Contextual Safeguarding

This chapter was added to the manual in November 2021.

1. Introduction

Contextual Safeguarding is an approach to understanding, and responding to, young people’s experiences of significant harm beyond their families. It recognises that the different relationships that young people form in their neighbourhoods, schools and online can feature violence and abuse. Parents and carers have little influence over these contexts, and young people’s experiences of extra-familial abuse can undermine parent-child relationships.

Therefore, children’s social care practitioners, child protection systems and wider safeguarding partnerships need to engage with individuals and sectors who do have influence over/within extra-familial contexts, and recognise that assessment of, and intervention with, these spaces are a critical part of safeguarding practices. Contextual Safeguarding, therefore, expands the objectives of child protection systems in recognition that young people are vulnerable to abuse beyond their front doors.

Contextual Safeguarding shifts the child protection emphasis to include family dynamics as well as peer relations, schools and other environments such as community locations. Contextual Safeguarding seeks to identify and respond to harm and abuse posed to young people outside their home, either from adults or other young people. As individuals move from early childhood and into adolescence they spend increasing amounts of time socialising independently of their families. During this time the nature of young people’s schools, neighbourhoods, and social media platforms and the relationships that they form in these settings, inform the extent to which they encounter protection or abuse.

These extra-familial threats might arise at school and other educational establishments, from within peer groups, or more widely from within the wider community and/or online.

These threats can take a variety of different forms and children can be vulnerable to multiple threats, including: exploitation by criminal gangs and organised crime groups such as county lines; trafficking, online abuse; sexual exploitation and the influences of extremism leading to radicalisation.

The exploitation of children is child abuse and is completely unacceptable; the only effective way to tackle the exploitation of children is via effective multi-agency and partnership working. Bedfordshire will work together to implement a Contextual Safeguarding approach to mitigate the risks to children and young people by reducing the incidence of missing episodes and safeguard children and young people from child exploitation, trafficking and modern-day slavery. (Bedfordshire Violence and Exploitation Strategic Response – Dr Megan Gingell Public Health Registrar & Lisa Robinson Bedfordshire VERU Exploitation Lead 2020)

2. Defining Contextual Safeguarding

Dr Carleen Firmin, University of Bedfordshire, used the term Contextual Safeguarding to describe child protection approaches that might engage and respond to extra-familial risk or abuse.

“Contextual Safeguarding is an approach to understanding, and responding to, young people's experiences of significant harm beyond their families. It recognises that the different relationships that young people form in their neighbourhoods, schools and online can feature violence and abuse. Parents and carers have little influence over these contexts, and young people's experiences of extra-familial abuse can undermine parent-child relationships. Therefore, children's social care practitioners need to engage with individuals and sectors who do have influence over/within extra- familial contexts, and recognise that assessment of, and intervention with, these spaces are a critical part of safeguarding practices. Contextual Safeguarding, therefore, expands the objectives of child protection systems in recognition that young people are vulnerable to abuse in a range of social contexts.” (Firmin 2017).

For more information please visit the Contextual Safeguarding Website.

3. Why is Context Important?

We are all well aware that as children move into adolescence they spend increasing amounts of time socialising independently of their families. Peer relationships become increasingly important during this time, and these will influence young people’s experiences, behaviours and choices. These relationships are in turn shaped by the school, neighbourhood and online world in which they develop. So, if young people socialise in safe and protective settings they are more likely to form supportive and positive peer relationships. However, if they form friendships in contexts characterised by violence and/or harmful attitudes the behaviours they promote are more likely to be problematic or unsafe –however, the young people themselves may see these behaviours as a means of navigating, or surviving in, those spaces.

Therefore, practitioners need to engage with individuals and sectors who do have influence over/within extra-familial contexts, and recognise that assessment of, and intervention with, these spaces are a critical part of safeguarding practices.

4. Contextual Safeguarding Across the Partnership

Contextual Safeguarding has powerful implications not only for social care but also for agencies within the partnership. The Contextual Safeguarding Framework (Firmin et al. 2016), provides a conceptual, strategic and operational framework that identifies four key ‘domains’. A Contextual Safeguarding System:

  1. Targets the contexts (and social conditions) associated with abuse;
  2. Uses a child protection rather than community safety legislative framework to develop responses to extra-familial harm;
  3. Features partnerships between children’s services and young people, parents, wider communities along with the range of agencies who have a reach into the places and spaces where extra-familial harm occurs;
  4. Measures contextual impact of its work – and the change it creates in public, education and peer settings, as well as for individual children and families.

As such Contextual Safeguarding requires a realignment of agencies and other organisations working together to the best interests of vulnerable young people. Our response to contextual safeguarding developed has been designed to protect young people where the risks are outside of their families

In recognising and responding to contextual safeguarding issues, services in Bedfordshire have developed and re-affirmed their commitment to recognising and responding to child sexual exploitation, child criminal exploitation and the criminalisation of our young people.

The main principle that covers Bedfordshire’s response to contextual safeguarding is multi-agency working is that no one agency is able to respond effectively to these issues. We have therefore adopted a partnership approach including a range of different organisations and agencies, including:

  • Children’s Social Care (Central Bedfordshire Council, Bedford Borough Council and Luton Borough Council);
  • Luton Youth Offending Service;
  • Bedfordshire Youth Offending Service;
  • Bedfordshire Police;
  • Education providers;
  • Voluntary Sector Organisations;
  • Public Health.

The Model we have adopted is underpinned by the following principles:

  • Effective information sharing protocols managed through the Children Safeguarding Partnership will underpin our work;
  • Cross partnership information (Community Safety Partnership Structure) will inform our decision making, prioritisation and risk management;
  • Effective Contextual Safeguarding Meetings, to include disruption, mapping & safety planning;
  • We will work towards integrated multi-agency working across Bedfordshire;
  • All relevant services will use the signs to take a whole family approach to assessing and addressing need at the earliest opportunity (early intervention & early identification);
  • We will have practice standards and workforce development to support all staff to deliver good quality services through Contextual Safeguarding briefing’s/training;
  • We will listen to feedback from all stakeholders including children and families and this informs what we do;
  • We will have an effective communications plan through BAVEX so everyone is clear and understands Bedfordshire Against Violence and Exploitation.

Context

Click here to view the Contextual Safeguarding Network Website.

5. Transitional Safeguarding – Bridging the Gap

Transitional Safeguarding is an emergent concept, which aims to stimulate evidence-informed multi-agency local safeguarding systems change across services for children's and adults' safeguarding. The term was coined following a review of practice evidence by Research in Practice and engagement with the sector.

Transitional Safeguarding is not a model, nor a prescribed approach – but rather is simply a term that has been used by Research in Practice to highlight the need to improve the safeguarding response to older teenagers and young adults in a way that recognises their developmental needs. This argument is made in a briefing for local authorities, published in 2018, that draws on both contextual safeguarding and complex safeguarding as well as emerging evidence that adolescence extends into the early/mid-twenties (Sawyer et al, 2018).

A joint, independent briefing setting out the importance of transitional safeguarding within adult social work has been published on GOV.UK. The briefing describes what transitional safeguarding is, why it is needed and how the contribution of adult social work is essential to developing and embedding a more transitional approach to safeguarding young people into adulthood.

Transitional safeguarding aims to challenge, and is “an approach to safeguarding adolescents and young adults fluidly across developmental stages which builds on the best available evidence, learns from both children’s and adult safeguarding practice and which prepares young people for their adult lives”.

See Social Work with Adults (GOV.UK).

Complex Safeguarding is a different way of working with children and families to address non-traditional safeguarding issues, whilst Contextual Safeguarding offers an approach for working with contexts and communities. Recognising the importance of working to safeguard young people across transitions is a feature of both Complex Safeguarding and Contextual Safeguarding.

Safeguarding During Adolescence – a briefing on Safeguarding during adolescence– the relationship between Contextual Safeguarding, Complex Safeguarding and Transitional Safeguarding

Bridging the Gap 2021, transitional safeguarding and the role of social workers ‘A Knowledge Briefing’

Aimed at multi-agency partnerships, these small-scale Tackling Child Exploitation Support Programme projects aim to support local areas to develop an effective strategic response to child exploitation and extra-familial harm. They are designed to accelerate and add value to local areas’ existing efforts, creating space to think and learn collaboratively. Each project being published in order to promote cross-sector learning and the impact of individual projects will also be measured and explored.

The TCE program supported with assisting the local area to build the foundations for developing a community response for young people aged 18-25 who are being exploited.

The report for Bedfordshire can be accessed by clicking the link here.