Extra-familial risks and harms

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 has been exploring how sites using Contextual Safeguarding have developed new ways of 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 has been exploring how sites have developed more Trauma-informed systems and practices 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 none or very limited provision into adulthood, even though young people may continue to be vulnerable. We have been studying local authority and interagency networks where they have been drawing on the principles of Transitional Safeguarding to consider how their services might be better informed by both adolescents’ developmental needs and behaviours, and the appreciation that transitioning into adulthood is a process that extends well into the twenties.


This webinar recording sets out the findings of our new open access book 'Safeguarding young people beyond the family home: responding to extra-familial risks and harms', by Carlene Firmin, Michelle Lefevre, Nathalie Huegler and Delphine Peace. In it, we set out how effective practice systems need to ensure that they are relational, interagency, contextual, youth-centred, and focus on the specific dynamics of extra-familial risks and harms. You can download the book to read for free here.

This webinar for the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory from May 2022 starts with Michelle Lefevre, the Innovate Project lead, discussing the nature of Extra-familial risks and harms (EFRH) and is followed by Carlene Firmin describing some of the findings from the Trauma-informed Practice strand of the project.

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