About the project


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.

Click to play

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 ran 2019-2023. Its aim was to explore how social care and other safeguarding agencies were 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 was led by Professor Michelle Lefevre and a team at the University of Sussex, working in collaboration with Durham University, Research in Practice, and Innovation Unit. You can find out more about team members here and view our latest publications and resources here.

The Innovate Project was funded to develop two types of new knowledge. First, 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 explored the usefulness of three emergent approaches to addressing EFRH:

  • Contextual Safeguarding, an approach developed by project partner Professor Carlene Firmin, which 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;
  • Trauma-informed practice, which emphasises resilience and recovery, and prioritises safety, trust, collaboration, choice, and empowerment in professionals’ interactions with traumatised young people;
  • Transitional Safeguarding, an emergent concept, developed by project partner Research in Practice, that requires whole system change within and across interagency networks to support young people experiencing extra-familial risks, as they cross the threshold into adulthood.

These three approaches are increasingly used as the basis for innovation in practice methods or service structures. We explored: what they entail and require in new systems, models and tools; whether workers find them helpful; whether they benefit service users and communities; and whether the service innovations are experienced as supportive and strengths-based by families.

You can learn more about our research approach here. 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. Through 2021-22 we undertook research fieldwork in six case study sites from across the UK which were using one of the three emergent approaches as a primary framework on which to build a practice or service innovation to address EFRH. In the final year, we engaged with our sites, our Learning and Development Network, and the wider policy and practice sectors to refine our conclusions and develop them into recommendations and resources. 

Although the funded phase of the Innovate Project has completed, we continue to develop publications and resources, and hold events. If you would like to get regular updates on the project, please email Prof. Michelle Lefevre on M.Lefevre@sussex.ac.uk. You can view our latest publications and resources here

Meet the project team

Extra-familial risks

The research approach

Advisory Forum

Learning & Development Networks

Get updates about the project

If you’d like to receive updates about The Innovate Project, including our latest findings, blog posts and events, please email Prof. Michelle Lefevre on M.Lefevre@sussex.ac.uk.

About 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.