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  • Author or Editor: Carlene Firmin x
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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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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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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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The Next Chapter

How do we respond to harm faced by young people beyond their front doors? Can practitioners keep young people safe at school, in their neighbourhoods or with their friends when social care systems are designed to work with families?

The Contextual Safeguarding approach has transformed how policy makers, social care leaders, practitioners and researchers understand harm that happens to young people in their communities and what is required to respond. Since 2015 it has been tested across the UK and internationally. This book shares stories from child sexual exploitation, child criminal exploitation and peer violence about what has been learnt on this journey.

For anyone interested in how we safeguard young people beyond their front doors, this book shows how much we have achieved and raises big questions about what more we need to do to ensure young people are safe – whatever the context.

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In this introductory chapter, we chart stages through which Contextual Safeguarding (CS) has been implemented since 2015. In doing so, we outline the four domains of the CS framework and indicate how the chapters in this edited collection deepen how each is understood. Reflecting on where we began, where we have got to and where we are going, this chapter explains why there is far more to understand about the implications of CS, and how the values underpinning the approach may assist on that learning journey. Viewing the domains of CS through the lens of its values brings us closer to an ethical adoption of the approach and illustrates the paradigm shift required in research, policy and practice for full system implementation to be realised.

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When introduced, Contextual Safeguarding (CS) promoted two key ways to better integrate responses to extra-familial harm (EFH) into child protection systems. Firstly, building reference to extra-familial contexts (like peer groups) into social work assessments that had traditionally focused on familial contexts. Secondly, promoting that children’s social care, rather than policing, practitioners led responses to EFH. However, in the latest testing of CS, a third legislative framework, and associated operational structure, has become apparent: Community Safety.

In England, Community Safety Partnerships (CSPs) are legislatively responsible for coordinating council responses to crime and disorder. This has often involved them leading local responses to crime or antisocial behaviour (ASB), as well as sanctioning those deemed responsible for those crimes/behaviours.

Local areas testing CS have found themselves initiating child welfare assessments of contexts that have also been responded to via Community Safety disruption activity. Young people on social work plans due to the exploitation they have experienced are also facing Community Safety sanctions for ASBs they have displayed because of that exploitation. In these situations, the principal driver for decision making is unclear: if part of the response undermines the other, which one should take precedence? In this chapter, we draw upon data from test sites trying to overcome this tension, along with examples of those who have been compromised by it. We situate these examples within legislation in England as a case study example asking whether the use of Community Safety frameworks in this field undermine the principle in child protection legislation.

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The four domains of Contextual Safeguarding (CS) have provided the framework for what we are doing to respond to extra-familial harm (EFH). The evidence in this book indicates that they may not always provide enough of a framework to protect against problematic practice within child protection. In response, the five values of CS provide guidance on how we can do CS. Drawing on bell hooks’s (2001) love ethic, this chapter explores the five values of CS: collaboration, ecological, rights-based, strengths-based and evidence-informed, arguing that CS aims to create societies where children can know love. Drawing on findings from each chapter, it explores the need for love to be shown towards children impacted by EFH and practitioners working to protect them.

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Since its introduction in 2015, the concept of Contextual Safeguarding (CS) has been used to better understand, and respond, to extra-familial contexts and relationships where young people come to harm. Rapid take-up of the idea among children’s services and policy makers might suggest that CS is well understood. Yet, much of what has been learnt about the approach is yet to be published, and those involved in studying and testing the concept still have many questions about its ethical implementation. This edited collection charts the latest thinking on CS by researchers involved in developing the work – in the UK and internationally. Many draw upon insights from young people, families and practitioners who have participated in local pilots to reflect upon whether efforts at implementation have aligned with the CS framework and reflect the values which underpin it. In the process, their contributions evidence the challenges and opportunities that come with trying to build protective social conditions using systems designed to fix families and young people instead of the conditions in which they live. For anyone interested in improving how we safeguard young people beyond their front doors, this book illustrates how much we have achieved and what more we need to do to ensure young people are safe – whatever the context.

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Since its introduction in 2015, the concept of Contextual Safeguarding (CS) has been used to better understand, and respond, to extra-familial contexts and relationships where young people come to harm. Rapid take-up of the idea among children’s services and policy makers might suggest that CS is well understood. Yet, much of what has been learnt about the approach is yet to be published, and those involved in studying and testing the concept still have many questions about its ethical implementation. This edited collection charts the latest thinking on CS by researchers involved in developing the work – in the UK and internationally. Many draw upon insights from young people, families and practitioners who have participated in local pilots to reflect upon whether efforts at implementation have aligned with the CS framework and reflect the values which underpin it. In the process, their contributions evidence the challenges and opportunities that come with trying to build protective social conditions using systems designed to fix families and young people instead of the conditions in which they live. For anyone interested in improving how we safeguard young people beyond their front doors, this book illustrates how much we have achieved and what more we need to do to ensure young people are safe – whatever the context.

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Since its introduction in 2015, the concept of Contextual Safeguarding (CS) has been used to better understand, and respond, to extra-familial contexts and relationships where young people come to harm. Rapid take-up of the idea among children’s services and policy makers might suggest that CS is well understood. Yet, much of what has been learnt about the approach is yet to be published, and those involved in studying and testing the concept still have many questions about its ethical implementation. This edited collection charts the latest thinking on CS by researchers involved in developing the work – in the UK and internationally. Many draw upon insights from young people, families and practitioners who have participated in local pilots to reflect upon whether efforts at implementation have aligned with the CS framework and reflect the values which underpin it. In the process, their contributions evidence the challenges and opportunities that come with trying to build protective social conditions using systems designed to fix families and young people instead of the conditions in which they live. For anyone interested in improving how we safeguard young people beyond their front doors, this book illustrates how much we have achieved and what more we need to do to ensure young people are safe – whatever the context.

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