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  • Author or Editor: Carlene Firmin x
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Despite evidence that young people’s peer relationships are associated with their experiences of abuse, child protection guidance directs social work practice to be primarily focused on the assessment of, and intervention with, families. Presenting data from two studies into the nature of, and safeguarding response to, peer abuse in England, this article questions the familial parameters of child protection frameworks, and evidences the need to include peer group relationships within social work assessment. Drawing on Bourdieu’s sociological theory, a conceptual framework is used to evidence that familial-focused practice fails to address the extra-familial social conditions in which peer abuse manifests. Complimenting an international evidence base that promotes ecological responses to adolescent welfare and social service development, this article suggests that advancing knowledge of peer group assessment and intervention should form a central part of the child protection research agenda.

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Drawing on research the author is conducting at the University of Bedfordshire and the outcomes of a pilot programme, ‘The Gendered Action on Gangs (GAG) Project’, which trained young women1 to influence local policy and services, this chapter will explain the process, and consider the benefits, of ‘gender-proofing’2 antiviolence work through the engagement of young women. Using Bourdieu’s theory of social fields and agency, the chapter: outlines key policy and research on peer-on-peer abuse generally and on serious youth violence3 specifically; assesses the relevance of serious youth violence policy and practice to the lived experiences of gang-affected young women; considers the benefits and challenges of engaging gang-affected young women in policy and service development; and discusses the means by which different agencies could directly engage young women in antiviolence work in the future. Finally, the chapter also considers the potential for applying this approach to engaging boys and young men4 in antiviolence work and explores whether there is a role for young men in preventing gang-related violence against young women.

From 2008 onwards, evidence has been generated on the impact of street gangs and serious youth violence on women and girls across England (Pitts, 2008; Firmin, 2010, 2011, 2013a; Pearce and Pitts, 2011; Beckett et al, 2012; Berelowitz et al, 2012). While regional 2and national policy has increased recognition of the impact of gang violence on women and girls, consistent local responses are yet to develop (DCSF, 2010; GLA, 2010; HM Government, 2011, 2013). These inconsistencies are rooted in broader challenges in acknowledging, understanding, and conceptualising young people’s experiences of gender-based violence specifically, and gendered identities and hierarchies more generally.

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This chapter presents the extra-familial dynamics of peer abuse against the familial parameters of child protection. Analysed through the constructivist structuralist concepts offered by Pierre Bourdieu, cumulative data from a multi-study programme into extra-familial abuse provides a roadmap towards identifying the components of a contextual account of, and response to, peer abuse. Through this process, it is possible to bridge the gap between the field of child protection and the social fields of peer groups. This can be done by theorising and testing a new approach to extra-familial child protection — Contextual Safeguarding. In so doing, the chapter explains a framework through which peer abuse can be both perceived, and responded to, as a child protection issue.

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Responding to Extra-Familial Risks and Harms

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During adolescence, young people are exposed to a range of risks beyond their family homes including sexual and criminal exploitation, peer-on-peer abuse and gang-related violence. However, it has only been over the past two decades that the critical safeguarding implications of these harms have started to be recognised. Social care organisations are increasingly experimenting with new approaches but continue to experience challenges in supporting affected young people and their families.

This book analyses the results of the first rapid evidence assessment of social care organisations’ responses to risks and harms outside the home across 10 countries. The authors highlight key areas for service development, give insights into how these risks and harms can be understood, and consider wider implications for policy and practice.

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In 2018, England’s safeguarding guidelines were amended to explicitly recognise a need for child protection responses to extra-familial harms. This article explores the feasibility of these amendments, using quantitative and qualitative analysis of case-file data, as well as reflective workshops, from five children’s social care services in England and Wales, in the context of wider policy and practice frameworks that guide the delivery of child protection systems and responses to harm beyond families. Green shoots of contextual social work practice were evident in the data set. However, variance within and across participating services raises questions about whether contextual social work responses to extra-familial harm are sustainable in child protection systems dominated by a focus on parental responsibility. Opportunities to use contextual responses to extra-familial harm as a gateway to reform individualised child protection practices more broadly are also discussed.

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This chapter shares examples of how social care services have successfully engaged with peer, school and (to a lesser extent) community settings associated with extra-familial risks and harms to improve young people’s well-being and safety. It highlights how structural factors, such as poverty, racism and sexism, appear to undermine the efficacy of interventions and organisational responses if their effects remain unaddressed, and outlines recommendations made in the literature for approaches found to be beneficial. The chapter ends by noting the limitations of individualised social care responses that focus on changing the behaviour of young people and fail to address the wider social structures of systems that create, or sustain, risks beyond the family home. It also highlights that while the evidence base for contextual practice interventions is well established, the integration of such an approach into wider system design is relatively underdeveloped.

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This chapter sets the context for the rest of the book by tracing the increased awareness over the past 15 years of safeguarding risks and harms experienced by young people beyond the home and family, and how they have been responded to at a policy and service level both within the UK and internationally. The extra-familial risks and harms that are included within this umbrella concept are clarified. The chapter starts with an exploration of the gradual conceptual shift from such notions as ‘child prostitution’ to ‘child sexual exploitation’ and introduces the protection–participation dichotomy that is a key locus of professional struggle. The chapter moves on to explore the ethical and conceptual complexities engendered by a dawning recognition of child criminal exploitation. Attention is given to how challenges of safeguarding young people during adolescence are shared across various countries in the Global North, despite current divergent definitions of the harms faced by this group and how social work responses to them have been configured. The chapter closes by detailing the structure of the book and the contribution it will make to policy and service development in the UK and beyond.

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Efforts to improve interagency working in situations of extra-familial risks and harms were often highlighted within the literature reviewed for this book as a critical element in creating the conditions within which effective practice could thrive. This chapter explores the rationale and methods for enhancing cooperation and building a common purpose among partner organisations, which each have a role to play in responding to EFRH. These include: co-locating professionals from different organisations; the development of multi-agency protocols and information-sharing agreements; the co-commissioning of responses; and the streamlining of multi-agency meetings and decision-making processes. The challenges that professionals face when trying to work across agencies, and the effects of inadequate collaboration on service delivery and young people’s welfare, are considered. The chapter ends by presenting challenges and successes in moving towards shared interagency definitions of adolescence, vulnerability and extra-familial risks and harms.

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This chapter sets out a succinct version of the methodology of the evidence review upon which this book is based, including the questions, terminologies, search and screening strategy, and the framework approach to analysis. An integrated way of defining extra-familial risks and harms is outlined, alongside offering approaches to subcategorisation that illustrate where these forms of harm, and the responses to them, vary and align. Five themes established through the framework analysis are presented, which characterise promising or effective practice interventions or organisational/whole-system responses. They are combined with the harm-type analysis to create a typology of social care responses to extra-familial risks and harms. The limitations of the review and the nature of the evidence it identified are then discussed. The chapter ends by explaining how each of the five promising or effective social care responses to extra-familial risks and harms form the focus of Chapters Three to Eight.

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One of the most common sets of service responses identified through the evidence review were those that made use of, or sought to build, relationships between young people affected by extra-familial risks and harms, and the protective adults around them. In this chapter, we discuss these types of responses and the conditions in which they appear most effective. In particular, we explore the routes that services took to build trust and collaboration between young people and the professionals charged with keeping them safe. Examples from the literature reviewed are used to demonstrate various approaches to relationship building. Looking beyond relationships between young people and professionals, this chapter also explores the evidence base for approaches seeking to build relationships within young people’s own social and community contexts, as well as those aiming to strengthen the protective capacity of the relationships that young people have with parents and other carers.

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