Contextual safeguarding is an approach that aims to identify and respond to various harms and abuse posed to children and young people from outside their home. These may occur from peers, at school, in their community or neighbourhood, or on the internet.

Learn more about contextual safeguarding and what we're doing below.

How is a contextual safeguarding approach different?

Traditional child protection approaches have focused on risks and interventions inside the family and home, rather than addressing peers, places and groups in which children/young people spend time.

A contextual safeguarding approach aims to disrupt harmful extra-familial contexts rather than move young people away from them. It seeks to identify the ways in which professionals, adults and young people can change the social conditions of environments in which abuse has occurred.

Why is it important?

As children move into adolescence, they spend increasing amounts of time socialising independently of their families. The nature of the relationships that they form in these settings inform the extent to which they encounter protection or abuse.

If a young person forms friendships in contexts characterised by violence and/or harmful attitudes, these relationships are likely to be anti-social and unsafe.

What are the risks?

There are a wide range of potential risks where the prime cause of harm is outside of the family. This list isn’t exhaustive but includes:

  • criminal and sexual exploitation
  • online abuse
  • peer-on-peer abuse
  • harmful sexual behaviour
  • missing episodes
  • gang involvement
  • female genital mutilation
  • radicalisation
  • trafficking
  • modern slavery

What are the indicators?

Some potential indicators of exposure to extra-familial risks in young people include, but are not limited to:

  • poor mental health
  • missing episodes
  • breakdown in relationships with caregivers
  • problems with attendance and attainment in education
  • substance misuse issues
  • anti-social behaviour and offending
  • being linked with places where there are concerns about safety
  • concerns about exploitation
  • concerns about sexual behaviour
  • involvement with gangs

What should agencies do?

  • Identify the ways in which the social conditions, where abuse has occurred, can be changed and intervene where possible.
  • Engage with individuals and sectors who have a bearing on social contexts; ie shopkeepers, local policing, community leaders, youth clubs etc to make environments safer.
  • Where there are concerns that a child may be at risk of, or is being, exploited, follow the Child Exploitation Screening Tool Guidance and complete the Child Exploitation Screening Tool.
  • The screening tool should help you make an initial judgement regarding the risk. If a risk of Child Exploitation is identified, contact Barnsley’s Integrated Front Door, 01226 772423, for an initial discussion about your concerns. They will advise of the next steps.

What Barnsley Council are doing

Referred cases will be reviewed by the integrated front door (IFD) using an evidence based risk assessment tool. Cases that meet the threshold will then be heard at a multi-agency child exploitation (MACE) meeting where interventions will be recommended based on risk and need.

We also link with other agencies to map unsafe locations and plan on how to intervene as a multi-agency team to make these safer.


For more information

Professionals: to make a decision about the potential risk of child exploitation please use the Child Exploitation Screening Tool Guidance and consider completing the Child Exploitation Screening Tool.

Please note: the screening tool is neither a specialist assessment nor a referral form. It's intended to help you make an initial judgement regarding the risk of child exploitation.

To discuss a concern, the screening tool, or make a referral, contact Barnsley Integrated Front Door on  (01226) 772423.

For more information about contextual safeguarding visit the Contextual Safeguarding Network website. You can also read the MACE guidance.