Exciting next steps for our Contextual Safeguarding programme!


Since its first publication in 2015, the theory of Contextual Safeguarding has been increasingly drawn upon to review and advance the approach taken to safeguarding adolescents in the UK and internationally. It has been used by a range of areas to tweak existing tools and interventions, and in 2017 the London Borough of Hackney embarked on a systems change process to fully embed the approach within their children and families service. We are now entering a new stage in our Contextual Safeguarding Programme and we would like to share these exciting developments with you in a blog written by Dr Carlene Firmin, originally published on the Contextual Safeguarding website

This week we are very excited in the Contextual Safeguarding team.

Firstly, we are launching our ‘Scale Up’ project funded by the Big Lottery to offer three local areas the chance of support until 2022 to embed Contextual Safeguarding into their Children and Family service. Having spent a year in the London Borough of Hackney initiating the first Contextual Safeguarding system, we have generated resources, approaches and practical understanding that we now want to offer up to others. Supported by a Contextual Safeguarding hub at the University of Bedfordshire comprised of a coordinator, researcher, social worker, administrator and headed up by myself, each site will be supported to create an approach that works for them to receive contextual referrals into the front door, screen and assess those referrals, plan and intervene with harm identified in peer groups, school, neighbourhood and online settings. Building upon environmental, situational and public health agendas, this framework moves us beyond ‘thinking about children in context’ – to actively creating systems, structure and partnerships intent on making changes those contexts in order to safeguard young people. We can’t wait to see which areas want to take this next step with us, and look forward to hearing about why Contextual Safeguarding is something that others believe in.

And what better time to make this announcement than in the same month that the latest version of Working Together is published which not only references, but starts to embed, Contextual Safeguarding into statutory guidance. As was the case with the draft consultation document, a new section of Contextual Safeguarding (Chapter 1, para 33-34) remains in the published version, with additional reference to the importance of addressing the contextual risks faced by young people who have instigated or perpetrated harm, as well as those they have harmed (Chapter 1, para. 34). This section clearly states that ‘interventions should focus on addressing…wider environmental factors’ that are identified during assessment – signalling the need for intervention plans that target contexts as well as the young people that such contexts affect.

However, many people may not also be aware that a number of other small but significant changes have been made to the text in other parts of the document to embed Contextual Safeguarding throughout the guidance. The wording adopted has been taken from the consultation response we submitted in response to the draft document, indicating exactly where amendment could be made to begin the process of contextualising Working Together.

Changes made are indicated in italics below:

  • Chapter 1, paragraph 12: ‘In addition to high quality support in universal services, specific local early help services will typically include family and parenting programmes, assistance with health issues… responses to emerging thematic concerns in extra-familial contexts and help for emerging problems related to…’
  • Chapter 1, paragraph 25: ‘information sharing is also essential for the identification of patterns of behaviour when a child has gone missing, when multiple children appear associated to the same contexts or locations of risk, or in relation to children in the secure estate…’
  • Chapter 1, paragraph 56: ‘Social workers, their managers and other practitioners should be mindful of the requirement to understand the level of need and risk in, or faced by, a family from the child’s perspective…
  • Chapter 2, paragraph 41-9: ‘YOTs…are therefore well placed to identify children known to relevant organisations as being most at risk of offending and the contexts in which they may be vulnerable to abuse’.

Chapter 2 outlines engagement of wider services in child protection practices, many of whom have an influence over extra-familial contexts – such as education providers, health providers, transport police, leisure and sports services VCS and private organisations. Based on this we recommended that a bullet point be added to paragraph 3 which states that they should have arrangements in place for: ‘creating a culture of safety, equality and protection within the services that they provide’. This bullet has been added and provides a lever for considering peer-on-peer abuse within such settings, as much of the other arrangements pertain to risks that may be posed by adults or those in a position of trust.

So who are going to be the three sites that work with us to turn these policy changes into practical differences for children and families? Sites will be selected by November through a multi-stage application process. The expression of interest will close on 18th September 23:00.

For more information and all the latest updates on the Scale-Up process please visit our project webpage.