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We're relaunching our VCS collective!

Bio: Delphine Peace is a Research Associate in the Contextual Safeguarding Research Programme at Durham University. Delphine's research explores how children's services and VCS organisations are responding to extra-familial harm and creating safety for young people in their communities in the UK and beyond.

Voluntary and community sector (VCS) organisations play a vital role in supporting young people impacted by extra-familial harm.  Through partnering with organisations as part of various research projects that explored Contextual Safeguarding in VCS settings, we learned about how these organisations can work collaboratively with young people and create safety in their communities in ways that statutory services often find challenging. We produced frameworks and guidance to support VCS organisations to adopt Contextual Safeguarding (see links below) and we are keen to hear how these are being used in the sector. This is why we are thrilled to ‘revive’ our VCS Collective. The VCS Collective brings together organisations who are actively using Contextual Safeguarding principles and resources in their work. Together we aim to:

  • Enhance our understanding of what Contextual Safeguarding looks like in VCS settings
  • Share learning and examples of the contextual approaches developed
  • Evidence the impact of contextual interventions on young people, families and communities, as well as sector-wide impact
  • Identify needs and opportunities for support to further progress Contextual Safeguarding in the VCS

In our first meeting we reconnected with members of our previous collective (2019-2022) – which we paused during a restructuring in the capacity of our team – and welcomed new organisations on board.  We set out three key areas of focus over the coming year, outlined below.

  1. Measuring contextual outcomes

For many organisations doing Contextual Safeguarding, measuring outcomes in relation to contexts, and not just individuals, is a real challenge. Our research with VCS organisations highlighted examples of interventions that sought to understand and build on the strengths of peer groups and friendships to support young people beyond individual case work, and to increase young people’s safety in specific locations. However, demonstrating the impact of these interventions was often complicated by commissioning and monitoring frameworks that focus on individual outcomes for young people (generally via behaviour-change) within very short funding timescales. With the VCS collective we will explore how organisations are using the Contextual Safeguarding outcomes framework to evidence how they support, and create safety for, young people, families and their communities. This will run alongside our Resourcing Safety participatory project that will work with young people, their communities, and funders and commissioners, to develop a Contextual Safeguarding funding a commissioning guide.

  1. The values of the Contextual Safeguarding framework

Through the VCS collective we will also capture learning around how the values guiding the work of VCS organisations align with those underlying the Contextual Safeguarding framework.  VCS organisations often support young people and families in ways that foreground collaborative, trusting, and caring relationships, rooted in rights-based and strength-based approaches. The centrality of relationships within the Contextual Safeguarding framework has to date not featured as prominently in our research as the development of statutory processes. Yet we know it is essential to young people. As part of our previous ‘Scale Up’ and Building Safety projects, we asked young people what they wanted from professionals that were tasked with creating safety for them. They highlighted relationships based on trust, equality and respect. There is a lot we can learn from the VCS in this respect.

  1. The unique contribution of the VCS to Contextual Safeguarding

VCS organisations draw on their values and unique skillset to develop contextual approaches.  For example, our research shows that when VCS practitioners develop trusted relationships with young people, they have greater access to the places and spaces where young people spend time. These relationships create opportunities to learn about young people's experiences in these spaces. This is especially valuable when supporting young people who, for reasons connected with their experiences of extra-familial harm (and sometimes negative experiences of statutory services), may be reluctant to engage with statutory children’s services.

Because they tend to have better relationships with young people, VCS organisations are well placed to bring young people’s voices into multi-agency safeguarding meetings. This is another crucial way they can contribute to Contextual Safeguarding. For example, in my research, I have observed some safeguarding panels where youth workers helped to steer intervention plans away from actions aimed at disrupting risk by increasing the surveillance of young people in specific locations, such as in a park, or sought to disperse them from these spaces. Instead, youth workers supported multi-agency partners to think about how they could collectively create safety around young people by increasing guardianship and meeting young people’s needs in these spaces. For this type of work to happen, VCS organisations need to be included and valued as key partners within multi-agency partnerships. However, this is not always the case. Some VCS professionals shared with me that they sometimes felt sidelined from these partnerships because they are from the voluntary sector. Others have told me that they were often expected to share information about the young people they support with statutory agencies. Practitioners saw this as undermining their principles of confidentiality, trust and consent, especially when the information requested by partners concerned young people’s peers, or individuals, who are not in contact with statutory services.

Alongside celebrating their strengths, we will capture the specific challenges that VCS organisations come across when adopting Contextual Safeguarding – within their own organisations and within multi-agency partnerships – and how these might undermine their unique contributions to this work. The VCS collective will provide a space to reflect on these difficulties and identify support needs. We are excited to continue learning alongside organisations and share learning from all their commendable work. See below to find out more about our research projects with VCS organisations and the resources we have developed to support the adoption of Contextual Safeguarding in the third sector.

If you are interested in joining the Contextual Safeguarding VCS collective do get in touch!