Research project launches to better protect vulnerable children

By Joe Lepper

| 25 September 2019

A £1.9m research project has launched to find ways to better protect vulnerable children from threats such a child sexual exploitation (CSE) and county lines drug dealing.

The project aims to help those who support vulnerable children to develop innovative ways to protect young people. Picture: iStock

The project has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and over the next four years will investigate how council's social care systems can improve their safeguarding work with vulnerable children.

Risks being looked at in the project include how drugs gangs are exploiting young people through county lines networks, which use vulnerable children to distribute drugs from cities to rural and market town areas.

Criminal exploitation of children, including CSE and wider gang association are also covered.

Abuse between children, known as peer-on-peer abuse, is another safeguarding issue being explored.

The aim is to help councils and others involved in supporting vulnerable children to develop innovative ways to ensure young people are protected.

For the research the work of six councils will be scrutinised. This will look at how they are embedding three specific areas of safeguarding work that could be developed further across the UK.

This includes trauma-informed practice, which looks at the potentially long-lasting impact on young people's mental health when dealing with adversity and trauma in their life.

Another is transitional safeguarding, which focuses on safeguarding issues when young people are making the transition from childhood to adulthood.

Contextual safeguarding is also being examined. This is where child protection work looks at the wider family context when supporting abuse victims.

The project is being co-ordinated by academics at the University of Sussex and involves researchers at the University of Bedfordshire, which has developed work around contextual safeguarding.

Also involved are Research in Practice, the children in care and care leavers charity Become and the Innovation Unit.

University of Bedfordshire contextual safeguarding programme head Dr Carlene Firmin, who is working on the project, says there are 36 councils who are looking to use contextual safeguarding in their work.

"We are thrilled to be partnering others in this project at a critical point in the development of contextual safeguarding as more as areas beyond those with whom we are directly working - begin to take up and develop the approach," she said.

"This project will go some way to understanding how they are undertaking this system change - providing an evidence base upon which other areas can build their approaches in the future."

Earlier this month the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) for runaway and missing children and adults raised particular concerns around the risks faced by looked-after children placed in residential care out of their local area.

It's No Place Like Home report said that the practice of placing children far from their home is putting them at risk of paedophiles and gangs involved in county line drug dealing.

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