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Foster care and understanding contextual safeguarding 1

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Foster carers today are in a very different position from carers even ten years ago. This is a short series with this first part serving as a brief introduction to the term ‘contextual safeguarding’. 

One of the most important things foster carers need to appreciate is the scale of the networks young people now have. Youngsters in schools today have a wide range of potential links to their immediate peers, family, locality, and then via social media, the entire planet. For foster children and all young people, life is played out in the physical world as well as the virtual one. Each category has the potential to exert significant influences, both good and bad. So what does contextual safeguarding actually mean? It used to be known historically by social workers as ‘Systems Theory’. We explain to our foster carers that it is an approach to both identifying, comprehending, and responding to youngsters’ experiences of potential harm beyond their families. The risks they could be exposed to across a network could include peer on peer and relationship exploitation, general abuse; criminal/ sexual exploitation, and online abuse such as cyberbullying. The potential for young people to be influenced – either positively or negatively – by the various parts of their network must always be taken into account. 

The difficulty for foster carers and parents is they usually have little influence over the different contexts their children inhabit. Fundamental to contextual safeguarding is that children’s social care practitioners need to be fully engaged with individuals, child protection systems, or organizations who are likely to wield influence in these extra-familial contexts. Foster carers should understand contextual safeguarding aims to widen the objectives of the various child protection systems because foster children and all young people are increasingly vulnerable beyond their family home. Peer on peer abuse is an example of a particular category attracting considerable interest because many young people can be at significant risk from it. 

In the next foster care blog, we will look at some of the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu’s social theory which is the foundation of contextual safeguarding. 

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To be a foster carer you will need to have a spare room. And then the time and commitment to providing a loving, supportive home for a vulnerable child or young person. For a friendly relaxed chat about a career in foster care, with no obligation, call 0330 311 2845.

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