Contextual Safeguarding

Contextual Safeguarding is an emerging approach to understanding, and responding to, children’s experiences of significant harm beyond their families. It recognises that the different relationships that children form in their neighbourhoods, schools and online can feature violence and abuse. Parents and carers have limited influence over these contexts, and children’s experiences of extra-familial abuse can undermine parent-child relationships.


In Hillingdon we have developed a multiagency response to the risks that children and young people face outside of their families and homes, this is known as extra-familial harm.  This includes child sexual exploitation, missing children, gangs, county lines, radicalisation, modern slavery and all forms of criminal exploitation. These risks can be understood using the model of Contextual Safeguarding.   

This model supports us to understand, and respond, to the risks that young people face through relationships formed in their communities, schools and online.  It relies on the effective engagement of young people, families, communities and professionals. As with many forms of abuse, exploitation brings with it an imbalance of power within the relationship. This power imbalance significantly impairs children’s ability to ask for help or to form safe relationships with professionals or family/friends.  

As a Safeguarding Partnership we recognise that relationships with young people provide hope and an opportunity for change.   This basic tenet is fundamental to practice with families.   We are building upon our existing links with schools, neighbourhoods and the wider community to reduce the contexts in which harm can take place.  This includes raising awareness across all professionals working in public services, businesses and community groups.

Contextual Safeguarding is:

  • Collaborative: Is achieved through collaboration between professionals, children and young people, families and communities to inform decisions about safety
  • Ecological: Considers the links between the spaces where young people experience harm and how these are shaped by inequalities
  • Rights-based: Rooted in children’s and human rights
  • Strengths-based: Builds on the strengths of individuals and communities to achieve change
  • Evidence-informed:  Grounded in the reality of how life happens.  Proposes solutions that are informed by the lived experiences of young people, families, communities and practitioners

(Owens, Ruch, Firmin, Millar, Remes, 2020)