About the project

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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 Durham University, 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 are exploring: 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. From this work we have so far published:

A book: Safeguarding Young People Beyond the Family Home: Responding to Extra-Familial Risks and Harms

Three journal articles:

Risk, vulnerability and complexity: transitional safeguarding as a reframing of binary perspectives

Towards a synthesised directional map of the stages of innovation in children’s social care

Towards a framework for ethical innovation in children’s social care

A video on ‘trustworthy innovation'

Infographics: the PEISC framework and the DEISC tool are designed to support policymakers, leaders and designers ensure their practice and service innovations are ethically appropriate as well as practically feasible.

Discussion papers:

Discussion Paper 2: Mapping the policy and practice landscape of safeguarding young people from extra-familial risks and harms (EFRH), by Dr Nathalie Huegler (2022)

Discussion Paper 1: Some Reflections on Innovation in Social Care, by Dr Carlie Goldsmith and Martha Hampson

Through 2021-22 we have been 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 Professor Carlene Firmin . 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.

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. Due to the impact of Covid-19, we were unable to undertake face to face engagement with young people and parents until late 2022. Instead, we began in each site with professional practices and systems, including ethnography, interviews and focus groups, exploration of data management systems, documentary analysis, and cost effectiveness analysis. This enabled us to learn about each site’s models, methods, systems and structures, and what this means for the processes of innovation using their chosen approach. We are currently starting to learn about the level of involvement that young people and parents have had in designing and reviewing the new practice methods and systems, and their experience of involvement within them. The aim of these case studies is not just to learn whether and how the three approaches lead to beneficial, inclusive, effective, and value-for-money services in the six sites, but on what factors and processes stimulate innovation and enable it to flourish and sustain.

The project is also working 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

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