Developing contextual responses to the abuse and exploitation of young people

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Looking back and looking forward: Contextual Safeguarding 2020 end of year reflections from the Contextual Safeguarding Team

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2020 has been an unprecedented year for us all. So much of our lives have changed, both personally and professionally. When we started out the year the Contextual Safeguarding team spent hundreds of hours a week on trains, visiting practitioners around the country and capturing how services were supporting young people, families and their wider communities when they were impacted by extra-familial harm. Fast forward 12 months, and while we haven’t set foot on many trains since March, we have continued to ‘visit’, learn from and share ideas with you all. In fact, working through a pandemic has led us to create routes to engagement that have engaged more professionals in our programme than ever before. Our summer webinar series, reached hundreds of practitioners who were keen to learn more about safety mapping, peer assessments and the development of contextual policy frameworks. And at a strategic level we have held virtual meetings with senior leaders from Essex to Northampton, and Neath Port-Talbot to North Somerset. We have also established regional groups of practice ‘Champions’ and single points of contact from the 51 local areas who make up our Local Area Interest Network and our Voluntary and Community Sector Collective. In what has been an incredibly difficult year for local authorities and the voluntary and community sector we want to say a huge heartfelt thank you for your inquisitive, energetic and open engagement with our research programme.

Thank you

Our fabulous new Operations Team have been busy, not only keeping the programme afloat through 2020, but actively enhancing the quality and impact of our work. Our Mission, Vision and Principles statement pins down the values that are at the heart of what we do, and will keep us accountable to them. The Ops team have also gone to lengths to engage with members of our Contextual Safeguarding network to find out what we’re doing well and what we could do better to support your practice – the consultations have led to a number of exciting improvements. Watch this space. And as you will hopefully have seen – we have a new CS programme website launched earlier this year that provides open access to the programme’s history, current developments and publications. Please do check it out.

Project reflections

Our National Scale-up Project started the year working with five local areas across England and Wales – and ended with nine, with four London boroughs joining the project in the Spring! The Scale-Up team have collaborated with sites around their visions and plans for their local safeguarding system, which includes a programme of innovative pilots: such as alternative plans for young people at risk of significant harm (involving case planning and thresholds); the integration of peer, school, and neighbourhood assessments, and innovation around community interventions such as adapting Family Group Conferencing methods. Like everyone, the Scale-Up team have felt the impact of the challenges around covid-19, including the shift to working remotely and being unable to engage with sites face-to-face. But the momentum of this exciting project continues! We look forward to the completion of the Scale-Up pilots in 2021, and the start of embedding in test sites, as the team co-create new network tools and resources. The Scale-Up team have developed strong collaborative relationships with sites – albeit over a screen rather than in person – and end the year with a stronger foundation for the next phase of their work together.


It has been particularly exciting to have started consulting with young people about the concept of Contextual Safeguarding in the Scale-Up sites, where the team have started to engage young people and parents in discussions about Contextual Safeguarding – reworking in-person methods so they could be used on virtual platforms. Indeed in line with our new ‘principles framework’, 2020 has been a year for developing participatory and collaborative methods with young people and families. One way we have achieved this is through the Securing Safety study into the rate, cost and impact of relocation as a response to extra-familial harm. Following the publication of the first year briefing in May the Securing Safety team had planned to start interviewing young people and parents about their experiences of long-distance placements. However, lockdown restrictions opened up a new opportunity – to consult our Young Researchers Advisory Panel here at the University of Bedfordshire and a group of parents about the sorts of questions we should be asking, and how. The study methodology is now hugely enhanced, so thank you to those who took part and we look forward to starting our revised online engagement in 2021.


The principle of collaboration applies not only to our research methods but also to your methods of engagement with young people who are at risk from extra-familial forms of harm. As such we embarked on a piece of research with Safer London which explored how we can consider and work with peer relationships in services for young people affected by exploitation and violence. Alongside the research, a scoping review was undertaken of the current research available to understand the approaches to peer interventions. As well as demonstrating that this is an under researched area of practice, the key findings outlined that peer interventions can take various forms and are most appropriately used alongside other practice that understands and intervenes with the social conditions of abuse, including interventions with other extra-familial contexts. It also tells us that peer relationships can be protective and, for this reason, relevant to safeguarding and that practitioners can work with peer relationships without necessarily identifying all the connected young people concerned.


At the same time, members of the Contextual Safeguarding team have been supporting the ‘Youth Now’ pilot project, based within the Youth Justice Service of Positive Steps Oldham, to explore the relevance of adopting Contextual Safeguarding approaches to address serious youth violence. The Youth Now team have continued to develop and implement Contextual Safeguarding interventions across several key settings in the last year- community/ neighbourhoods; schools; young people/families; & peer groups. A particular highlight this year includes the introduction of a ‘mini’ safety audit within a new secondary school setting and on the basis of this, the team is planning some innovative focus group work with students in the New Year on aspects of safety & harm in their local community and neighbourhood. The impact of the covid-19 lockdown in March was obviously very hard for the Youth Now team, as nearly all key aspects of the direct delivery were initially halted. However, despite the very significant ongoing challenges, the Youth Now team has gone above and beyond to continue delivering Contextual Safeguarding interventions in community and school settings, whilst doing so in covid-secure, safe manner, despite Oldham being an area of very high transmission within North West England.


We are delighted to have published our findings and a range of resources from the Beyond Referrals 2 project – the project that keeps on giving! As many of you will know Beyond Referrals worked with 16 schools across four local authority areas in England over two years, extending our study into harmful sexual behaviour in schools. The BR team have worked with a diverse range of schools, this time particularly prioritising young people with special educational needs. In the next stage of this study they will be expanding the toolkit to audit responses to extra-familial harm more widely in schools and we look forward to sharing the expanded toolkit with schools in the New Year. In 2021 we will also be adapting and applying these audit methods for other universal provisions in the community sector – such as sports and youth groups. As always practical and useful resources for you all to use are a key priority for the CS team and we will be providing you with plenty more in 2021 from our Scale-Up, Beyond Referrals and Securing Safety studies.

Sharing our learning
In order to showcase the learning from each and everyone one of these projects our five day ‘short course’ has been adapted for delivery online! The team worked so hard to record teaching videos and facilitate online exercises. We have been incredibly impressed with the determination and commitment of everyone attending the course. We have loved hearing about the practical application of the Contextual Safeguarding approach with families, in neighbourhoods, schools and peer groups. It has been fantastic to see people attending the course supporting each other and sharing their experiences. In the New Year we are looking forward to hearing about how our Champions and our Essex partners plan to share their learning within their sites.

In addition to the webinar series, our project publications scattered throughout this blog post and our Contextual Safeguarding Short Course we have also published the second legal briefing on Contextual Safeguarding, the first book on the approach and a new series of briefings that illustrate the interconnection between Contextual Safeguarding and other practice or conceptual frameworks.

Welcoming new members
All of this has only been possible with the recruitment of new team members – including Lisa Thornhill, Hannah Millar, Carly Adams Elias, Lisa Bostock, Jahnine Davis and Molly Manister and seven training consultants who are delivering CS training across the country. It has been really exciting to watch out little team grow, and new and old members alike have done an exceptional job of supporting each other in our remote working environments. We’re really looking forward to meeting each other in person – and, as Molly commented – finding out how tall everyone is!


Thank you and happy holidays!
Thank you again to our Contextual Safeguarding network for your continued and growing engagement. This has been an exceptionally hard year for everyone, demonstrating to us all the importance of creating, supporting and participating in communities of care, and we wish you all the best for the holidays and a safe, connected and healthy 2021.

Warmest wishes,

The Contextual Safeguarding Team.

Posted: 16 Dec 2020

Author: Lauren Wroe

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