Developing contextual responses to the abuse and exploitation of young people


Thank you to our Contextual Safeguarding Network members – highlights of 2021



This year we would like to extend a huge thank you to our 10,000 (and counting!) Contextual Safeguarding Network members for the work you have done to take forward the framework, the ideas, and to make them a reality. This is not without challenge, as we work together toward a radically new approach to safeguarding adolescents, we inevitably encounter ‘green lights, speed bumps and cul-de-sacs’ on the way, cautioning us to slow down, consider our direction or go, go, go! This is the title of Professor Carlene Firmin’s inaugural lecture at Durham University in January 2022 – an appointment that marked one of the exciting green lights for Contextual Safeguarding in 2021. The end of 2021 also marks a transitional point for Contextual Safeguarding, with the National and London Scale-Up projects coming to an end (watch out for the toolkit and resources to be published in 2022) and a period of reflection about the values, partnerships and projects that will make up our work from 2022 onwards, a crossroad of sorts.

In this end of year blog post we would like to share some of the other highlights of our year, work that many of you have contributed to and supported. These highlights, shared by members of the Contextual Safeguarding teams a Durham University and the University of Bedfordshire, speak to the breadth and depth of the work achieved in 2021; with an increased focus on young people’s participation, international partnerships, some powerful policy impact, and practical learning about what Contextual Safeguarding can look like. Here we go…!

Jenny’s highlights – (Jenny Lloyd, Assistant Professor, Durham University)

Following Everyone’s Invited we were invited to share the findings of our Beyond Referrals research (about Harmful Sexual Behaviour in schools) as part of Ofsted’s review into sexual abuse in schools and colleges. Beyond Referrals was listed throughout as an example of ‘what good practice looks like’. We have also finished out last ‘system reviews’ in nine Contextual Safeguarding sites across England and Wales – it’s been amazing to see all the progress that our test sites have taken to develop systems change, including routes for referring contexts, family group conferences for peer groups, engaging young people and families, and trailing a ‘Risk Outside the Home’ category of harm. Another highlight has been getting to see our team in person - and to hug again

Delphine’s highlights – (Delphine Peace, Research Assistant, University of Bedfordshire and Durham University)

I’ve learnt so much from working on the Securing Safety project that explored the use, cost and impact of out of area placements, or ‘relocations’ as a response to extra-familial harm in adolescence. This project highlighted the importance of asking young people about their experiences of safety. We spoke to them, as well as parents and professionals, about the impact of relocations on young people’s physical, relational and emotional safety – and what they thought was important to consider when a relocation was on the table. As part of this project, I also conducted an international scoping review on the use of out-of-home care and secure facilities to protect adolescents from extra-familial harm in international settings. Through initial reading, I started to spot common trends about how child abuse is framed and responded to in other countries that clearly speak to Contextual Safeguarding. I am really excited to build on this work through the Contextual Safeguarding Across Borders project, which explores the applicability and feasibility of Contextual Safeguarding in Europe and Australia. I am also excited to continue working on the Innovate Project, exploring how Contextual Safeguarding is being used as an innovation in children social care and the third sector.

Hannah’s highlights – (Hannah Millar, Research Assistant, University of Bedfordshire)

Since joining the team in April 2020, I didn't think I would be able to do any in-person engagement work with young people as part of the London Scale Up, due to Covid. It is with some relief and achievement that, with the skills of an amazing producer Tanika Trent-McSherry, we have released a podcast series sharing the views of young people about safety in different contexts. It was a highlight to be out having these conversations and recording with the different groups across London. It's so important we hear these young people if we are to help them! Thank you to everyone involved in supporting this idea to become a reality. Subscribe to the CS Spotify channel to listen!

Carlene’s highlights – (Carlene Firmin, Professor of Social Work Durham University)

We have completed ‘system reviews’ in all Contextual Safeguarding test sites over the autumn. It was incredible to track how different their systems looked two years on from when the work commenced. We also released a toolkit on our system review method so other researchers and local area leaders can think about using a similar approach to track the implementation of Contextual Safeguarding in their areas. The system review method has helped us to zoom out of the day-to-day activity in our test sites and think about how all those activities come together to create system change. I’m really proud of how all our test sites, and team members, engaged with the process to inform the next steps on the road to embedding Contextual Safeguarding.

Rachael’s highlights (Rachael Owens, Social Work Practice Advisor, University of Bedfordshire and Durham University)

One of things I’m really pleased to have done this year is co-write a practice briefing about Family Group Conferencing (FGC) and Contextual Safeguarding. This was a really thought-provoking process, coming off the back of some brilliant work with our site partners in Kent (as part of the Scale-up project), looking at how the FGC method could be utilised to address harm outside the home. Working with the Family Rights Group, the briefing explores shared key values and sets out the important questions which need to be answered if we are to continue to realise the mutual benefits of combining these approaches for safeguarding practice. I was also delighted when one Contextual Safeguarding fan wrote on Twitter that this was “probably the best practice briefing this year”, however as this was written in July I am debating whether to follow up to find out if any other contenders have risen up in the meantime!!

Caroline’s highlights (Caroline Cresswell, Research Fellow, University of Bedfordshire)

The Reach and Impact project began in 2021, which is the first attempt at evaluating the reach and impact of the Contextual Safeguarding programme nationally. A number of strategic and operational leads and practitioners have enthusiastically supported this work by providing case studies. These case studies help evidence how Contextual Safeguarding is embedding nationally, and the breadth and value of Contextual Safeguarding responses in creating safety for young people. We are excited about the 2022 launch of the new Contextual Safeguarding Network website and Implementation Toolkit. Thank you to the Contextual Safeguarding Champions who consulted with us or participated in podcasts, etc. – it will help make the final website incredible!

Lisa B’s highlights (Lisa Bostock, Senior Research Fellow, University of Bedfordshire)

Over the past year, we have been collecting case study examples of how Contextual Safeguarding is making a difference to the lives of young people. Whether developing ‘community guardianship’ via a local café where young people can report hate crime, rather than having to report to the police, or new funding for youth workers to engage and safeguard young people in the contexts where they meet, practitioners have worked tirelessly to protect young people. This has made me proud to be associated with everyone working to change the rules of child protection.

Lisa T’s highlights (Lisa Thornhill, Research Fellow, Durham University)

For me, a major highlight was to finally meet young people from all the National Scale-Up project test sites online and in person, to be on the receiving end of their generosity and wisdom was just so wonderful. Another highlight was receiving a text from a youth worker saying that the young people she supported through the podcast interviews with me really enjoyed the experience, and that being listened to and valued was really empowering for them. It was great to be able to share the learning from young people at the ‘system reviews’ and at the Contextual Safeguarding Advisory group. I loved working with the Young Researchers Advisory Panel too! A huge thank you to all the young people who contributed to the brilliant Contextual Safeguarding young people’s podcast, and our fantastic producer Tanika Trent-McSherry. And finally, I can’t wait to share feedback from parents on the Contextual Safeguarding approach as I’ve just completed my second focus group with parents.

Paula’s highlights (Paula Skidmore, Senior Research Fellow, University of Bedfordshire)

Under the most demanding of circumstances, I would like to applaud colleagues Vanessa Bradbury and Lauren Wroe, Delphine Peace, and Hannah Millar (respectively) for helping to produce the 'Extra-familial Harm Toolkit' for schools (scroll down to the bottom of the linked page), as part of the Beyond Referrals project, the set of intervention tools for the Oldham Youth Now project, and the completion of the Rescue & Response evaluation in London.

Molly’s highlights (Molly Manister, Research Assistant, Durham University)

In November, Vanessa spoke at an in-person conference presenting the findings from Beyond Referrals and preventing sexual harm in schools, alongside founder of Everyone's Invited - Soma Sara. Her presentation was a huge success and stimulated some thought-provoking and nuanced discussion around zero-tolerance approaches to harm and restorative alternatives. She also pulled it off wearing a fabulous canary yellow suit that made her presentation all the more memorable!

Vanessa’s highlight (Vanessa Bradbury, Research Assistant, Durham University)

Didn’t we only just write an end of year blog a month ago?! Where has the time gone!! The highlight for me is the sheer teamwork and support we have provided each other through this time - from seeing some colleagues for the first time EVER in person, to feeling the energy in a room full of laughter and coffee in project meetings. Some of us transitioned to Durham, which was a sad farewell to working at the amazing Safer Young Lives Research Centre (University of Bedfordshire) and colleagues, but we continue to share and collaborate across the universities. We have continued to foster amazing relationships with practitioners and professionals in our projects; seeing the inspiring work happening despite the pressures faced to every sector during this time. We have heard and seen the amazing work and necessity that youth workers play in supporting young people, and this has been highlighted consistently across our projects (Scale-Up & Beyond Referrals).

Another highlight has been fostering a shared sense of space for us and practitioners, to reflect on the tensions in working in these systems, engaging in these conversations with a sense of hope and commitment for practice. From our Making Research Count webinarWhat Can Contextual Safeguarding Teach Us about Addressing Social Inequality Through Relationships?’, to renewing calls for social workers in social justice work in our World Social Work Day blog. We are in such a unique position as embedded researchers in these spaces, and are humbled by what we learn from those we work with.

Gayanthi's highlights (Gayanthi Hapuarachchi, Contextual Safeguarding Administrative Coordinator)

It has been such a long and eventful year, I had to go through my diary and remind myself of everything the Contextual Safeguarding team has achieved in this time. For me a key highlight has been working alongside my colleagues Lisa, Caroline and Meegan on the Research and Impact Project. Having managed Dr Carlene Firmin’s diary for the last few years prior to her departure to the University of Durham, it was very cathartic to be able to help map out nationally the strategic impact both Carlene and the research team have had via keynotes, briefings and trainings over the past years. Having coordinated training for various commissioners over the last year, I would also like to give a special shout out to our brilliant training consultants Helen, Sarah, Wendy, Lesley, Esther, Margaret and Suzi who continue to deliver Contextual Safeguarding training virtually to local authorities and VCS Organisations.

Another key highlight for me has been servicing our governance arrangement meetings with national stakeholders at our Advisory Board, VCS organisations at our VCS Implementation Group meetings and local authorities from our Local Area Interest Group meetings. It is always a pleasure to be able to hear from range of stakeholders across the country about how they are embedding/ advocating for a Contextual Safeguarding approach. I particularly enjoyed hearing a sneak peek from the podcast series “Contextual Safeguarding and Young People” which my colleagues Hannah Millar and Lisa Thornhill have worked so hard on (available now on Spotify) .

Lauren’s highlights (Lauren Wroe, Assistant Professor, Durham University)

A huge highlight for me this year has been working with parents, young people, and community groups and members to think about safety, what helps - and what doesn’t. I’ve had the opportunity to do this through the Securing Safety research where the Young Researchers Advisory Panel supported me to engage young people, parents/carers, and professionals about how out of area placements impact the holistic safety needs of young people harmed in extra-familial contexts. I’ve also had the opportunity to do this through the Beyond Referrals 3 research where I’ve spent time with really awesome youth workers learning about how contextual safety is created on the ground through relationships, trust and well established (and earned) community knowledge. I’m looking forward to learning more about what a community-led framework for Contextual Safeguarding could look like, and what it can teach us about the values, partnerships and outcomes we should be striving for through 2022 and onwards. I’ve also really enjoyed editing the CS Network blog, which I will now hand over to Caroline Cresswell!


Here’s wishing all of our Network members a happy and safe holiday and New Year, thank you for going on this journey with us, and we look forward to continued collaboration in 2022.

With love, the Contextual Safeguarding team x

Posted: 17 Dec 2021

Author: Lauren Wroe

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