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The early stages of the Transitional Safeguarding strand’s work in the Innovate Project have seen us getting to grips with how the two sites with whom we are conducting our research understand and operationalise innovation and Transitional Safeguarding in response to young people exposed to extra-familial risks and harm (EFRH). Innovation, Transitional Safeguarding and EFRH are the three conceptual frames at the heart of our specific Innovate Project research strand. As we have begun to build relationships with the key leaders and stakeholders in each site and understand their innovation context, it has become clear how complex each of these frames is in its own right and the formidable scale of the challenge when all three are brought together in one project. A recent Innovate Project paper on innovation (Hampson, Goldsmith and Lefevre, 2021) has highlighted the distinctive nature of innovation in social care settings. Specifically, it emphasises the central role in the innovation process of reconfigured understandings of relationships, power and risk and the crucial importance of holding an ethical position on what is/is not acceptable innovation. Reflecting on our progress to date alongside this recent paper prompted thoughts about how holding these three aspects of professional practice and systems in mind might help us with our early analytic engagement with our research data. So here are three sets of rhetorical questions connected to relationships, power and risk that are currently informing our analytic musings:

Firstly, we are noticing the prevalence of binaries and binary thinking across all three conceptual spaces. Initial ideas about the role and function of binaries have been explored in our first Innovate Project paper on Transitional Safeguarding (Huegler and Ruch, 2021). Having begun to explore these ideas and now undertaken more fieldwork, our curiosity about binaries has been further sparked in different directions related to our three conceptual frames:

  • Innovation – big-small, exclusive-inclusive, fast-slow, top down-bottom up, action-reflection
  • Transitional Safeguarding – child-adult, perpetrator-victim, adult services led-children’s services lead
  • Extrafamilial risks and harm – safety-risk, protection-participation, agency-exploitation

In sparking our curiosity it has led us to question what function these, and other, binaries might serve in defending stakeholders against the complexity, uncertainty and fluidity that are recognised as integral features of 21st century public sector landscapes? How might dissolving binarised thinking impact on existing patterns of professional relationships, distributions of power and engagement with risk? How can leaders, practitioners and young people, parents and carers be supported to resist binarized, overly simplified, splits in their thinking and behaviours and in the configuration of organisational systems?

Secondly, the uncertain and unknown landscape of innovation understandably raises questions for all involved as to the implications of change (implicit in an innovation context) in relation to the task in hand, current roles, relationships and functions and the distribution of power and authority. What can theories of attachment-separation-loss tell us about responses to professional practice and systems changes? Might avoidance of change be understood as a defensive behaviour, at both the level of the individual practitioner and the collective i.e. a social system as a defence against anxiety, and how can these defences be sensitively acknowledged and carefully dismantled?

Thirdly, embarking on an innovation journey that has implications for whole system change is ambitious and requires visionary, courageous, and inclusive modes of engagement. The innovation literature is emphatic about the pivotal role of leaders for successful innovation. Yet leadership only exists if others are involved and with the emphasis in Transitional Safeguarding approaches on co-production, who is a leader and who a participant is not unproblematic and needs to be explicitly discussed. However, they are identified, innovation spaces require leaders and participants who are agile: able to move at different points in time between bottom-up and top-down approaches and able to flex between innovative initiatives that are more strategically expansive and pitched at the level of systemic change, and those that are more grounded and focussed on individuals’ experiences and practice interventions. What do leaders and participants need to develop such an agile identity, suited to navigating the dynamic and demanding spaces that Transitional Safeguarding requires if it is to become an integral part of diverse professional practices and systems?

Referring back to Hampson et al’s paper, it is not difficult to see how these three areas of rhetorical questioning align with the paper’s emphasis on relationships, risk and power as being at the heart of innovation in social care contexts. The ideas outlined here are early and emergent ones and as we continue immersing ourselves in the sites, they will provide an initial, dynamic framework for further data gathering and analytic activities. If your experiences and understanding of innovation, Transitional Safeguarding or extra-familiar risks and harm resonate with our rhetorical reflections or provoke different reflections and questions do get in touch at:


Gillian Ruch