Research ~ Innovation addressing complex safeguarding risks for young people

Innovation in Children's Social Care Research project


The government has invested over £200m in innovation in children’s social care over the last 5 years. What do we know about how innovation in social care actually happens and how does it benefit children and families? This research project asks: how does innovation around complex safeguarding risks for adolescents grow, develop and create impact?

The Opportunity

Alongside our partners at the University of Sussex, University of Bedfordshire and Research in Practice, we have been awarded funding by the Economic and Social Research Council for a four-year project exploring the role of innovation to address complex safeguarding risks facing adolescents. 

The aim of the research is to understand how and why innovative approaches to working with adolescents are identified, designed and implemented; why they emerge in particular contexts; and the conditions which allow them to flourish.

To do this, we are focusing on three approaches to working with adolescents facing complex risk: trauma-informed practice, contextual safeguarding and transitional safeguarding (young people moving from the children’s system to the different world of adult safeguarding).

The Plan

The first year of the project is focused on reviewing and synthesising existing knowledge and literature on the ways in which innovation in social care can lead to improved, cost-effective outcomes, and the factors and processes which facilitate new ways of working being developed, embedded, scaled and sustained in local systems. In the second year the team will begin field research with six local authority systems working with adolescents who are putting these approaches into practice.

Innovation Unit’s role is to bring innovation expertise and evidence in how innovation in social care develops, flourishes and scales – both on the ground and at a national level. In the first year of the project we are conducting research into two areas:

  1. A critical interpretive synthesis of existing knowledge on innovation in children’s social care. We are looking at topics including the specific management practices, cultures and environments that contribute to successful; the push and pull factors that enable and hinder innovation; the tensions when scaling a model between rigorous fidelity and ease of spread; and the characteristics of innovation specifically for children’s services.
  2. A documentary analysis of UK policy and guidance on complex safeguarding for adolescents. The aim is to develop a shared understanding of these concepts and map their influence and uptake in national and local policy and language over time. We’re also looking at the rigour and robustness underpinning these shifts.

We will also be contributing to the design of learning and development networks of local authorities and NGOs seeking to innovate around complex safeguarding.