Developing contextual responses to the abuse and exploitation of young people


The next steps for Contextual Safeguarding



Dr Julie Harris is Principal Research Fellow at the Safer Young Lives Research Centre and takes over as the lead for Contextual Safeguarding whilst also continuing to head our programme of evaluation research. She has extensive experience of local authority children’s services, local child protection and safeguarding systems and the role of the VCS in social welfare intervention and her research focusses the safeguarding of vulnerable, often marginalised and excluded communities of children/young people with intersecting experiences and needs.

Carlene Firmin is Professor of Social Work at Durham University, where she conducts research into the implementation of Contextual Safeguarding the UK and internationally, exploring the implications for social work legislation, regulation and workforce development.

As September begins and summer draws to a close there are a raft of exciting developments in Contextual Safeguarding to sail us into Autumn. At the beginning of the month we at the Safer Young Lives Research Centre bade farewell to some colleagues venturing forth to northern pastures in the next phase of the Contextual Safeguarding journey at Durham University. This was with a mixture of sadness that we will not all continue to work in such close proximity, but also excitement at the opportunities arising across the two academic institutions for our ongoing collaboration in the future of the Contextual Safeguarding programme. Whilst developing distinct programmes of work, these will be complimentary and we also look forward to continued joint working and the development of shared projects across the piece.

We are delighted that Jeannette Adames, Carly Adams Elias, Lisa Bostock, Caroline Cresswell, Gayanthi Hapuarachchi, Hannah Millar, Meegan Scipio and Paula Skidmore will be driving forward the new programme of work at Safer Young Lives, led by Julie Harris and also supported by Rachael Owens and Delphine Peace who will be working across the two academic centres.

Here within Safer Young Lives, our Contextual Safeguarding activities in support of the London pilots are ongoing and continue to offer rich insights and learning across these innovative London based projects. We also offer extensive training in Contextual Safeguarding across a range of sectors, including statutory, voluntary and sport. In addition, we have nearly 200 Contextual Safeguarding champions across England, Wales and Scotland who are organising into regional Communities of Practice networks.

Our Reach and Impact work is also making great headway in determining where and how Contextual Safeguarding approaches are currently being embedded across the UK nations. This scoping work provides us with a rich seam of case studies to inform a future focus on developing the evidence base for Contextual Safeguarding. Our ambition over the next five years is to develop a programme of evaluation across a variety of local authority and safeguarding partner contexts in order to ascertain and capture the nature, effectiveness and impact of these innovations. If your organisation is interested in sponsoring or participating in this vital work to further evidence-informed policy and practice and better understand the impact you are making, then please do contact me at to begin that conversation.

As commissioning practice evolves in the field, another key priority is for us to identify opportunities to support the Voluntary and Community Sector in developing and embedding Contextual Safeguarding interventions and provide support in gathering evidence of their effectiveness. This is essential work if resilience to extra familial harm is to grow and flourish amongst local communities and the grassroots organisations that support them.

Closely wedded to this work is our ambition to develop our Contextual Safeguarding work with young people and those with lived experience as key partners, both as co-designers of strengths based solutions and co-producers of knowledge in understanding what works, for whom. At Safer Young Lives we have extensive experience and expertise of this across our research centre and we hope to work closely with our Young Persons Research Advisory Panel (YRAP) in starting the conversation. If you want to be part of it then we would love you to get in touch.

Over at Durham we are spending some time in September settling into our new working environment and thinking about the various ways that Contextual Safeguarding compliments or intersects with other projects underway in the Sociology Department. Carlene is joined by Jenny Lloyd, Lauren Wroe, Molly Manister, Vanessa Bradbury, Lisa Thornhill and Joanne Walker; as well as Delphine and Rachael working across both universities. Durham Sociology run a research Centre for Social Justice and Community Action as well as a Centre for Research into Violence and Abuse. There will be much we can learn from both these centres – particularly around co-produced research and social work ethics – that will be very relevant for the work we hope to develop.

At Durham, we plan to increase our focus on the structural drivers of extra-familial harm and explore how Contextual Safeguarding can be used to address these. As part of this we will commence our work to test Contextual Safeguarding in international contexts; identifying opportunities to take a contextual approach to safeguard refugee and asylum-seeking young people in Europe and Indigenous young people in Australia. We will also continue to examine the legal implications of Contextual Safeguarding in the UK; drawing greater attention to the ethics of the approach and evidencing the need for robust policy frameworks that ethically support activities such as peer group assessments.

By working in partnership with others we have all learnt so much about what is required to intervene with a context and change the social conditions in which extra-familial harm occurs. We want to make the most of this learning, sharing effective, and ineffective, contextual interventions, and reflect on what working in this way feels like for the social workers and others who have been involved. Through all of this we hope the next chapter of Contextual Safeguarding will challenge us; we want to revisit the framework that we published in 2016 and ask whether it does enough to create the system change we know is needed to create safety for young people beyond their families homes.

As well as developing plans for the next chapter of Contextual Safeguarding, until June 2022 we will also work across two universities to complete projects that are already underway. This includes analysing the data from the Contextual Safeguarding pilots across our nine test sites, to produce a revised toolkit that we’ll launch in 2022. As part of our Beyond Referrals project, we will complete work with three non-statutory organisations, a youth club, a faith-based organisation, and a sports club, to identify the levers and barrier for creating safety within those settings. We will also be wrapping up the first phase of our Reach and Impact project – tracking the reach of the Contextual Safeguarding programme across the UK and the impact this is having on both service delivery and the safety of young people, their families and communities.

As you can see, there are many opportunities and exciting developments ahead for Contextual Safeguarding at the Safer Young Lives Research Centre and Durham University and we look forward to crossing paths with each other, and with you, as we embark on this journey.

Posted: 16 Sep 2021

Author: Julie Harris

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