The book begins with a critique of how and why innovation is increasingly the framework of choice in the UK for finding new and better ways of responding to difficult social problems that have been difficult to address via conventional practice models and systems. We note that there is neither a shared definition of what constitutes innovation in the UK social care sector nor a comprehensive understanding of what might be expected within innovation projects at different stages in their journeys. This chapter sets out how the authors have sought to address these gaps in understanding through a novel ethnographic study (the Innovate Project) of how six statutory safeguarding services and third sector organisations introduced new approaches to addressing extra-familial risks and harms affecting young people. The study methodology is introduced, and the three frameworks upon which innovations were built (Contextual Safeguarding, Transitional Safeguarding and Trauma-informed Practice) are described. Finally, an outline is provided of what the ensuing chapters will cover.

Introduction

Innovation could scarcely be more zeitgeist. It is the framework of recourse for government, business, science and industry, which expect it to stimulate economic growth, turbocharge enterprise, address social, health and economic challenges, and deal with emergent challenges, such as climate change and pandemics. In the UK, where the research discussed in this book was conducted, the language of innovation is threaded through policy strategies, including for boosting investment, inspiring technological and medical invention, addressing energy needs, and dealing with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, 2021). It is hardly surprising, then, that social care organisations are also turning towards innovation to address trenchant social problems and improve services and interventions within a context of constrained resources.

The pursuit of innovation has engaged substantial investment of time and money from local and central government, charities, think tanks, consultancies, research bodies, and the practice field. The children’s social care sector in England has perhaps been most captured by the paradigm. Since 2014 alone, the UK government has spent £333 million in support of innovation pilots, their evaluations and linked programmes of diffusion for promising approaches (National Audit Office, 2022). Such a high level of public investment is deemed to be merited when those in need of services reliably receive ‘meaningful and effective help’ to support them in challenging situations and protect them from complex risks (Department for Education, 2023: 16). The piloting and evaluation of new approaches to this end, and their scaling and spreading, grow apace in pursuit of more evidence-informed practice. To date, the primary focus of the majority of this literature has been on the effectiveness of new approaches for achieving aspired outcomes in response to specific problems and on the efficacy and value for money they offer within a constrained public funding milieu. As a result, there is now: increasing evidence about the approaches and interventions that are effective in supporting children, young people and families; a good grasp of the local and national factors that can act as barriers to innovation; and an emergent awareness of factors noted to be present when innovation succeeds in its aims (Brown, 2015; FitzSimons and McCracken, 2020). A better understanding is still required of how to stimulate and mobilise innovation in social care contexts, facilitate design and implementation, address sector-specific challenges, and support the scaling and spreading of promising approaches to new problems and contexts (Sebba et al, 2017). Indeed, even a shared definition of what is meant by ‘innovation’ in the social care context remains a work in progress (Hampson et al, 2021).

Responding to some of these questions is the focus of this book. Through a four-year research project in the UK funded by the Economic and Social Research Council – the Innovate Project (see: www.theinnovateproject.co.uk) – we have inquired into what happens when local authorities and social care organisations in the voluntary or independent sector embark on the process of innovation, either as sole agencies or when leading multi-agency partnerships. By studying processes of innovation as they unfolded in real time in six case-study sites in England and Scotland, we have been able to identify and explore factors that helped or hindered the process, including what mattered at different stages along the innovation journey, how decisions were made and ways in which risks and challenges related to the specific conditions of innovating within this sector were overcome (or not). In this first chapter, we set out our definition of innovation, provide further details of our study and outline what will be covered by the remaining chapters of this book.

What do we mean by ‘innovation’?

When reviewing the literature in the first year of the Innovate Project, it quickly became apparent that there was no shared definition of what constitutes innovation in the social care sector. For example, across the tranche of project reports and evaluations emanating from the government-funded Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme in England (Department for Education, 2022) – which formed the largest body of ‘grey literature’ identified by our review – the term was used rather freely to denote a range of approaches; these included the trialling of new practice methods, the adoption of models successful elsewhere, incremental practice improvement measures and wholescale (sometimes quite radical) system change.

The initial working definition of innovation that we adopted for the project was integrated from perspectives offered by the social innovation literature – in particular Murray et al (2010), Young Foundation (2012), Nesta (2016) OECD and Eurostat (2018) and Mulgan (2019) – and had five core elements:

  • It is a new framework or model that is novel in the UK social care system, though it might have been adapted from implementation in a different discipline or country.

  • It requires a radically different way of thinking and acting than generally found within conventional service structures and paradigms.

  • Its introduction should enhance the operational capabilities of public and charitable sector organisations, improve collaborative relationships across agencies and with stakeholders, and result in more efficient use of assets and resources.

  • Its ethos is participatory, strengths based and welfare oriented, aiming to support and empower marginalised children, young people, adults and communities.

  • It is intended to produce more effective ways of working with individuals, families and groups than existing solutions, and is hypothesised to result in better outcomes for those individuals and groups; in the field of extra-familial risks and harms, this particularly includes improving young people’s safety and well-being.

This definition proved useful and workable in enabling us to distinguish whether a new social care method, service or system should be classified as an example of innovation. Our exploration of some of the ethical challenges inherent to introducing innovation in certain circumstances (see Chapter Two) led us to distinguish a further characteristic that would allow an innovation to be described as trustworthy: that it adheres ‘in process and implementation’ to the ethical standards and principles of social work (Hampson et al, 2021: 209).

The context for our study

Innovation is a situated activity and so needs to be studied in context and over time if behaviours, dynamics and processes (both deliberate and unintended) are to be properly understood with reference to their impacts (Young Foundation, 2012). This consideration led us towards a longitudinal, multi-method, multiple case-study design (Hunziker and Blankenagel, 2021), which would enable us to observe activities and interactions in real time within local authorities, social care organisations and interagency safeguarding networks, and consider what was similar and different between six different sites of innovation. The context for our study was the introduction of new systems and interventions that were designed to support young people in negotiating risky and potentially harmful relationships, situations and environments encountered beyond the family home, and to address the effects of harm. We have previously grouped these unsafe social activities and contexts together under the term ‘extra-familial risks and harms’; the category includes sexual and criminal exploitation, serious youth violence, and peer-to-peer harassment and abuse (Firmin et al, 2022).

Such risks and harms might be characterised as ‘wicked problems’ (Coliandris, 2015), as they have been difficult to address through conventional safeguarding and welfare systems, and rapidly evolve over time and place, both in how they manifest and in what they are understood to constitute. In the UK, for example, the sexual exploitation of children under the age of 16 was only properly constituted as a child protection concern, rather than a form of ‘child prostitution’, towards the end of the first decade of the 21st century (Department for Children, Schools and Families, 2009). In countries beyond the UK, criminal exploitation remains less established as a safeguarding concern, and the relatively recent emergence of a form of organised drugs distribution from urban to rural counties known as ‘County Lines’ appears quite specific to the UK (Coomer and Moyle, 2017). Professional systems across a range of countries also continue to struggle to balance young people’s rights to voice, privacy and agency with concerns about their safety (Sapiro et al, 2016). Societies remain conflicted about the extent to which young people should be held responsible for their actions when exploitation is an issue; young people who have engaged in criminal behaviours simultaneous to their own victim experiences may receive only, or predominantly, a law-enforcement response in countries like England that silo child welfare and criminal justice at national policy and local practice levels (Radford et al, 2017).

Such complexities encourage statutory and voluntary sector organisations to turn to innovation to support them in experimenting with new approaches that can: better adapt to emergent social conditions; balance young people’s needs, rights and preferences; work in collaboration with young people and families; and support practitioners in creative, but disciplined, risk taking. As we began the Innovate Project in 2019, three new frameworks for practice and system innovation committed to these principles were gaining increasing attention and traction in the social care sector: Trauma-informed Practice, Contextual Safeguarding and Transitional Safeguarding.

Not only were these three frameworks novel in their application within the social care field for addressing risks and harms beyond family contexts, but they also required a way of thinking and acting that was radically different to existing approaches, both towards young people and within/across organisational systems. Each offered a well-theorised premise for producing more effective ways of working with young people affected by extra-familial risks and harms, but little was known about how each framework might be implemented to best effect within the prevailing sector conditions. None of the three yet offered a manualised system or practice template to be operationalised with fidelity in new sites (as might be more in line with a standard ‘diffusion’ model for rolling out promising new approaches [see Rogers, 2003]). This was not only because the frameworks were still at the stage of early development or trialling but also because each was based on a set of principles that needed to be interpreted and tailored for each specific context. This fluidity and their emergent nature offered the potential for longitudinal learning about the processes of innovation as new systems and practice approaches unfolded within local authorities, interagency safeguarding networks and organisations in the voluntary or charitable sector. It was anticipated that the particularities of what each framework might demand in the way of local system capabilities and resources should also become apparent.

The three frameworks for practice and system innovation

We go on now to provide a short summary of each of the frameworks for practice and system innovation, signposting readers to other resources should they wish to investigate them further.

Trauma-informed Practice

Rooted in a fundamental understanding of the manifold ways in which the experience of trauma can affect individuals both immediately and more chronically through the lifespan, Trauma-informed Practice offers a framework for promoting a strengths-based way of working that builds trust, prioritises physical, emotional and relational safety, offers choice, avoids re-traumatising service users, and works collaboratively with service users to enable them to regain control and autonomy (Harris and Fallot, 2001; Sweeney et al, 2016; for a summary of Trauma-informed Practice, see also Box 1.1). The framework does not provide a template to be replicated by other services or any form of detailed information for implementation; rather, it offers points for consideration in service (re)design, so that its principles are tailored to specific contexts, service aims and system capabilities, and embedded within practice methods and systems.

Trauma-informed Practice was originally developed within the fields of psychology and mental health in the US and has more recently been considered relevant and useful for working with young people experiencing harms beyond the family home because it: recognises their needs for physical, emotional and relational safety (Shuker, 2013); respects their agency and rights (Lefevre et al, 2019); increases understanding of how they may be re-traumatised by systems meant to protect them (Beckett and Warrington, 2015); and seeks to ameliorate developmental trauma (Hickle and Lefevre, 2022). Originally conceived of as an approach to direct practice that would benefit traumatised service users, the application of Trauma-informed Practice has subsequently been extended to encompass the design of organisational systems and clinical supervision in ways that enable staff to remain emotionally engaged, develop resilience and avoid burnout (Bloom, 2005).

We selected two case-study sites in different areas of the UK that were just beginning to introduce Trauma-informed Practice into their safeguarding work with young people – a local authority and a children’s trust – with each being responsible for the local delivery of statutory children’s social care services. Our research in these two sites sought to address critical knowledge gaps identified by Hanson and Lang (2016) in relation to the following: (1) how change within a system is conceptualised, promoted and enacted through supervisory support for workers and through direct practice with children and young people; (2) how practice systems understand and interpret what a ‘trauma-informed approach’ means; (3) the resources required for effective implementation; and (4) the extent to which innovation on the basis of Trauma-informed Practice might result in practices better attuned to the needs of young people. As we began fieldwork, each site was in the early stages of applying the principles of Trauma-informed Practice in quite a modest way. Chapter Four details the divergent journeys taken by each site and what system components were needed to fully implement and embed the framework. An overview of Trauma-informed Practice is provided in Box 1.1.

An Overview of Trauma-informed Practice

What is it?

Trauma-informed Practice offers a set of principles that, when considered in the (re)design of interventions and systems, should both: (1) improve professional responses to people who have experienced trauma; and (2) support staff who are working with those individuals.

Why was it developed?

Trauma theory and the concept of post-traumatic stress had originally been applied to acute situations like natural disasters, accidents or wartime experiences. Harris and Fallot (2001) proposed a broader ‘Trauma-informed Practice’ following new insights into the traumatic impact on people who had experienced traumatic abuse and neglect in childhood (‘developmental trauma’) and/or repeated/multiple traumatic stressors over time (‘complex trauma’).

What are its principles?

The application of a trauma-informed framework in the field of extra-familial risks and harms (Hickle, 2019) proposes that practice methods and systems are designed around the following principles:

  • recognising how developmental trauma impacts young people’s capacity to manage impulses, regulate emotions, identify danger and assess for safe and healthy relationships;

  • fostering trust through building relationships with young people that are reciprocal and interdependent;

  • creating relational, physical and psychological safety for young people, intentionally seeking to avoid re-traumatising them during assessment and intervention;

  • supporting young people to exercise choices that facilitate their safety, identify opportunities beyond risk and empower them towards a hopeful future; and

  • understanding the wider contextual and political environments that contribute to young people’s sense of unsafety in their worlds.

Applying the following additional principles in system design is necessary to supporting practitioners:

  • understanding that working with traumatised people can lead to vicarious trauma for practitioners, and recognising signs and symptoms of trauma in workers;

  • seeking to avoid (re-)traumatising staff in the course of their work;

  • attending to relational practices throughout the service, particularly in the context of supervision, to build trust and create relational, physical and psychological safety for workers;

  • ensuring workers have opportunities to exercise choice and control over working environments and work–life balance; and

  • understanding the wider contextual and political environments that create emotional defences in staff and reduce their capacity to work in relational, trauma-informed and anti-oppressive ways (Bloom, 2005).

How has it been used?

Services based on Trauma-informed Practice have been emerging throughout the last 20 years across Global North countries (for example, the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Norway, Sweden and the UK) and in numerous disciplines (Sweeney et al, 2016). The framework has been gaining increasing traction more recently in children’s services in Scotland, with a policy ‘Promise’ to provide trauma-informed services, systems and workforces (The Promise, Scotland, 2020), and the issuing of a practice toolkit to implement this (Scottish Government, 2021). However, it remains a relatively new concept in the field of extra-familial risks and harms in the UK (Hickle, 2019).

Contextual Safeguarding

Developed by one of the authors of this book (Firmin et al, 2016; Firmin, 2017), Contextual Safeguarding began as a theoretical proposition that child protection systems needed to move beyond the traditional assumptions that risk of harm to a young person was necessarily attributable to action or inaction by their parents or carers, and that assessment and intervention should necessarily be family focused. Since the first pilot of a Contextual Safeguarding system in the London Borough of Hackney, funded by the Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme in England, the diffusion of Contextual Safeguarding has moved apace. This has included formal trialling in nine local authority sites between 2019 and 2022 (Firmin and Lloyd, 2022), and a brief reference to the framework in the 2018 version of statutory guidance (Her Majesty’s Government, 2018). This rapid progression along the innovation trajectory has occurred without any evidence yet having emerged of the effectiveness of this new framework for young people’s safety and welfare outcomes, or for addressing risky contexts (Lefevre et al, 2020, 2023).

The framework of Contextual Safeguarding is innovative itself, in that it offers a new paradigm that unsettles the structure and family-oriented focus of child protection responses standard to the UK and other Global North countries. However, Contextual Safeguarding also requires innovation in its implementation, as interpreting and tailoring its principles and framework to a local context necessitates significant cultural, structural, procedural and practical changes within and across social care, wider interagency partnerships and local communities (Lefevre, 2023). One of the Innovate Project sites (a local authority children’s social care department in England) drew on the framework to inform the development of a wider ‘adolescent safety framework’ across its region. The other – a pan-London charity supporting young people and their families, peers and communities affected by violence and exploitation – has been exploring the potential contributions of Contextual Safeguarding for organisations that do not hold statutory safeguarding responsibilities (see Peace, forthcoming).

Many of the authors of this book have been involved with the design (Firmin), delivery (Lloyd and Owens) or evaluation (Lefevre and Huegler) of the Hackney pilot of Contextual Safeguarding. As the second phase of evaluation in Hackney (Lefevre et al, 2023) overlapped with the timeline of the Innovate Project case studies, there has been a learning dialogue between the two. As a result, we have drawn additionally on innovation insights from the Hackney pilot at several points in this book, most notably, in Chapter Two, and have been explicit about this on each occasion. An overview of Contextual Safeguarding is provided in Box 1.2.

An Overview of Contextual Safeguarding

What is it?

Contextual Safeguarding offers a radical new way of structuring safeguarding systems so that they can assess and address the contexts beyond the home and family within which extra-familial risks and harms occur rather than solely seeking to change the behaviour of, or address risks with, individual young people (Firmin, 2020). Contextual Safeguarding is not a template model; instead, it offers a framework of principles and practice tools that need to be interpreted so that a new system design meets the particular needs of a local context.

Why was it developed?

This new perspective emerged from Firmin’s review of cases of peer-to-peer abuse and violence which revealed that although young people involved in peer abuse often experienced significant harm, they did not generally receive a safeguarding response. This was because the conventional threshold for social care intervention had not been reached. Instead, parents were mostly tasked with keeping their children safe from future harm, and young people in conflict with the law tended to be dealt with by the youth justice system. The Contextual Safeguarding framework was elaborated to address these shortcomings (Firmin, 2017, 2018, 2020; Firmin et al, 2016; Firmin and Lloyd, 2020).

What are its principles?

Contextual Safeguarding systems should be designed around four innovative features that radically depart from conventional safeguarding approaches:

  • systems and methods need to prevent, identify, assess and intervene with the social conditions that promote risk and perpetuate harm;

  • extra-familial contexts should be incorporated into child protection frameworks;

  • partnerships must be developed between all sectors and individuals responsible for the nature of extra-familial contexts; and

  • outcomes of success should be measured in relation to contextual, as well as individual, change.

Full Contextual Safeguarding systems must operate at two levels: (1) ‘contextual thinking’ about extra-familial relationships, networks and locations should be incorporated into individual work with young people and families; (2) practices, systems and structures should enable identification, assessment and intervention with the contexts themselves in which young people are at risk of significant harm.

How has it been used?

The Hackney pilot sought to operationalise the theoretical framework into a new system that would revolutionise responses to extra-familial risks and harms. In 2019, emergent learning from the pilot led to the launch of a ‘practice toolkit’ to support other local authority areas in creating their own Contextual Safeguarding systems. This toolkit (see: www.contextualsafeguarding.org.uk/toolkits/) has been further developed through subsequent projects, including formal trialling in nine local authority sites between 2019 and 2022 (Firmin and Lloyd, 2022). Over 80 local authorities and organisations in the UK and beyond are engaged in the development of their own Contextual Safeguarding systems.

Transitional safeguarding

Extra-familial risks and harms, as well as their effects and consequences, do not stop just because a young person reaches legal adulthood at age 18. Yet, social care and safeguarding systems for children and adults in the UK are based on very different legislative, policy and conceptual frameworks, themselves rooted in binarised conceptualisations of childhood and adulthood. Children are often deemed to have limited capacity to make decisions for themselves in the context of significant harm (Her Majesty’s Government, 2018), while the framework for adult safeguarding in the Care Act 2014 prioritises an individual’s rights, freedom, choice and control. This divergence between children’s and adults’ safeguarding systems insufficiently reflects the evidence that transitioning into adulthood is a process that extends well beyond the teenage years (Sawyer et al, 2018).

The concept of Transitional Safeguarding was coined by Holmes and Smale (2018) and elaborated on by Holmes (2022) as a way of inviting re-theorisation and innovation across children’s and adults’ safeguarding systems to enable them to respond in more developmentally attuned ways to young people’s changing needs and avoid system ‘gaps’ around the age of 18. Again, Transitional Safeguarding does not offer a prescribed model; rather, it offers a ‘joined-up approach to policy and practice’, rooted in a framework of principles that requires conceptual, cultural and structural innovation at a local level (Office of the Chief Social Worker for Adults et al, 2021: 10).

As the Innovate Project began, the theorisation and operationalisation of the Transitional Safeguarding framework was still emergent, but the interest of a number of local authorities and interagency networks had been captured by the fresh perspective it offered. Including Transitional Safeguarding as one of our three innovation frameworks for study enabled us to learn more, in particular, about the early stages of innovation mobilisation and design. The nature of the two interagency sites in England we selected additionally offered insight into what might be facilitated or impeded by different forms of governances: one was led by the children’s social care department in an urban unitary authority; the other was led by the safeguarding adults board in a metropolitan borough, working in collaboration with the local partnerships for children’s safeguarding and community safety for that area. Neither site had ringfenced funding for their innovation.

By the end of our research involvement, developments in these two sites continued to remain at an early design phase. Both in these sites and in others within our wider Innovate Project Learning and Development Network of interested organisations and local authorities, the complexity of multidimensional and multi-agency whole-systems change was strongly apparent, with respect to both uncertainties (for example, about progress, pace, resourcing or governance) and the process of generative co-productive work. We discuss some of these complexities in Chapter Three. An overview of Transitional Safeguarding is provided in Box 1.3.

An Overview of Transitional Safeguarding

What is it?

Transitional Safeguarding is an emergent framework that aims to stimulate evidence-informed systemic change in local areas in order to improve safeguarding and support that better meets the needs of young people in transition to adulthood (Holmes and Smale, 2018; Holmes, 2022). Rather than offering a prescribed model, Transitional Safeguarding comprises a set of principles that need to be applied in different ways according to local circumstances with the aim of life-course-based ‘whole-systems’ change.

Why was it developed?

Currently, neither adult- nor child-oriented safeguarding systems focus sufficiently on the specific developmental and transitional needs of adolescents and young adults. This leads to differences and gaps between safeguarding services, policies and practice systems, which are designed with either children or adults in mind. An emergent formulation of Transitional Safeguarding was proposed to stimulate responses to the problems created by seeing childhood and adulthood as divergent ends of a spectrum. Transitional Safeguarding is concerned not only with extending protective services for children into early adulthood but also with incorporating principles that underpin the design of adult social care frameworks (for example, empowerment, choice and collaboration) into work with young people. ‘Transitional’ refers not only to human life stages but also to the boundary-spanning connections that are needed between local agencies, including social care, health, education and housing, their interface with youth and criminal justice agencies, and the services offered by the voluntary sector.

What are its principles?

Transitional Safeguarding proposes that new systems are designed around three intersecting core principles:

  • they are ecological and contextual, using place-based perspectives;

  • they are designed with developmental and transitional needs and strengths in mind, allowing for a more fluid alignment of systems and services across the life course; and

  • they foreground relational perspectives, prioritising capacity-building and trauma-attuned approaches.

They are also designed around three cross-cutting themes:

  • they are informed by a variety of evidence relevant to local issues and priorities – from data and research to practice wisdom and lived experience;

  • they actively attend to equality, diversity and inclusion; and

  • they are developed through co-production and other participative approaches that directly involve young people and their communities (Holmes, 2022; Office of the Chief Social Worker for Adults et al, 2021).

How has it been used?

Transitional Safeguarding principles are gaining traction and beginning to inform policy, systems and practice development across different areas and sectors in the UK, but its emergent character means that Transitional Safeguarding developments are ongoing.

Our research approach

It is notable that while the design and technological fields are open about innovations that do not ‘take’ (Mulgan, 2019), this does not seem to hold true in the social care sector. Our reviews of the innovation literature (Hampson et al, 2021; Lefevre et al, 2022) could find little detail of innovation projects that had struggled or foundered completely. This lack of openness is likely to relate to a pervasive blame culture in the public sector: services are worried not only about placing vulnerable families at risk if a new service ‘does not work’ but of being seen as having made errors or ‘wasting’ public money (Bason, 2018). As a result, the existing literature is not as useful as it could be in helping those leading and implementing innovation to recognise problems at the earliest stage and learn from what has not worked well elsewhere. Therefore, rather than considering what should be done in a given situation to achieve particular aims, our starting point in the Innovate Project was to look instead at what actually happened in real time and on the ground in the everyday contexts of six sites of innovation: local authorities, interagency safeguarding networks and organisations in the independent or charitable sector.

Data collection

Each of the frameworks for practice and service innovation (Trauma-informed Practice, Contextual Safeguarding or Transitional Safeguarding) was the focus of one of three separate research strands. Researchers worked across small teams in their strand to build relationships with key players in each site. A summary of the methods at the core of our ethnographic approach is set out in Box 1.4 (for a fuller account, see: www.theinnovateproject.co.uk/about-the-project/the-research-approach/). Our original intention had been for a form of ‘embedded ethnography’, where researchers would have been co-located with teams for several days at a time. However, the data-collection period spanned 2021–22 – in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant public health restrictions. As a result, the majority of data collection comprised interviews and observations of meetings conducted via video-calling software. Relatedly, we had also expected to observe and interview young people and parents involved with the designing and trialling of the innovations, but again, due to the impact of the pandemic, the sites were unable to involve and collaborate with service users in the ways that had been anticipated at the outset; as a result, we did not engage with young people and parents until the latter stages of the project.

The Data-Collection Methods at the Core of the Ethnographic Approach

  • Observations of strategic meetings in each of the six case-study sites to plan and review the design and implementation of the new intervention or system.

  • Observations of multi-agency meetings held in each site to assess risk and plan safety for young people.

  • ‘Clarification discussions’ with some of the individuals involved in those meetings to explore proceedings from their viewpoints.

  • Interviews with leaders, managers and practitioners about their role, intentions and experiences during the innovation journey.

  • Analysis of case-file documentation that revealed how professionals were thinking about young people and their approach to practice.

  • Exploration of policy and practice guidance and performance indicators at a local and national level that were governing activities within the sites.

Our two-year ethnography was supplemented by knowledge-exchange activities conducted with our Innovate Project Learning and Development Network – senior professionals from other local authorities and organisations interested in innovation and/or the adoption of Transitional Safeguarding, Trauma-informed Practice or Contextual Safeguarding. As the theorisation of Transitional Safeguarding was still at an early stage, we undertook supplementary data collection to understand the wider national debates and policy developments that were emerging. This included: (1) interviews with expert informants, such as policy makers and sector leaders, who were contributing to the ongoing refinement of the framework (for example, Office of the Chief Social Worker for Adults et al, 2021); (2) national reflective group discussions for researchers and professionals involved in Transitional Safeguarding work; and (3) ‘journey-mapping’ interviews with professionals from our Learning and Development Network who were embarking on modest forms of system or practice change (see Chapters Three and Seven).

Data analysis

First and foremost, we constructed our research as case studies of innovation. These differed as to geographical context, type of governance (statutory or third sector), whether single- or multi-agency, and which of the three frameworks was providing a basis for innovation. Our method of analysis was informed principally by Institutional ethnography (Smith, 2005; Smith and Griffith, 2022); this approach looks closely at who is doing what, when, how and why. The aim is to surface what factors are at play when individuals and groups engage in particular activities under specific material conditions in the pursuit of particular goals, and the (intended and unintended) impacts of these. In this sense, the term ‘institutional’ refers not to the organisations and systems within which practitioners and managers do their everyday work but, rather, to the implicit and explicit forms of discourse, management, power and control that govern and organise their everyday work lives and practices (DeVault, 2006). These ‘ruling relations’ can only be discovered ‘in motion’, as they are brought into being in ‘people’s local doings, in particular sites and at particular times’ (Smith, 2005: 68).

The researchers produced ‘rich, thick empirical descriptions’ of each piece of data as soon as possible after each event (Rankin, 2017: 5), indexing and mapping each item against others. This process illuminated connections and flows between organisational aspirations, social practices, policies, systemic constraints, institutional processes, power structures and discourses. Insights were produced at the micro-level (where power lay in individual sites), the meso-level (about ruling relations common to social care organisations) and the macro-level (discourses and expectations governing how young people are seen and responded to at a social and policy level with respect to vulnerability, risk, agency and value).

Ethical considerations

Ethical approval for the study was provided both by the University of Sussex and through local governance processes in the individual sites. While we could be confident that we were complying with standard ethical principles for research conduct (UK Research Integrity Office, 2023), we were troubled throughout by the extent to which we, as academic outsiders, might be making judgements and drawing inferences about the activities, motivations and subjectivities of hard-working and well-intentioned professionals. We did not consider ourselves to be standing above those whom we observed; indeed, many of us had grappled formerly with similar challenges as practitioners and social work managers ourselves. Our starting point was one of understanding and solidarity, recognising that we were just as influenced by the ruling relations of our society. Nonetheless, we were aware of the potential for judgementalism and sought from the start to incorporate our own project systems that would provoke our reflexivity about power and subjectivities as a matter of course.

To this end, we layered in psychosocial theories and group reflective methods to deepen our understanding of some of the complex human emotions, interactions and power dynamics not only that we witnessed but also that governed our own behaviours and analytic thinking (Salzberger-Wittenberg, 1983; Menzies-Lyth, 1988 [1959]; Ruch, 2007; Cooper and Lees, 2015). Over time, we came to see ourselves far less as researching outsiders than – using the lens of para-ethnography (Holmes and Marcus, 2008; Islam, 2015) – as journeying alongside our sites, which brought their own expertise to the analytic endeavour. We also grappled intensely with the ethical complexities of when and how to offer information, even advice, about innovation theory, extra-familial harm and the three frameworks. The complementary insights generated by these perspectives are discussed in Chapters Five and Seven.

About this book

Following on from this introduction, Chapter Two provides some overarching frameworks for understanding the processes of innovation in social care that have been developed through the Innovate Project’s learning. In particular, it sets out what factors and processes can help facilitate innovation at different stages of the innovation journey. Chapters Three to Seven each discuss a key theme that emerged from data analysis. Chapter Three considers how revisiting earlier stages of design in recursive learning loops may be a normative characteristic of complex systems innovation rather than a mark of failure. Chapter Four explores the overlaps and contingencies between ‘innovation’ and practice improvement measures rather than the more common positioning of them as distinctive, even oppositional, entities. Chapter Five is about what ‘works’ in innovation but critiques standard quantitative or outcomes-focused notions of innovation ‘success’. Chapter Six discusses the uncertainty and anxieties stirred up by innovation processes, and considers how these might be managed by system and project leaders. Chapter Seven focuses on the building of learning partnerships between researchers and innovators to facilitate contextually aligned and affectively attuned innovation. Finally, Chapter Eight considers the implications for policy and practice of the insights and frameworks presented in this book.

Conclusion

This chapter has set out in brief terms why this book is so necessary at the present time, that is, to respond to the gaps in current knowledge about the processes of innovation in social care through the description and analysis of situated innovation practice. The book will provide insights into how innovation might be facilitated and challenges overcome, drawn primarily from the Innovate Project’s two years of ethnographic fieldwork in six case-study sites in the UK, which were developing new practice methods and systems to address extra-familial risks and harms using the frameworks of Trauma-informed Practice, Contextual Safeguarding or Transitional Safeguarding. However, the focus of this book is not the effectiveness of these three frameworks in addressing extra-familial risks and harms but, rather, the particularities of what each framework demands in the way of system capabilities, resources, relationships, ethics and policies in order to flourish and be sustained in a local context. Before we move to the five chapters that will each expand upon specific findings, we turn next in Chapter Two to outlining some conceptual frameworks about innovation practice that were developed through literature review and expert informant interviews in the early stages of the Innovate Project, and that have been tested for their salience through our fieldwork.

Key chapter insights for policy and practice

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  • Contextual Safeguarding, Trauma-informed Practice and Transitional Safeguarding offer promising frameworks upon which practice and system innovation to address extra-familial risks and harms may be designed and delivered, but more needs to be learned about how they can be operationalised effectively in local contexts.

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