15.22 Contextual Safeguarding of children and young people




The conventional approach to safeguarding children has mainly centred on risks within the household, overlooking the influences and dangers children and young people face beyond their family environment. Contextual Safeguarding broadens this perspective by considering not only familial dynamics but also the impact of peer relationships, school environments, and community settings on young people's safety and well-being.


Acknowledging that children and young people increasingly socialise beyond the home as they transition into adolescence, Contextual Safeguarding understands the potential risks they may encounter from both adults and peers in these external settings and aims to identify and address harm and abuse in all environments where young people interact.


Peer relationships become more influential during adolescence, shaping the experiences, behaviours, and choices of young people while also influencing their peer status. These relationships are influenced by and contribute to the social norms of the child.

Areas of Risk


Contextual Safeguarding is applicable to a wide range of risks which can potentially cause significant harm to children and young people where the prime cause of harm is outside of the family. This list isn’t exhaustive but includes:



Dr. Carleen Firmin, a British social researcher from the University of Bedfordshire, coined the term Contextual Safeguarding to refer to child protection methods that address risks or abuse beyond the family environment:

“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)

General Principles


The following principles collectively contribute to a nuanced and responsive approach to safeguarding that prioritises the safety, well-being, and rights of children and young people in diverse contexts.

  1. Collaborative: Working in partnership with professionals, children, young people, families, and communities fosters a collective effort to ensure safety and well-being.
  2. Ecological: Understanding the interconnectedness between the environments where young people face risks and the broader social inequalities that shape these environments is crucial for effective safeguarding.
  3. Rights-based: Grounding safeguarding efforts in the principles of children's and human rights ensures that interventions are respectful, dignified, and aligned with ethical standards.
  4. Strengths-based: Recognizing and leveraging the strengths and resilience of individuals and communities empowers them to actively participate in safeguarding processes and achieve sustainable change.
  5. Evidence-informed: Relying on empirical evidence and lived experience helps in crafting solutions that are practical, relevant, and responsive to the realities of children's lives and experiences of exploitation.
  6. Tailored Approach: Acknowledging the complexity of exploitation requires customised interventions that address the unique circumstances and needs of each child or young person at risk.

Contextual Safeguarding and the Child Protection System


The child protection system, along with its legislative and policy framework, was established to protect children and young people from risks originating from their families or situations where families lacked the capacity to ensure their safety. While existing approaches address some extra-familial risks that diminish family capacity, traditional methods typically involve intervening with families to enhance their ability to protect young people from harm or relocating them from harmful environments.


In contrast, a Contextual Safeguarding system promotes strategies that disrupt or transform harmful extra-familial contexts rather than merely relocating families or young people away from them. Recognising that parents or carers may not have the means to change these contexts, the focus shifts to professionals and service providers within these spaces, who play a crucial role in the safeguarding agenda.


This broader approach expands the concept of 'capacity to safeguard' beyond families to include individuals and agencies responsible for managing extra-familial settings where young people encounter risks.


Contextual Safeguarding broadens the objectives of child protection systems, acknowledging that young people are susceptible to abuse in various social contexts.



There are existing processes in place to address child harm or potential harm, and it's important to continue following them. These processes support individualised safeguarding efforts that consider broader contexts and involve sharing information across teams and services for a collaborative response to significant risks and concerns.

Within these processes, it's crucial to identify connections between multiple incidents and individuals.

The visual representation below shows where responses typically fit within the safeguarding process:Contextual Safeguarding Visual

The Domains of Contextual Safeguarding


The domains of Contextual Safeguarding encompass different aspects of safeguarding efforts that extend beyond traditional family-focused approaches.

These domains include:

Targeting the social conditions of harm (Domain 1): This domain involves addressing the broader social factors and environmental influences that contribute to harm and abuse experienced by children and young people outside the home.

Recognising the changing nature of risks and vulnerabilities (Domain 2): Contextual Safeguarding acknowledges that risks to children and young people evolve as they transition through different stages of development and interact with various environments.

Developing multi-agency responses (Domain 3): Collaborative working among different agencies and sectors is essential to effectively respond to safeguarding concerns and address complex issues across multiple contexts.

Measuring outcomes within a context (Domain 4): Evaluating the effectiveness of interventions and safeguarding measures involves assessing not only individual safety but also the overall safety and well-being of the environments where children and young people spend time.

Contextual Safeguarding Strategy Discussion

During the risk assessment process, professionals may identify several young individuals at risk of significant harm or exploitation. Schools and other services frequented by children and young people play a crucial role in identifying those most vulnerable.

Contextual Safeguarding Strategy Meeting


During the risk assessment process, professionals may identify several young individuals at risk of significant harm or exploitation. Schools and other services frequented by children and young people play a crucial role in identifying those most vulnerable.

For those deemed most at risk, it is important to make a referral, as detailed in Making a Referral.


A Contextual Safeguarding Strategy Meeting, chaired by a Senior Child Protection Manager from Children's Services or their designated representative, should be convened.


Participants should include representatives from: schools, relevant children's services, MASH/SPOA/FDFF), Police, Youth Offending Service, physical and mental health services, early help teams, and any other relevant agencies with significant involvement and knowledge of the children and young people concerned.


The primary objective of the meeting is to consider the young people involved and assess the prevailing contextual risks.


Professionals attending should be prepared, if necessary, to allocate resources from their respective agencies to support the young person and address the identified risks effectively.


Decisions regarding the necessity of individual Section 47 investigations will be made during this session.


In cases where a specific Section 47 investigation is deemed unnecessary, a lead agency will be identified to oversee the implementation of actions generated and monitor progress to support the young person.


The meeting needs to consider the potential impact of the concerns on young people and devise measures to mitigate any identified risks.


The Contextual Safeguarding Strategy Meeting is tasked with:

  • Assessing the available information.
  • Determining additional information needed.
  • Organising the collection of required data.
  • Conducting an initial mapping exercise to gauge the extent of the response and identify young people in need of targeted support.
  • Evaluating the necessity of immediate protective measures.
  • To decide if the risks presented require a wider Complex Contextual Safeguarding Response. For example the issues relate to more than 4 children, cross boundaries and there is clear evidence of a network of exploitation
  • Developing specific operational responses, such as service provision for high-risk young people who go missing.

Professionals who need to be informed

Once the decision has been taken at the Contextual Safeguarding Strategy meeting to initiate a Complex Contextual Safeguarding Response, the Head of Safeguarding or equivalent in Children's Services must be informed. They must consider the need to inform the Safeguarding Children’s Partnership and senior leaders.

Initiating A Complex Contextual Safeguarding Response


A Complex Contextual Safeguarding Meeting must ensure that any current risks to children are acted upon immediately, whenever they emerge during the investigation and should consider developing a risk management protocol.


The Complex Contextual Safeguarding Meeting must make arrangements to convene regularly during the response to:

  • Monitor the progress of the response
  • Ensure alignment with other governance structures involved in the response
  • Review risk indicators for the children involved;
  • Consider resource requirements;
  • Consider the appropriate timing of the termination of the response;
  • Plan a de-brief meeting with the response  management group to identify lessons learnt.
  • Ensure that staff support structures and processes are in place and utilised.


A clearly defined exit strategy is essential, encompassing both the closure of the response and ongoing support for the young people involved. Safety plans will be developed for each young person in collaboration with the relevant agencies.

Directly involved staff must undergo thorough debriefing upon conclusion of the response.

Following the response, each agency should conduct a review to identify any necessary or beneficial policy changes. This review will complement any concurrent or completed safeguarding practice reviews.

The Complex Contextual Safeguarding Meeting will hold a final meeting to share concluding information and debriefing. An overview report will be compiled and presented to the safeguarding partnership.

This page is correct as printed on Tuesday 16th of July 2024 06:44:18 AM please refer back to this website (http://sussexchildprotection.procedures.org.uk) for updates.