Developing contextual responses to the abuse and exploitation of young people


Designing Violence Reduction Units through the lens of Contextual Safeguarding: Initial thoughts from London



This blog was written by Dr Carlene Firmin, Head of the Contextual Safeguarding programme.

Over the summer of 2019, the London Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) published its strategy. When the email landed in my inbox I quickly clicked on the attachment keen to see whether, as I had hoped, the work of this VRU was going to support the development of Contextual Safeguarding systems across the capital. And my hopes, on paper at least, have very much been realised.

From the outset the strategy describes violence in relation to the contexts in which it occurs. Drawing upon situational crime prevention research, the document rightly notes studies which have more readily identified where violence will occur than who it might affect. Furthermore it notes that inequality characterises contextual harm – from poverty to ethnicity – some members of our society are disproportionately affected by violence in their neighbourhoods, peer groups and school settings.

In order to address these dynamics, and fulfil a public health approach to violence reduction – that increases safety and works with communities – the London VRU has stated it will adopt a ‘contextual violence reduction approach’. To achieve this they propose a focus on key contexts referenced in the Contextual Safeguarding framework, and in particular commit to:

  • Supporting and enabling families to nurture and protect young people
  • Engaging with peer relationships and friendships by supporting young people to be the best they can individually and together
  • Building safety in neighbourhoods by enabling and empowering communities
  • Engaging with institutions and systems to provide leadership and have accountability to invest in work required to achieve all of the above

In setting out their stall in this way, the London VRU is focused on building a safer London, and through that safeguarding the welfare of young people and families – rather than solely building safer people. It rightly recognises a need to provide individual support, particularly to address the impact of trauma and build resilience; but the strategy does not lean on this as the sole – or even principle route – for reducing violence. Instead work with individuals, families and the contexts in which they live their lives are all presented as relevant to meet the strategy’s aims. A reference, for example, to both adverse childhood experiences and adverse community experiences is one way that the strategy articulates the relationship between individual experiences and contextual factors.

This start is encouraging. With the strides being made in many London local authorities to develop a Contextual Safeguarding approach, it is reassuring that the VRU with which they will work is adopting the same language. A shared vocabulary and vision is a great first step in offering a united response to harm. I very much hope the VRU will enable and accelerate what many local areas have commenced, and play a role in facilitating cross-border learning and more consistent resourcing of support. It will be critical that partnerships continue to build between statutory, voluntary and private sector organisations in local authorities, sub-regionally land Pan-London to realise the document’s ambitions.

We look forward to working with a range of London partners to support the VRU in realising this ambition. To start, we are pleased to announce that the VRU has funded the University of Bedfordshire’s Contextual Safeguarding Programme to further test and develop a Contextual Safeguarding approach in four London boroughs: Barking and Dagenham, Ealing, Sutton and Merton.The pilot, which will start 1st April 2020, will capture learning and resources that emerge from these four boroughs, to build a resource bank and training capacity for London as other boroughs develop and implement Contextual Safeguarding systems as part of a public health approach to violence reduction. We will also liaise with VRUs being established in other parts of England who, like London authorities, are seeking to draw contexts more explicitly into their safeguarding efforts.

As they say the proof is in the pudding, but for now we seem to have the right recipe to cook up a storm.

Posted: 14 Feb 2020

Author: Destiny

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