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Safeguarding during adolescence– the relationship between Contextual Safeguarding, Complex Safeguarding and Transitional Safeguarding

A briefing authored by Carlene Firmin, Jayne Horan, Dez Holmes and Gail Hopper

During adolescence the nature of the risks faced by young people, and the way that they experience these risks, often differs from earlier childhood – as do their needs. Specifically, young people may be faced with a new set of complex risks – ones not posed by families, but instead by peers, partners and adults unconnected to their families. These risks:

  • often manifest in extra-familial environments including schools, public spaces and online platforms
  • are informed by peer norms and relationships
  • involve young people perpetrating, as well as experiencing, harm
  • can present as the result of perceived ‘choices’ a young person has made and/or continues to make despite professional/parental intervention
  • often feature grooming, coercion, criminality and serious risks of significant sexual and physical harm that create climates of fear and reduce engagement with services
  • are beyond the control of parents and rarely instigated by parents
  • can lead to large numbers of relocations including children over-12 coming into care for the first time and following a rapid escalation in risk and/or managed-moves across schools
  • continue into adulthood and particularly for young people during the 18-25 transitional period

In response, practitioners, researchers and policy advisors have been developing and testing ways to advance child protection and multi-agency safeguarding practices to better engage with these dynamics of the adolescent experience. This briefing details how Complex Safeguarding, Contextual Safeguarding and Transitional Safeguarding engage with the challenges outlined above.

It is important to understand that these three terms are not mutually exclusive nor conflicting. Indeed they complement and overlap in a number of ways, and arguably adopting one approach requires attention to be paid to the others.

Put very simply, Complex Safeguarding is a different way of working with children and families to address non-traditional safeguarding issues, whilst Contextual Safeguarding offers an approach for working with contexts and communities. Recognising the importance of working to safeguard young people across transitions is a feature of both Complex Safeguarding and Contextual Safeguarding.

Finally, these concepts are not blueprints / practice models / manualised programmes. Nor should they be understood as a list from which local areas select their approach. In fact, embracing any one of these concepts arguably requires us to engage with the other two.