First pioneered by Dr Carlene Firmin at the University of Bedfordshire, Contextual Safeguarding as an approach is gathering pace - broadly welcomed by local authorities and the children’s social work professionals within them. Buoyed by a body of evidence to support the premise that traditional approaches alone are not fit for purpose when it comes to tackling abuse in adolescence, a ten-person team at the university is helping to propel this new framework forwards. Current practice sees social workers start with the child and family assessment in the home setting in every case – a one size fits all approach. But what about the outside influences – both people and places – that make extra-familial harm more prevalent in this formative phase of live? How can social workers make sure these contextual factors are adequately assessed to secure better outcomes for vulnerable young people?
The Dynamics of Adolescence
Adolescence is characterised by a unique set of dynamics. Young people typically have increased motivation towards risk and thrills; more focus on short term gains than long term detriment; their emotions are less regulated - and this is accompanied by an increased desire for autonomy. With these factors develops the risk of extra-familial harm which can take many forms: from sexual and criminal exploitation, serious youth violence and bullying and social isolation to radicalisation and teenage relationship abuse. This risk from outside of the home could have its roots within a peer group, school, neighbourhood or community space – but might be overlooked or underestimated within the confines of the current approach where the default is to focus solely on the home environment.1
The need and desire to incorporate contextual assessments into workflows in order to achieve the best possible outcomes for young people as they approach adulthood isn’t disputed. However, it is accompanied in equal measure by the familiar obstacles of over-stretched budgets and teams. Finding a solution which addresses how to strike a balance between the two has become central to our discussions with local authorities up and down the country. How can time- and resource- poor social workers accurately and logically document contextual assessments without feeling further crippled by the sheer weight of their workload?
Harnessing technology at Hackney
Together with Hackney Council, we’ve been developing and deploying new technology to support the integration of contextual assessment into practice. Front of mind during this process has been the importance of intuitive solutions that streamline the process for social workers – so that data entry is logical, non-duplicative and recall is accurate. So what role do digital solutions play in helping local authorities and the practitioners within them incorporate Contextual Safeguarding seamlessly and safely into their workflows, and develop new workflows where appropriate?
Mosaic, the social work software platform from Servelec, is the solution used by Hackney to embed Contextual Safeguarding approaches into everyday processes. By working alongside the teams at the University of Bedfordshire and Hackney since they started on their journey to integrate a Contextual Safeguarding approach, Servelec is developing a set of forms and workflows in Mosaic so that Contextual Safeguarding is not a cumbersome add-on, but an integral part of their processes.
Mapping Mosaic Together
In addition to the preparations for the Hackney pilot, Servelec is also engaging with other local authorities using Mosaic at this early stage of the development process to involve them in the evolution of the system. Mosaic customers have been invited to join workshops where they can provide valuable insight into the challenges as they see them around implementing Contextual Safeguarding thinking. It’s clear that these vary depending on the local authority in question – with London boroughs having a very different set of needs and requirements versus some of the shire counties for example.
What unites them is a desire to develop the solution in partnership so that it is fit for purpose, and which means they don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Mosaic’s Customer-Led Configuration will facilitate that – through a more two-way, collaborative approach to the platform’s roadmap, and by pulling in the knowledge of the team at the University of Bedfordshire to give customers complete confidence in the forms and workflows. With the undisputed benefits of interoperability front of mind, Servelec will also be looking at integrations with its Core+ Youth Services system to ensure key information is shared between the services.
Changing mindset and modus operandi
We believe technology has a key part to play in supporting the shift away from the status quo. As we challenge the conventional norm that social work always begins with the family, the digital tools we develop and deploy will be crucial in enabling and empowering social workers to roll out a Contextual Safeguarding approach in their authorities – ultimately driving better interventions and outcomes for their vulnerable young people.
Nikki Redmond, Children’s Strategy Lead at Servelec and Katie Latimer, Research Fellow, University of Bedfordshire embedded with the Contextual Safeguarding project at Hackney Council
The Contextual Safeguarding Network has a range of resources to help implement Contextual Safeguarding in local councils:
1. Contextual Safeguarding: An overview of the operational, strategic and conceptual framework, Carlene Firmin, Nov. 2017