope this is helpful! It’s not an attempt to rival the dictionary, but to provide clarity about the way we use this term within Contextual Safeguarding research and practice – and to lay the foundations for further conversations about how we’re currently working with connected young people.