Extra-familial risks and harm

Safeguarding in earlier childhood primarily focuses on risk and harm located within the family setting, often connected to caregivers. This tends to change somewhat in the teenage years. Developmentally, adolescence is a time of exploration, increasing independence, and risk taking. Young people become more engaged with, and influenced by, peer norms and relationships, and other adults, groups and communities not connected to their families, including online. These extra-familial contexts can pose a new set of complex risks at the interface with criminality, including:

  • Child sexual exploitation, or other extra-familial sexual abuse of adolescents.
  • Criminal exploitation, including through county lines drugs distribution, and cuckooing of properties;.
  • Peer on peer abuse (non-familial and non-sibling), including harmful sexual behaviours and domestic abuse among adolescent couples.
  • Gang affiliation. 
  • Serious youth violence.
  • Trafficking and modern day slavery.
  • Antisocial behaviour by and affecting peers.
  • Radicalisation and violent extremism.

Parents often feel that their teenage children are beyond their own control, and are resentful of interventions that focus on their own parenting capacity, rather than addressing the adults, peer groups, public spaces, and online environments. The Innovate Project will explore how the new approach of Contextual Safeguarding in two case study sites is assessing and working with the risky contexts themselves to keep young people, their families and communities safer.

Young people may be involved in instigating such behaviours, as well as being victimised so recognition of targeting, grooming, coercion, threats, and other influences is crucial. Mis-perceptions about the extent of young people’s informed choice and intentionality in such matters may mis-direct attributions of agency and responsibility. This can lead to an over-emphasis on criminal justice responses rather than welfare-based intervention. This can mean young people’s behaviours, presentation and relationships are misunderstood, and professionals fail to address the trauma caused by earlier victimisation. The Innovate Project will explore how two case study sites are using Trauma-informed Practice to inform their service responses.

Such experiences of harm and trauma may continue to affect people across the life course, but children’s services’ systems of safeguarding and support usually end at 18, with a gap through which adolescents and young adults may fall. We will examine two case study sites where the new concept of Transitional Safeguarding seeks to design services which are informed by both adolescents’ developmental needs and behaviours, and the appreciation that transitioning into adulthood is a process that extends well into the twenties.

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