About the project

The project aims and structure

The Innovate Project is a four year pan-UK study funded at £1.9million by the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) which is exploring how social care and other safeguarding agencies are innovating to address the extra-familial risks and/or harms (EFRH) that young people may encounter and experience beyond the family home (including online). EFRH are associated with exploitation, abuse or criminality, and raise safeguarding concerns, e.g. sexual and criminal exploitation, peer-on-peer abuse, gang affiliation, and serious youth violence. The project is led by Professor Michelle Lefevre and a team at the University of Sussex, working in collaboration with the University of Bedfordshire, Rees Centre at the University of Oxford, Research in Practice, and Innovation Unit. You can find out more about team members here.

The Innovate Project is funded to develop two types of new knowledge. First, we aim to increase understanding about the processes of innovation in social care, including the barriers and levers, and what system capabilities are needed to allow innovation to flourish and sustain over time, and to be scaled and spread. This was the focus of the ESRC funding call to which we responded.

Second, we are exploring the usefulness of three emergent approaches to addressing EFRH – Trauma-informed Practice, Contextual Safeguarding, and Transitional Safeguarding– which are increasingly used as the basis for innovation in practice methods or service structures. We will investigate: what they entail and require in new systems, models and tools; whether they improve outcomes for service users and communities; and whether the service innovations are experienced as supportive and strengths-based by families.

The project began in November 2019. During the first year we reviewed the literature on innovation, EFRH interventions, policies and practice guidance, and conducted a practice survey and some expert informant interviews. We will shortly be releasing papers and resources from this first phase of the research.

In 2021-22 we are undertaking research fieldwork in six case study sites from across the UK which are currently using one of the three emergent approaches as a primary framework on which to build a practice or service innovation to address EFRH. Devon Children’s Services and Partners and the charity, Safer London,  are drawing on Contextual Safeguarding, an approach developed by project partner Dr Carlene Firmin and her team at the Safer Young Lives Research Centre, University of Bedfordshire. Contextual Safeguarding seeks to intervene directly with groups of young people, and in community spaces where risks have been identified, not just with individuals who have been classed as at high risk. Brighter Futures for Children in Reading  and North Lanarkshire Education and Families Service  are implementing a Trauma-informed ethos within their service delivery. This framework emphasises resilience and recovery, and prioritises safety, trust, collaboration, choice, and empowerment in professionals’ interactions with traumatised young people. Finally, the Safeguarding Adults Board for Hackney and Sheffield Children and Families Services are each leading the pilot of Transitional Safeguarding on behalf of their wider children’s and adults’ safeguarding systems and community safety partnerships. This emergent concept, developed by project partner Research in Practice, requires whole system change within and across interagency networks to support young people experiencing extra-familial risks, as they cross the threshold into adulthood.

You can learn more about our research approach here. In brief, we are starting with professionals and organisations in each site to learn about their models, methods, systems and structures, and what this means for the processes of innovation using their chosen approach. This includes ethnography, interviews and focus groups, exploration of data management systems, documentary analysis, and cost effectiveness analysis. Once public health guidelines in the pandemic permit face-to-face engagement, we will additionally start working with children, young people, families and carers to understand what the new practice methods and systems mean for them.

The focus will not just be on whether and how the three approaches lead to beneficial, inclusive, and effective services in the six case studies but on what factors and processes stimulate innovation in and enable it to flourish and sustain. The project will also work with a wider Learning and Development Network of organisations in the UK and overseas who wish to draw on emergent findings to stimulate and guide their own innovation.

If you would like to get regular updates on the project, please fill in our contact form or contact us on info@theinnovateproject.co.uk.

Intro to the project

To find out more about the project, please explore the different links and watch this short video by Professor Michelle Lefevre, the Principal Investigator.

Meet the project team

Our funder

This project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, through a specific call for collaborative research proposals to understand how, why and where innovation happens in social care, to best understand how to improve people’s lives.

Extra-familial risks

The research approach

Advisory Forum

Learning & Development Networks

Get updates about the project

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