Transitional Safeguarding

The practice problem

Safeguarding young people from extra-familial risks or harm is complicated through the fact that binary notions of childhood and adulthood continue to prevail in society and within social care. There are a range of arguments for more fluid and transitional approaches for young people entering adulthood:

  • Adolescents have distinct safeguarding needs compared to younger children. Risks, harms and routes to protection are often not only intra-familial but also contextual and extra-familial, underpinned by complex social and developmental factors.
  • Adolescence and the transition to adulthood involves a whole host of changes within young people’s lives, making this a particularly challenging and vulnerable time. Prevailing views of young people in society may mean they are more likely to be perceived as ‘a risk’ than ‘at risk’.
  • While children’s services’ systems of safeguarding and support usually end at 18, experiences of harm and trauma during childhood, youth and early adulthood may continue to affect people across the life course, with unmet needs requiring complex (as well as potentially costly) interventions later in life.
  • The public services safeguarding systems for children and adults are based on different conceptual, legal and procedural frameworks. The divergence between these systems creates ‘gaps’ through which adolescents and young adults may fall. Neither system has been designed with attention to adolescents’ developmental needs or behaviours, nor do they reflect the evidence that transitioning into adulthood is a process that extends well into the twenties.

What is Transitional Safeguarding?

Transitional Safeguarding is an emergent concept, which aims to stimulate evidence-informed multi-agency local safeguarding systems change across services for children’s and adults’ safeguarding. The term was coined following a review of practice evidence by Research in Practice and engagement with the sector. Innovation based on Transitional Safeguarding will be informed by evidence of the distinctive developmental needs of adolescents transitioning into young adulthood, and better reflect the connected nature of harm and its impact for individuals, services and society.

Transitional safeguarding has three distinctive characteristics:

  • It is an approach or perspective and not a definite model which requires fidelity in its application; 
  • It is a bottom-up approach which is locally conceived and context-specific;
  • It requires whole system change within an organisation and across inter-connected organisations

The case studies

Local areas engaging with Transitional Safeguarding are already beginning to apply the approach in systems re-design and service delivery. This developmental stage makes the prospect of researching innovation in this context an exciting one, with opportunities for the Innovate Project to map closely how developments unfold and what challenges and opportunities are encountered along the way. Two different local authorities, organisations or networks in the UK will be involved as case studies of Transitional Safeguarding. Each case study will look at how practice or service innovations are developed in that specific system. We will consider why Transitional Safeguarding was chosen for that context and how local factors influence the way it is interpreted and implemented. We will explore the specific levers and barriers to innovation which are encountered in each site. Through this, we will learn more about the effectiveness of the Transitional Safeguarding approach and how it might be scaled and spread elsewhere.


Articles and briefing papers

Nathalie Huegler and Gillian Ruch, (2021) ‘Risk, vulnerability and complexity: transitional safeguarding as a reframing of binary perspectives’, in Practice: Social Work in Action, free to download at

Latest blogs on Transitional Safeguarding

Dr Gillian Ruch discusses the challenge of relationships, risk and power being at the heart of innovation in social care contexts. What was moving to adulthood like for you? Getting to grips with the concept of transitional safeguarding

Find out why transitional safeguarding is so fundamental to the way in which we interact with young people, and how we can implement and innovate it in future. Rhetorical reflections on innovation, Transitional Safeguarding and extra-familial risks and harm

The work of project partners, 'Research in Practice'.

A short video introducing Transitional Safeguarding and how it will be featured in the Innovate Project has been produced by Dez Holmes and Susannah Bowyer, from Research in Practice.

The concept was first coined by Research in Practice’s strategic briefing Transitional safeguarding- adolescence to adulthood, published in 2018. This was followed up in 2021 by their Knowledge Briefing ‘Bridging the Gap: transitional safeguarding and the role of social work with adults’ produced in collaboration with the Office of the Chief Social Worker for Adults, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, BASW, Care and Health Improvement Programme, NWG Network, and police colleagues.

Dez Holmes has also produced a longer video on supporting young people to transition to adulthood and safeguarding from harm: Risks, Resilience and Relationships: Safeguarding adolescents into adulthood.

More information about Transitional Safeguarding theory, and what it means for practice, will be found on this site as findings emerge. 

Who is involved with this strand of the project?

  • Professor Gillian Ruch from the University of Suussex is leading the case study research conducted within the Transitional Safeguarding Strand of the Innovate Project.
  • Dr Susannah Bowyer and Dez Holmes from Research in Practice provide their expertise as the originators of Transitional Safeguarding theory. 
  • Dr Nathalie Huegler from Sussex will conduct embedded ethnography in each case study site, and interview young people and families.
  • Dr Jeri Damman also from Sussex will work primarily with the professionals in each setting.
  • Rebecca Godar from Research in Practice will work with each site to consider how administrative data management systems can be used to support service delivery and evaluation.
  • Dr Lisa Holmes from the University of Oxford will lead cost benefit analysis.

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