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Contextual Safeguarding Project

Project start date: February 2020

We (London Borough of Hackney) were awarded up to £2m to test ‘contextual safeguarding theory’. Working with the University of Bedfordshire to create a system in which practitioners can appropriately assess and intervene when risk of harm comes from beyond an adolescent’s family.

Project Summary


As children progress through adolescence, the risks they encounter come increasingly from outside of the family home. Traditional safeguarding systems and models of children’s social work focus primarily on individuals and families rather than peer relationships or contexts where harm occurs. Child protection processes are generally designed to manage individual cases rather than to coordinate management of cases where peer-association is driving risks. Responses to extra-familial risks have developed in a piecemeal fashion. Holistic and contextual responses to adolescent vulnerability require significant development.

Our innovation will develop a contextual safeguarding system that addresses extra-familial dynamics of significant risk and harm within a statutory child protection framework. This will involve fundamental redesign of current systems, new partnerships and sophisticated analysis of intelligence across a range of contexts.

Collaborating with Dr Carlene Firmin, the developer of contextual safeguarding theory and a range of stakeholders, we will create a system in which practitioners can assess appropriately when risk of harm comes from beyond an adolescent’s family and develop new child protection frameworks and procedures which engage partners responsible for those extra-familial settings in developing and implementing contextual intervention plans.

Through our work we aim to increase the capacity of children’s social care to identify, assess and address risks of significant harm beyond the family context, support and strengthen capacity within families and communities to protect adolescents from extra-familial risks and reduce relocation of children and families from harmful community contexts.

Project contact details

Sarah Wright

Director of Children and Families Services

Project evaluators

Research in Practice / University of Sussex

Project partners

University of Bedfordshire

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