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Contextual Safeguarding

What is Contextual Safeguarding?

Contextual Safeguarding is an approach to recognising and responding to children and young people’s experience of significant harm outside the home. This includes in the places and spaces they spend their time and within their peer groups; at school, when spending time in their neighbourhoods and other public places as well as online. In Contextual Safeguarding practice, we call all these social environments ‘contexts’.

Parents and carers typically have little influence over contexts such as parks, fast food outlets, amusement arcades or malls. Also, as individuals move from early childhood and into adolescence, they typically spend greater amounts of time socialising independently of their families.

During this time, peer relationships become increasingly influential, setting social norms and informing young people’s experiences, behaviours, choices and social status.  As such, young people’s experiences of risk outside the home can actually undermine parent-child relationships, especially if they involve coercion, grooming, or recruitment.  This is because exploiters and criminal recruiters are very sophisticated in the methods they use to groom children and young people who often don’t even realise they are being exploited into harmful situations.

Therefore, we need different ways of working to address extra familial harm and contexts of harm. Contextual Safeguarding offers opportunities to do so.

What is Extra Familial Risk & Harm?

Extra familial risk and harm is a term used to refer to various different forms of abuse that children and young people may experience outside the home (including online) in the places and spaces they spend their time and is not caused by parents/carers or family members.   This includes, but is not limited to, criminal and sexual exploitation including being recruited to transport or distribute drugs, peer-instigated sexual abuse (also sometimes called ‘peer on peer’ or ‘child on child’ abuse) and street-based or weapon-enabled violence. Other examples might include teenage relationship abuse, radicalisation or bullying and social isolation.

What are contexts of concern?

Contexts of concern are locations or groups of people who we are worried about; either because they are causing or enabling harm to occur, or present risks to children and young people.

Examples of contexts can include anywhere children and young people spend time, such as parks, leisure complexes, fast food outlets, shopping malls, schools and colleges as well as locations like stair wells, car parks and disused properties, housing estates and public transport hubs including railway stations, bus stops and taxis.

Identifying context of concern does not mean that they are inherently bad or risky locations because risk itself can be contextual. For example, a park might be a safe and enjoyable location for most people, however it can be an area of concern for some children and young people if they are being groomed or have experienced an assault in the location. Contextual Safeguarding provides practitioners with tools to safeguard not only those who have been affected by extra familial harm, but also to help create safety and wellbeing for everyone using that location or space.

Why do we need to consider using a Contextual Safeguarding approach?

Contextual Safeguarding provides practitioners with opportunities to work more holistically to address extra familial risk by considering all aspects of a child or young person’s life and their lived experience.

Contextual Safeguarding seeks to change contexts where harm has occurred, rather than moving children and young people or families away from them.  This is achieved by assessing all the different contexts that young people spend their time, including who they are with and determining the impact these different contexts can have on their safety or risk.  Contextual interventions target harm where it occurs to create safety and wellbeing.

This may sound common-sensical, however the current child protection system, legislative and policy framework which underpin safeguarding work were all fundamentally designed to protect children from risks posed by their families or situations where parents or guardians have reduced capacity to safeguard those in their care.

Unlike traditional approaches to safeguarding which focus on intervening with individual children and their family; Contextual Safeguarding considers all the places and spaces that children and young people spend their time and seeks to create safety in those contexts. In doing so, working contextually extends ‘capacity to safeguard’ beyond families and social workers to include other individuals, professional and even businesses and members of the community who manage or have an influence over the contexts where young people may encounter risk.

Why do we need to safeguard adolescent children differently?

Adolescence is a time of significant change unlike any other in child or adult development; with a powerful combination of biological, psychological and social changes that take place from the onset of Puberty and last well into the mid 20’s when the brain has fully matured.

The risks and harms some young people face, whether they are sexual or criminal exploitation, child on child and teenage relationship abuse, serous violence or radicalisation, are unlike those many younger children or adults experience.  As such, we have to think differently about the ways we engage and work with adolescents.

What does Contextual Safeguarding look like in practice?

Contextual Safeguarding takes place at two levels which are different to social work levels of need and actually relate to the areas of focus.

At level one, social care practice is contextualised; acknowledging and assessing the impact of peers, school and the neighbourhood on a young person’s safety.

At level two, professionals work in partnership with a much broader range of safeguarding stakeholders, including those who have influence in different places and spaces, to create safety in the environments that young people spend their time

Working at both levels is really important, especially when we consider responses to issues such as county lines activity or the carrying of weapons and serious youth violence, which often take place beyond the family home and may affect more than just the young person practitioners come into contact with.

In terms of governance and local systems to support more contextual practice; Across West Sussex, level 1 contextual safeguarding concerns (so those addressing extra familial risk to individuals) are addressed via Multi-Agency Child Exploitation (MACE) Triage and level 2 concerns relating to group based adolescent extra familial harm and/or locations of concern are addressed via monthly meetings called Peer Group Conferences which are held in each locality

What are some examples of Contextual Interventions?

There are a range of interventions that can help to reduce risk and increase safety; some of which are designed to protect children and young people and others that aim to improve the environment where they spend their time.  Examples include:

  • Visiting parks and recreation areas to better understand the physical geography and identify areas where the location can be improved such as replacing broken play equipment or benches, cutting vegetation and improving lighting.


  • Increased guardianship presence in parks and open spaces – this can be police and PCSOs, Community or Neighbourhood Wardens, or other authority figures and even just increased foot-fall in the area.


  • Cutting down overgrown shrubbery especially if it is obscuring CCTV or is creating natural ‘hiding spots’ or areas where harm can occur.


  • Visiting local businesses including fast food outlets, off-licences, convenience stores and corner shops as well as supermarkets, Pharmacies and other providers of community services to raise awareness of contextual issues and ask them to report any concerns.


  • Multi-agency engagement visits to stations, bus-stops and on buses/trains alongside transport providers to talk to children and young people, other commuters and transport staff about their experiences using public transport and understand lived experience.


  • Engage with people working in the night-time economy, such as hotel staff, taxi drivers and bar staff, to recognise the signs of extra familial harm and know how to report any worries they have.


  • Context mapping and conversational safety mapping – finding out more about the places and spaces that young people feel safe or unsafe and making collaborative plans to increase safety in those places.


  • Bystander/Upstander work with children, young people, schools and community members to tackle harmful or abusive norms and behaviours.


  • Work with Education settings to ensure they adopt ‘whole school approaches’ to safeguarding children including effective and needs based relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) alongside robust safeguarding and behaviour policies.


  • Pop up youth centres or funded youth provision including detached social / youth work as well as universal access to diversionary activities.


  • Work with town centre managers to ensure empty properties are safe and well secured or utilised for pro-social activities.
  • Work with locality community safety and criminal justice colleagues and local businesses to hold bike/property marking schemes

How do I refer and who do I contact?

It is essential to understand that Extra-familial harm is as risky to children and young people as concerns from within the home.         

If you believe a child or group is in immediate danger, contact the police on 999.

If you have concerns that a child or young person is at risk within the community, you should make a referral to children’s social care.  If you believe the situation is urgent but there is no immediate danger contact the West Sussex Integrated Front Door. If you are unsure what support you require or have an urgent safeguarding concern that requires a same day response, phone 01403 229900.  If you experience difficulty contacting this number, phone: 07711 769657 (Does not accept text messages). This will connect you to the duty Social Worker.

You may be asked to complete a Child Exploitation Notification tool which provides more information about the nature and incidence of your concern. This information is used to triage and assess risk.  Every child who has a Child Exploitation Notification tool completed by a professional will be discussed at the Multi Agency Child Exploitation meeting. If you are concerned about a group of children and you know their names and some other basic information, please follow the same safeguarding procedures.

If you want to talk to someone about a context of concern including any public places and spaces, school/college, shops or groups of children, or to raise an issue for your local Peer Group Conference (locality Contextual Safeguarding meeting), please contact your local safeguarding / community safety team.

How do I contact my local District or Borough Safeguarding lead?

Each district and borough council has a Designated Safeguarding Lead. As part of their varied role, these officers also chair the locality Peer Group Conference (level 2 Contextual Safeguarding) meetings and are the primary point of contact for dealing with locality based contextual safeguarding in their area.

Adur & Worthing


Chichester contact via the West Sussex Integrated Front Door

Crawley contact via the West Sussex Integrated Front Door

Horsham contact via the West Sussex Integrated Front Door

Mid Sussex

Please only contact your local District or Borough team for community-based advice or about non-urgent contextual concerns. All urgent and child protection concerns must be reported via the West Sussex Integrated Front Door following standard safeguarding procedures.

Where can I get more information about Contextual Safeguarding?

You can learn more about contextual safeguarding, including different forms of extra familial harm by completing the West Sussex Contextual Safeguarding eLearning course or by visiting the national Contextual Safeguarding programme website. If you are a practitioner working in West Sussex you can also get support from our Contextual Safeguarding Champions Network. Email and we will direct your query to your sector champion.

Useful Links and Resources

There is a wealth of information and resource to help practitioners to feel more confident working contextually.  These include policy and practice guidance as well as tools to use along with webinars and learning opportunities to develop confidence and competence.

Contextual Safeguarding resources for Children’s Services

Contextual Safeguarding resources for Education Professionals

Contextual Safeguarding resources for Police and Criminal Justice Professionals

Contextual Safeguarding resources for Community and Voluntary Sector Professionals

Contextual Safeguarding resources for Health Professionals

Contextual Safeguarding resources for County, District, and Borough Councils