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University of Bedfordshire
University Square

Dr Carlene Firmin, MBE

Principal Research Fellow, The International Centre: Researching Child Sexual Exploitation, Violence and Trafficking

Carlene Firmin

I am a social researcher, concerned with safeguarding young people, social justice and inequality, with a particular expertise in the field of violence and abuse between young people.

Since 2013 I have developed and led the Contextual Safeguarding and peer-on-peer abuse research programmes at the University of Bedfordshire.

I developed Contextual Safeguarding as a theoretical and operational framework which could be used to draw attention to, and address, the social and cultural contexts in which violence and abuse occurs. Projects run under this programme of work have included: the MsUnderstood partnership – formed to build local responses to peer-on-peer abuse; Beyond Referrals – a study to identify the levers for addressing harmful sexual behaviours in schools; studies into group-based sexual violence and peer influence, and; the formation of a Contextual Safeguarding Practitioner’s Network and a Safeguarding Adolescents Steering Group of London policymakers.

Contextual Safeguarding has informed policy and research agendas for advancing the protection of adolescents, and I have worked with practitioners across the UK to co-create contextual interventions and develop contextual safeguarding systems within children’s social care. I have also conducted 20 case reviews for safeguarding children’s boards to identify opportunities for intervening with extra-familial forms of significant harm.

Prior to joining the University of Bedfordshire I spent ten years in voluntary and statutory agencies, researching young people’s experiences of community and group-based violence and advocating for comprehensive approaches that keep young people safe in public places, schools and peer groups.

I have advised and influenced justice and safeguarding policymakers on issues including serious youth violence, education exclusions, sexual violence and exploitation and domestic abuse, Since joining the University I have used this experience to identify pathways for research to impact policy and work directly with practitioners to co-create knowledge, recommendations and tools to advance safeguarding practice.

Other References


  • Professional Doctorate Children and Young People’s Services– University of Bedfordshire
  • MSc Social Policy and Planning – London School of Economics
  • BA (Hons) Philosophy – University of Cambridge

Teaching Role

  • Postgraduate and undergraduate supervision
  • Postgraduate and undergraduate lecturer on the theoretical concepts of Pierre Bourdieu, adolescent development, social construction, sexual exploitation and group offending
  • Part of teaching team for Professional Doctorate in Leadership in Children and Young People's Services

Research Interests

  • Child protection and safeguarding policy
  • Contextual interventions, place-based approached and situational crime prevention
  • Methodological approaches to case reviews
  • Peer influence and bystander engagement
  • Community safety and public-space safeguarding
  • Network and route analysis and problem profiling
  • Whole school approaches to safeguarding
  • Peer on peer sexual violence
  • Children and young people with harmful sexual behaviour
  • Teenage relationship abuse
  • Serious youth violence

Current Research Projects

  • Contextualising a safeguarding system: the Hackney project (Principal Investigator)
  • Beyond Referrals: A study of the levers for addressing harmful sexual behaviours in schools (implications for inspection) (Principal Investigator)
  • London’s response to safeguarding adolescents (Principal Investigator)

Recent Research Projects

  • International literature review and primary study into group-based harmful sexual behaviours: Principal Investigator (MOPAC funded)
  • Development of contextual audit methodology and application in online resource toolkit: Principal Investigator (MOPAC funded)
  • Contextual audit and development of local responses to peer-on-peer abuse in 11 local authorities across England: Principal Investigator (Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, Trust for London, Samworth Foundation)
  • Policing and CSE Knowledge Hub: Lead for policy and influencing (College of Policing funded)
  • Review of London’s response to child sexual exploitation: Joint author (London Councils funded)
  • Rapid Evidence Assessment (international) on relationship between sports intervention and reduction in youth violence – lead contributor on group and gang violence literature (Premier League and Children in Need)
  • Peer-on-peer abuse: safeguarding implications of contextualising abuse between young people within social fields

Service to the Academic/Professional Community

  • Reviewer for Child Abuse Review, Child and Family Social Work, British Journal of Social Work and Children and Society
  • Editorial Board: Journal of Children’s Services
  • Panel Member: MOPAC Violence Against Women and Girls Board
  • Panel Member: Transport for London Safeguarding Board
  • Member: Home Office Violence Against Women and Girls Stakeholder Group
  • Trustee: Prison Reform Trust
  • Trustee: NOTA
  • Chair: Prison Reform Trust Reducing Women's Imprisonment Advisory Group
  • Commissioner: Islington Fair Futures Commission

Notable Presentations/Speaking Engagements

  • Premier League, Annual Safeguarding Conference, Keynote Address (2018)
  • Griffith University, Brisbane, Research Colloquium (2017): Contextualising Child Protection: Reforming safeguarding systems to address peer-abuse in the UK
  • ANZATSA (2017) Invited Address; The group dynamics of harmful sexual behaviour
  • BSA Bourdieu Conference (2016); A three stage application of Bourdieu to develop responses to peer-on-peer abuse
  • Ofsted Annual Children’s Social Care Conference – Keynote Address (2016 and 2015);
  • Children and Young People Now annual CSE conference – Keynote Address (2016 and 2015)
  • ISPCAN (2016): The social contexts associated to peer-on-peer abuse
  • NSPCC How Safe Conference (2016 and 2015);
  • Partners in Prevention, Melbourne (2015): A contextual account of peer-on-peer abuse;
  • Impact of gangs on girls and young women, (2011 and 2013) Commission of the Status of Women (UN)
  • University of Northampton (2015) Violence: Children, Family, Society, Keynote Address

Recent Publications

  • Firmin, C and Hancock, D. (2018) Profiling CSE: Building a Contextual Picture of a Local Problem. In: H. Beckett & J. Pearce, eds. Understanding and Responding to Child Sexual Exploitation. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 107-120
  • Firmin, C and Abbott M. (2018) A Route to Safety: Using bus boarding data to identify roles for transport providers within contextual safeguarding systems. Children and Society DOI 10.1111/chso.12267
  • Firmin, C (2017) Abuse Between Young People: A Contextual Account Abingdon: Routledge
  • Firmin, C. (2017) From genograms to peer-group mapping: introducing peer relationships into social work assessment and intervention. Families Relationships and Societies DOI: 10.1332/204674317X15088482907590
  • Firmin, C. (2017) Contextualising Case Reviews: A methodology for learning beyond processes. Child and Family Social Work. Volume 23, Issue 1, Pages 45–52
  • Firmin, C. (2017) Contextual risk, individualised responses: an assessment of safeguarding responses to nine cases of peer-on-peer abuse, Child Abuse Review DOI: 10.1002/car.2449
  • Firmin, C. and Pearce, J (2016) in Bernard, C. and Harris, P (ed) Safety and Survival: Gang-related violence and exploitation’ in Safeguarding Black Children: Good Practice in Child Protection London: Jessica Kingsley
  • Firmin, C. Warrington, C and Pearce, J (2016).Sexual exploitation and its impact on developing sexualities and sexual relationships: the need for contextual social work intervention, British Journal of Social Work, 46 (8), pp.2318-2337.
  • Firmin, C, Curtis, G., Fritz, D., Olatain, P., Latchford, L., Lloyd, J., & Larasi, I. (2016). Towards a contextual response to peer‐on‐peer abuse. Luton: University of Bedfordshire.
  • Firmin, C (2015) Peer on peer abuse: safeguarding implications of contextualising abuse between young people within social fields, (Professional Doctorate Thesis), University of Bedfordshire
  • Firmin, C. and Beckett, H. (2014) in Dalton, M. (ed) ‘Special Issues: Child Sexual Exploitation’ in Forensic Gynaecology: Advanced Skills Series (Cambridge Press)
  • Firmin, C. (2014) in Ellis, J. and Thiara, R.(ed) ‘MsUnderstood: the benefits of engaging young women in anti-violence responses’ in Working with children and young people to address violence against women and girls: lessons for policy and practice Cambridge: Polity Press
  • Beckett, H. and Firmin, C (2014) Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation: A Study of Current Practice in London. Summary Report.
  • Firmin, C. (2013) in Melrose, M. and Pearce, J. (ed) Something Old or Something New: Do Pre-Existing Conceptualisations of Abuse Enable a Sufficient Response to Abuse in Young People's Relationships and Peer Groups? Critical Perspectives on Child Sexual Exploitation and Related Trafficking (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Firmin, C. (2013) in Horvath, M. A. and Woodhams, J. (ed) Busting the 'gang-rape' myth: girls' victimisation and agency in gang-associated sexual violence in Handbook on the Study of Multiple Perpetrator Rape: A multidisciplinary response to an international problem (pp. 97-115). Oxon: Routledge
  • Firmin, C. (2011). This is it. This is my life...Female Voice in Violence Final Report London: ROTA

Contact Details

Room C405
University Square

Bedfordshire University

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