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“Contextual Safeguarding”

In this blog post Jo Perrin, Safeguarding Adviser at Services For Education will be looking at safeguarding in our every day lives.

For years in the world of safeguarding we have understood what risks, signs and symptoms to look out for which might indicate a child is at risk of significant harm. We know that, despite high-profile media reports of strangers harming and abusing children, the main risks to children are often the familiar, the ordinary, the “every day” situations. This means our legal processes and our practices have, to a large degree, developed to focus on risks to children in their own homes – where parental figures may have significantly harmed a child or somehow colluded in that harm. None of this is wrong and it has protected generations of children.

However, none of us live our lives in a bubble. We all encounter a wide variety of people and situations in our every day lives. Even during the strictest periods of the Covid-19 lockdown access to the internet, via mobile phones in many cases, meant that all of us had access to maintaining existing relationships and developing new ones. Since the end of lockdown restrictions many people have enjoyed their social freedoms. Whilst this is joyous, it can also be risky. Now is the time to really get to grips with the concept of “Contextual Safeguarding”.

Developed by Dr Carlene Firmin and her team at the University of Bedfordshire with the name used since around 2015, this term is now widely understood and the website contextualsafeguarding.org.uk is a great resource for all those who work with children and young people. The team identified that risks to children existed in peer relationships, schools and wider neighbourhoods, yet safeguarding assessments and interventions targeted individuals and families affected by those other contexts. Contextual safeguarding looks at how these wider contexts in a child’s life influence young people’s decision making and actions and ultimately how their safety may be impacted by the actions of others in these settings. Only by understanding all the risk areas in a child’s life can we understand the actual lived experience of the child and their full vulnerabilities.

Contextual Safeguarding as a term was first introduced into Keeping Children Safe in Education and Working Together to Safeguard Children in 2018. It is heavily linked to the increased understanding about peer-on-peer abuse and the wide-ranging concept of Child Criminal Exploitation developed from around this time. It is an approach to understanding and responding to young people’s experiences of significant harm beyond their families. Fast forward to today and many recent high-profile situations have a contextual safeguarding element. Take for example the website “Everyone’s Invited” which looks at allegations of sexual abuse in education settings – this, and wider work on sexual violence and sexual harassment, is a contextual safeguarding issue, but it is also an education setting issue. So Contextual Safeguarding is our concern in education too – it is not just something that happens “out there on the streets”. Equally social media means that safeguarding incidents that happen in the local community are often recorded and broadcast and therefore issues are brought into our schools. Children missing from education who are known or suspected to be involved with local gang culture and risks of knife-crime or County Lines activity are contextual safeguarding situations too. We need to know the risk areas in our locality – have we, for example, done a hotspot mapping exercise of our school premises but also of the local streets, to identify “risky” areas (for example outside local fast food restaurants or in a local car-park in the evening).

Do we work with other local schools and youth clubs and the local safer community police officers? Once we can identify the risky contexts we can then use our RSHE/PSHE lessons or assemblies to educate and support the children in our care so they can not only identify risk, but also be taught to proactively seek support for situations that do not feel safe, by signposting to other agencies or through your own safeguarding systems.

As part of our SFE safeguarding subscription, we have produced a new training webinar for you to use with your staff to refresh their understanding of this crucial area of safeguarding and look at how to best support and signpost to your students.

About the Author: Jo Perrin

Jo Perrin taught PSHE in schools for over a decade and held the role of Designated Safeguarding Lead and pastoral lead. She currently works as an Education Adviser for Services For Education which allows her to combine her experience in schools with a personal knowledge of child protection and childhood trauma as a former foster carer.

In addition, Jo worked as a West Midlands’ Adviser for a national PSHE resource, has delivered a presentation to the Sex Education Forum National Members’ Event and has created a variety of RSE resources as part of her role for Services For Education.

Jo’s advisory experience is not limited to training school staff as she works with non-education based organisations to support them in safeguarding and emotional health and well-being aims and is an affiliated trainer for Mental Health At Work.

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