Improving social care systems and practices for safeguarding young people at complex risk: what promotes and sustains innovation?

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sussex
Department Name: Sch of Education and Social Work

Abstract

A key challenge for children's social care is how to improve service experiences and outcomes for some of the most vulnerable members of our society in the face of complex social problems, increased demand for services, greater public accountability and pressure on public spending. Incremental improvement to traditional service systems and structures is not always sufficient to address intractable issues, such as child sexual exploitation, which are resistant to any clear-cut, unidimensional or standardised remedies. Innovation is increasingly being mooted as a way of fundamentally rethinking the nature of such practice problems and transforming (often radically) the ways that services are structured and delivered. This incurs substantial investment of resource, but not enough is yet understood about the conditions, factors and processes that will allow innovation to flourish and sustain over time and to be diffused effectively. Opportunities to address gaps and deficiencies in social care provision, therefore, are not being maximised and it cannot be assumed that social investment provides best value for money.

Our four year collaborative project will address this gap in knowledge, providing invaluable insight into the stages of innovation over time, and identifying what practice or system innovations require to maximise their potential for addressing service objectives, improving experiences and outcomes for young people and families, and achieving value for money. The processes of innovation can only be studied in context, so we will investigate how six social care organisations or networks across the UK have innovated in practice services or systems to address the 'complex safeguarding' risks that vulnerable young people face at the intersection of their family, peer, social and environmental contexts, such as exploitation and gang association. More specifically, we will scrutinise how the six sites have interpreted and operationalised one of three flexible conceptual frameworks which allow for nuanced and situated innovation to address complex safeguarding risks: Trauma-Informed Practice, Contextual Safeguarding or Transitional Safeguarding. The detailed scrutiny of our multi-method case study design will enable us to uncover the various stages of innovation in real time, within organisations and systems, and in their varied cultural, geographical and regulatory contexts. Existing theories of innovation will be tested and scrutinised critically alongside theories of organisational development and change management, and systemic and psychosocial theories, to create new cross-disciplinary understandings which could then have relevance to wider innovation practice. Any evidence of improved outcomes, positive service user experience and cost-efficiency associated with these innovations will be established. Circles of engagement and influence with a wider group of social care organisations, in the UK and overseas, will allow emergent findings to be tested in more diverse contexts, and to generate and capture impact.

Our project will inform the development of future innovation, both in complex safeguarding and in social care and public services more broadly. Our findings will lead to the development of a critical sociology of complex safeguarding and a practice model that: collaborates with young people and families as partners; supports practitioners and services in assessing and addressing peer, environmental, individual and familial risks; ensures the impact of trauma on young people and practitioners is understood and mitigated; and respects young people's support and protection needs alongside their rights to autonomy, privacy, and voice. A comprehensive programme of engagement, knowledge exchange and impact generation with communities of practice, engagement and interest will diffuse findings and provide evidence of benefit to stakeholders.

Planned Impact

This project will build cross-disciplinary critical understandings of how, why and where innovation happens in social care, identifying the conditions, factors and processes which lead to innovative ideas being conceived, implemented, tested, sustained, scaled, and spread, within and across organisations and systems. Understanding will be enhanced of the facilitators, capabilities, inhibitors and barriers to innovations which address the challenges of complex safeguarding risks in adolescence, particularly new intervention methods, services or systems which operationalise the approaches of Trauma-Informed Practice, Contextual Safeguarding and Transitional Safeguarding. Any evidence of improved outcomes for service users, positive service user experience and cost-efficiency associated with these innovations will also be revealed through this.

The new knowledge and related outputs produced through the project will indirectly benefit vulnerable young people and their families, who should see improvements in both their experience of practice interventions and the outcomes of their involvement with services. Commissioners and service providers within social care, and across other agencies within the multidisciplinary safeguarding system will benefit directly through information about whether the innovative methods, services and systems merit take-up, scaling and spreading. This will enable them to make evidence-informed decisions about whether and how they might support and diffuse innovations over time and in context, in the face of complex social problems, increased demand for services, greater public accountability and pressure on public spending. The critical sociology of complex safeguarding that will be constructed will benefit academic and professional understanding of the intractable issues which straddle disciplinary and organisational boundaries and are resistant to clear-cut, unidimensional or standardised solutions. The new knowledge will facilitate innovation and new cross-disciplinary academic understandings in the field of adolescent risk and complex safeguarding, enabling a re-visioning and transformation of practice methods, services and systems. The resources produced for the social care field, including learning tools and a new practice framework or model, will directly benefit practitioners and organisations; they will be able to improve single- and multi-agency responses and develop coordinated approaches to addressing complex safeguarding risks and needs. The opportunities for situated and reflexive learning, provided by our communities of practice, engagement and influence, will promote diffusion of new understandings widely and rapidly across the sector, spreading the field of influence.

The new knowledge will have direct relevance for policy makers (Social Care Wales, Scottish Social Services Council, Dept. for Education, Northern Ireland Social Care Council), sector leaders (ADCS, SCIE, the What Works Centre in Children's Social Care), innovation experts, think tanks and funders (e.g. InnovateUK, NESTA, Public Health England, Impetus-PEF, the Institute for Govt., the Big Lottery Fund), practice networks (Local Safeguarding Children's Boards, Principal Social Workers' Network, RiP Partners Network, the Coalition of Care & Support Providers in Scotland, the Improvement Network: Northern Ireland), service user groups (e.g. Become, Coram, the Family Rights Group, Young Minds, Catch 22), and other public services (e.g. youth justice, police, housing, probation, child and adolescent mental health services, sexual health, and education). Whilst the new knowledge was created in the UK, and has specific relevance for that geographical and cultural setting, the circles of engagement and influence with our international partners will enable us to test the transferability of new understandings for benefiting academic study and professional multi-disciplinary practice and service delivery internationally.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description During the first year of this four-year project, three desk-based literature reviews have been completed and have resulted in three journal articles (two accepted subject to minor revisions and one still under review). The findings of each is briefly summarised here.

a) Not all innovation activity in children's social care improves outcomes for young people and families and not all innovation is being conducted with regard to the principles of human rights, social justice and participation. Hence, a new conception of 'trustworthy innovation' is required for the sector, which is consistent with core social work principles, and informed by the interdisciplinary school of organisational ethics. We provide, in our paper, an ethical framework which offers questions to interrogate every stage of the innovation process in children's social care, and can guide policy-makers and the practice sector in determining the desirability of pursuing any particular model within a specific context.

b) The new concept of Transitional safeguarding invites the social care and related sectors to reconsider the false dichotomies set up by existing adult and child safeguarding systems. These silos often fail to adequately meet the needs of adolescents and young adults, particularly those facing risks beyond the family home, such as exploitation. Transitional safeguarding enables the 'in-between' position of adolescents to be thought about, not only relating to their physical and psychosocial development but also to their rights to services, participation and wellbeing. As such, transitional safeguarding challenges some conventional ideas about how risk and vulnerability are framed, requiring the sector to reconsider narrow conceptualisations of safeguarding systems and practice. Ways of drawing together resources, knowledge and skills to engage in mutual learning across agency and professional boundaries at local levels are set out. The importance of recognising that anxiety is commonly evoked at individual, organisational and systems levels in contexts of risk and uncertainty is emphasised, as this can lead to defences developing which interfere with professionals attuning to the specific needs of individual young people navigating the risks and potentials involved in transitions.

c) The ways that social care responds to risks and harms experienced by young people beyond the family home, such as child exploitation, peer abuse, gang affiliation and radicalisation, can be categorised in different kinds of system organisation or practice framework which vary depending on whether the risks are related to criminality, peers, exploitation, or sexual harm. Service effectiveness can best be enhanced when both improvements within the existing system implementation, and the potential necessity for system re-design are considered.
Exploitation Route Once the journal articles are published, then we will be able to publicise them widely and engage with both the research sites involved in the project, plus the social care sector more widely, on their implications.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy

URL https://theinnovateproject.co.uk/
 
Description Emergent project findings on extra-familial risks experienced by young people are being used in Continuing Professional Development courses for social workers
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact In 2020 and 2021, the Innovate Project findings are informing postgraduate teaching for social work practitioners and managers on continuing professional development courses - the PG Cert, PG Dip and MA in Effective Practice and the PG Cert, PG Dip and MA in Leadership and Management. This includes sessions by PI Lefevre and Co-I Hickle on young people and risk, Trauma-informed Practice, and Child Sexual Exploitation. These modular Postgraduate courses are delivered primarily to local authority staff in the South-East, who are sponsored on their study by their employers. Employers continue to commission this delivery from us year on year due to the high quality content and their satisfaction with how this improves the knowledge and skills of their staff.
URL http://www.sussex.ac.uk/esw/internal/departments/socialwork/pgcourses
 
Description The Innovate Project model of Contextual Safeguarding is included in the five year strategy of Third Sector organisation 'Safer London', which is one of our research sites
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
URL https://saferlondon.org.uk/our-strategy/
 
Title The Innovate Project website 
Description A project website was created and has been live since July 2020 at https://theinnovateproject.co.uk/. The website is our gateway to public engagement and developing impact. In each of the sections of the website, original material emerging from the project work can already be found. For example, on the page 'All About Innovation' https://theinnovateproject.co.uk/all-about-innovation/ visitors to the website can listen to an hour long podcast which talks through key issues that the project is dealing with, e.g. how the social care sector uses a range of (sometimes divergent) definitions of innovation; how and where innovation in social care is similar to or different from innovation as defined by other areas or disciplines; how innovation overlaps with, and diverges from, service or practice improvement?. The page on Trauma-informed Practice https://theinnovateproject.co.uk/trauma-informed-practice/ has a video setting out the key tenets of this innovative approach and links to an online resource on Trauma-informed Practice developed by Co-Investigator Hickle https://padlet.com/k_hickle/TIpractice. There is also a blog which sets out our thinking-in-progress https://theinnovateproject.co.uk/blog/. All our emergent findings will be directed to the social care sector, policymakers and academic users through this website. Those interested are able to sign up for our regular email updates. We are currently setting up a Learning and Development Network of social care organisations and leaders and will be surveying them regularly on how their use of these resources is changing their practices. This will enable us to identify impact arising from our research. The findings from our research have immediate salience for the social care sector and our website enables our resources to reach a wide audience rapidly. This means that those involved in the commissioning, design and development of new social care models and practice systems will gain the knowledge they need to inform not only new approaches to addressing the extra-familial risks and harms that affect young people, but also to understand more widely how to facilitate social innovation in order to make best use of public investment. 
Type Of Technology e-Business Platform 
Year Produced 2020 
Impact None as yet 
URL https://theinnovateproject.co.uk/trauma-informed-practice/
 
Description An article on the Innovate Project in the children's services magazine 'Children & Young People Now' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 'Children & Young People Now' is a professionals' magazine widely read by the children's service sector (local authority, charities, and businesses). The magazine editor attended the Innovate project steering group in May 2020 and subsequently requested further information from the team on our approach, in order to produce this magazine article, with a specific focus on the Contextual Safeguarding strand of the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.cypnow.co.uk/other/article/contextual-safeguarding-policy-context
 
Description Day seminar for professionals on Promising approaches for working with child criminal exploitation (by PI Lefevre and Co-I Hickle) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 80-100 professionals attended two half-day seminars (one for practitioners and one for their managers). Disciplines included social workers, social care workers, sexual health workers, and psychologists. The presentation was on improving practice in working with child exploitation and we presented the three models we are exploring in the Innovate Project. The presentations were by Michelle Lefevre (PI) and Kristine Hickle (Co-I).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Establishment by Co-I Firmin of the Contextual Safeguarding Academics Network 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The Contextual Safeguarding Academics Network was established in 2020 by the Innovate Project Co-Investigator, Dr Carlene Firmin. Academics are one of the primary audiences, and hence are not included in the listing, but postgraduate research students are another primary audience, i.e. those who are developing PhD projects related to contextual safeguarding (one of the 3 models being examined in the Innovate project). The network comprises 80 members across 68 institutions and 8 countries.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Formal dialogues between Dez Holmes and the social care, health, justice and wider safeguarding sectors across England, introducing and exploring Transitional Safeguarding 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Project team member Dez Holmes has undertaken extensive activity related to the Innovate Project, introducing and exploring the concept of Transitional Safeguarding to professionals from social care, health, justice and wider safeguarding agencies across England. This has included more than 50 individual talks and workshops, and has also included more in-depth and ongoing targeted work with particular organisations and regions, including:
- with health and social care in the NE region, to develop a region-wide Transitional Safeguarding framework;
- with the Yorkshire and Humberside region, to develop a Preparing for Adulthood framework;
- with the Principal Social Workers from the Greater Manchester region, to develop a framework for safeguarding young adults;
- local initiatives (developing frameworks and supporting strategy development) with Camden, Suffolk, Cardiff, and Notts VRU.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020,2021
 
Description Keynote speech by Co-I Hickle at a conference on trauma-informed practice run by Reading County Council 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Co-I Hickle was invited to present a keynote speech on Trauma-informed Practice at a day conference organised for its staff by Reading Council children's social care. As a result of the interest generated by this, Reading has become one of the six case study research sites for the Innovate Project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description PI Lefevre's Membership of the Contextual Safeguarding Scale-up project steering group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Due to her leadership of the Innovate Project, Michelle Lefevre (PI) was invited to join the steering group for the Contextual Safeguarding Scale-up project which works with local authorities and Third Sector organisations to implement one of the three key models used by the Innovate Project. Meetings happen quarterly and Lefevre is able to feed in ongoing learning from the Innovate Project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020,2021
 
Description Public lecture by PI Lefevre on addressing the criminal and sexual exploitation of young people 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The presentation was to members of the British Association of Social Workers - Lincoln branch - following an invitation to present. I was able to present key issues relating to the criminal and sexual exploitation of young people and share the three promising innovation approaches we are exploring in the Innovate project to address extra-familial risk and harm.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Talk on extra-familial risks and harms by project research fellow Nathalie Huegler 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The talk was given at the Quality Circle meeting run by the Sussex Family Justice Board. This is a bi-monthly meeting of children's lawyers and social workers to discuss current issues of concern affecting matters dealt with by the family courts. Nathalie was invited to share findings generated from the review of policy and practice guidance related to extra-familial risk and harm in adolescence, which she had conducted for the project in 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Workshop on peer group assessment by Co-I Firmin delivered to 49 social workers nationally 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A workshop on peer group assessment was provided (online) for 49 social workers in November 2020 by Dr Carlene Firmin, the Co-I on the Innovate Project. The topic was related to that which Dr Firmin is working on in the Innovate Project (the Contextual Safeguarding model).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020