Contextual Safeguarding Programme

Current projects

The Contextual Safeguarding programme is currently engaging in a number of projects that explore systems change in children’s services, the nature of and responses to extra familial harm, contextual interventions in peers, schools and communities, and sector engagement.

Children’s service systems change

We are delivering studies into system’s change in children’s social care, documenting how local areas are embedding a contextual safeguarding approach:

  • Contextual Safeguarding Scale Up: Testing of Contextual Safeguarding approaches in five areas in England and Wales
  • Contextual Safeguarding Scale Up – London: Testing of Contextual Safeguarding in four London boroughs, exploring the potential relationship between the approach and the London Violence Reduction Unit
  • Contextual Safeguarding in Hackney: First whole-systems application of the Contextual Safeguarding Framework via the Department for Education Social Care Innovation Grant Programme. This project produced an implementation toolkit, which includes resources that share learning about how Contextual Safeguarding has been embedded
  • The Innovate Project: An ESRC partnership project with the University of Sussex examining the conditions in which innovation in social care occurs and is sustained – with a focus on three case studies, of which one is Contextual Safeguarding

Examining extra-familial harm

We undertake research into the nature of extra-familial harm, its impact of young people, families and communities, and the particular challenges such harm presents for those trying to keep young people safe:

  • Rescue and Response: a pan-London innovation to tackle ‘county lines’, with a particular focus on safeguarding young people who are criminally exploited via county lines
  • Beyond Referrals: an 18 month research project looking at multi-agency enablers and barriers to preventing and responding to harmful sexual behaviours in school

Developing contextual interventions

We work with universal and specialist services to document and share their work to increase safety in young people’s peer and friendship groups, schools and the public places where they spend their time.

  • Securing Safety: A study into the scale and experience of relocation in response to extra-familial abuse. Phase One Research Plan for the University of Bedfordshire Contextual Safeguarding Team
  • The Peace Project: Working with the Protecting and Empowering Against Child Exploitation (PEACE) project to create a Contextual Safeguarding system within the London Borough of Hounslow.
  • The Oldham Youth Project: Pilot Project led by a voluntary sector organisation using the principles of contextual safeguarding to better respond to increasing levels of youth violence in the Oldham
  • Safer London Peers Project: The University of Bedfordshire is working with Safer London to draw upon the findings of an international literature review into peer support and intervention to explore the opportunities within Safer London.

Practice Development

All of our research is co-produced with practitioners. We document the practical impact of this work, and provide routes for peer support between practitioners as well as continued professional development through virtual and in-person opportunities for practitioners to connect.

Specifically, the Contextual Safeguarding Network brings together thousands of practitioners to disseminate and produce knowledge based on theory-informed practice and research. We engage with practitioners through the use of briefings, reports and articles, blogs, podcasts and videos which include webinars and tutorials. These can be used to inform practice.

Strategic Engagement

Contextual Safeguarding is informing the development of policy, commissioning and legislation, as well as practice. To coordinate this activity we have set up a number of strategic groups who work together to implement the learning from our research projects into their sectors and organisations.

More information about the Contextual Safeguarding programme of work can be found. If you have any questions, please email us at

Previous projects

  • The Contextual Safeguarding team, supported by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission, have created a range of resources for schools, multi-agency partnerships and inspectorates for tackling harmful sexual behaviour in schools. Beyond referrals: levers for addressing harmful sexual behaviour in schools
  • The International Centre are working with Hackney Council to implement a Contextual Safeguarding framework to strengthen safeguarding response to vulnerable children and young people.
  • The Contextual Safeguarding Practitioners’ Network: The Contextual Safeguarding Network brings together hundreds of practitioners to share and generate knowledge on contextual approaches to safeguarding children. The network is free to join and can be accessed at
  • The London Safeguarding Adolescents Steering Group Creating contextual policy through targeted programmes of work with inspectorates, commissioners, safeguarding boards and Pan-London decision-makers to ensure policy frameworks facilitate contextual practice.
  • Harmful sexual behaviour in groups: The individual and contextual characteristics of young people who sexually harm in groups. A briefing on the findings from a study in four London boroughs
  • The MsUnderstood Partnership supporting local areas to develop responses to peer-on-peer abuse using contextual methodologies since 2013. The final report can be accessed here [PDF]
  • Contextual Safeguarding Audit Toolkit A free audit toolkit for reviewing operational and strategic responses to peer-on-peer abuse within multi-agency partnerships.
  • Contextual Case Reviews a methodology to review the extent which services are equipped to recognise and engage with extra-familial risks when safeguarding young people.

The Contextual Safeguarding programme has received funding from the Department for Education, Trust for London, The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the Samworth Foundation.

For queries about this programme, please contact Dr Carlene Firmin at


The International Centre: Researching child sexual exploitation, violence and trafficking
University of Bedfordshire
University Square
Luton, Bedfordshire

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