“Contextual Safeguarding” is a phrase I’ve come across increasingly over the last year or so, but in discussions with professionals there seems to be a varying degree of understanding and familiarity with the concept.  Alongside Stop-it-Now! Scotland, Contextual Safeguarding Network and Social Work Scotland, we supported an event hosted by Edinburgh Napier University on 22nd May in which Dr Carlene Firmin addressed a packed room of more than a hundred professionals, researchers, policy-makers and others to explain the principles and practice of this approach. 

 The Contextual Safeguarding Network (CSN) website provides an explanation as follows: 

 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.  

 

The key message is that a young person’s physical and social spaces beyond the family are crucial factors in their likelihood of risk, and therefore also crucial to engage in helping to keep them safe.  In primarily considering the family and home environment as the source of risk, or the target for intervention, our current approach is failing to adequately understand and safeguard our vulnerable young people, in particular but not exclusively during adolescence, when the influence of school and peer groups is much greater. The CSN website has a number of excellent resources for practitioners to explore the concepts further, as well as tools for assessment and partnership working.   

In terms of next steps for Scotland, Carlene identified some of the key opportunities and challenges for incorporating a contextual approach within the existing Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) framework and the National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland. The presentation provoked some lively questions and discussion, and the seminar itself was followed-up by two meetings involving key policy and practice personnel in Scotland. This created a clear agenda for change that has the potential for fundamental and far-reaching developments in child protection and safeguarding practice across Scotland. Follow-up meetings are planned for the Autumn. 

We will be continuing to support this work as it develops, as well as considering with partners how to ensure contextual approaches are embedded in practice across the UK, as part of our work on children with harmful behaviour. 

 

A video of the event can be found here