What is Contextual Safeguarding?
Contextual safeguarding meaning:
Contextual Safeguarding means understanding that children and young people are not isolated; they are part of a more extensive network involving peers, communities, and various influences. When dealing with the challenges these individuals face, it's crucial to grasp these influences, both in the physical world and in the wider realm of social media.
Previously known as systems theory in social work, contextual safeguarding has gained prominence, especially concerning child-on-child abuse. This has led to a greater acknowledgement of the need to understand the lives and experiences of all children and young people, not just those facing specific types of abuse, as emphasised in Keeping Children Safe in Education.
As we grow, we first realise our individuality and then understand the importance of interacting with others. This recognition expands as our network broadens, encompassing influences from different sources. From birth, children encounter influences from caregivers, family, friends, teachers, and, eventually, the broader internet community as they grow older.
Understanding the dynamics within each cohort is advantageous in educational settings, which consist of various groups like classes, year levels, and key stages. This knowledge enables tailoring the curriculum to address current issues, making the safeguarding approach responsive. Educators can provide targeted support by recognising the influences on individual children and young people.
Examples of contextual safeguarding in schools:
Consider an average primary school with classes from Reception to Year 6. Each class has unique needs based on age and development. Class teachers may notice class-specific information and non-serious but collectively important issues that benefit from a holistic approach. This information, combined with concerns and themes identified from analysis, allows educators to address specific challenges, e.g.:
- Pupils messaging each other excessively on mobile devices;
- A year group is experiencing a particular issue with racist incidents;
- A group of children having a higher incidence of parents in prison;
- A specific cohort is dealing with a significant number of domestic abuse incidents.
Local knowledge is also crucial, such as understanding gang culture and levels of deprivation in the catchment area.
The internet and social media esxtend traditional boundaries and should also be considered For example, staff may hear about online influences on children, in turn affecting their offline lives. This information might not always require individual intervention but could benefit from a whole-class approach.
Contextual safeguarding information is particularly valuable when children are missing education, at risk of exploitation, or victims of child-on-child abuse. It is also important though to recognise that networks can also have positive impacts and can help identify beneficial influences on children and young people.
SSS Learning Safeguarding Director