Take action to protect young people from abuse and/or neglect

Childhood sexual abuse has been found to double and even triple the risk for increased suicide attempts and suicidal ideation in adults[i]. The relationship found between abuse in young people (inclusive of sexual, physical or emotional abuse), and adult suicidality is found across individuals with or without diagnosable mental health conditions. This highlights the direct risk to young people who experience abuse and the importance of targeting interventions in the general population and those receiving interventions.

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance[ii] recommends several ways to reduce the risk of child abuse and neglect including:

  • taking a child-centred approach to working with children and young people, in order to involve them in decision making to the fullest extent possible
  • building good relationships with parents and carers to encourage engagement and continued participation
  • co-ordinating work with other agencies.

Action for Local Authoritiesgovernment building

1. Seek Child Friendly Community status

The Child Friendly Cities Initiative is a UNICEF-led evidence-based programme that supports municipal governments in realising the rights of children at the local level using the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as its foundation.

It is also a network that brings together government and other stakeholders such as civil society organisations, the private sector, academia, media and, importantly, young people themselves who wish to make their cities and communities more child friendly.

In practice, it is a city, town or community in which the voices, needs, priorities and rights of young people are an integral part of public policies, programmes and decisions.

Broadly speaking, it is a city, town or community where children and young people:

  • Are protected from exploitation, violence and abuse.
  • Have a good start in life and grow up healthy and cared for.
  • Have access to quality social services.
  • Experience high quality, inclusive and participatory education and skills development.
  • Express their opinions and influence decisions that affect them.
  • Participate in family, cultural, city/community and social life.
  • Live in a safe secure and clean environment with access to green spaces.
  • Meet friends and have places to play and enjoy themselves.
  • Have a fair chance in life regardless of their ethnic origin, religion, income, gender or ability.

While the primary responsibility for ensuring that young peoples' rights are realised lies with governments, other stakeholders such as civil society organisations, the private sector, academia and the media, as well as young people themselves, also have an important role to play in building child-friendly cities. In England, the cities of Liverpool and Newcastle and the London boroughs of Barnet and Redbridge are working towards UNICEF Child Friendly City status.

‘Child Friendly Leeds’[ii]i is an initiative and campaign by the city council to create a child friendly city with over 750 organisations working together. It has helped the city’s children’s department go from being rated by Ofsted inspectors as ‘inadequate’ in 2010 to ‘outstanding’ in 2018 with commensurate improvements in outcomes for children in the city.

Since 2011 they have, safely and appropriately, reduced the number of looked after children by 10%, reduced the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training by 5% and reduced school absence in primary and secondary schools. Since 2015 the initiative has also ran ‘Baby Week’ to raise awareness of services and promote strategies that improve outcomes in pregnancy and early years. This included a range of events in various settings such as children’s centres, department stores, coffee shops and libraries. 


2. Adopt Contextual Safeguarding

Child protection procedures do not always adequately intervene to address risks faced by young people outside of the home. As young people get older their experiences of abuse are often associated with public environments in which they spend their time. Yet child protection procedures most often intervene with individual young people and their families rather than around the public environments where abuse occurs.

Issues like child sexual exploitation, harmful sexual behaviour, youth violence, domestic violence and going missing often intersect, affecting the same young people, in the same environments, within a given area. Yet practice and policy responses have developed in a siloed fashion and struggle to accommodate such overlapping[iv].

Contextual Safeguarding is an approach to understanding, and responding to, young people’s experiences of significant harm beyond their families. It recognises that the different relationships that young people form in their neighbourhoods, schools and online can feature violence and abuse. Parents and carers often have little influence over these contexts, and young people’s experiences of abuse outside of the family can undermine parent-child relationships.

Over the past two years the Contextual Safeguarding team at the International Centre have been working with colleagues from the London Borough of Hackney[v] to implement contextual safeguarding. This project is funded by the Department for Education Innovation Fund.

The council has found the approach an effective way to better protect children from risks outside the family home. It recognises that young people are increasingly being influenced by their peer groups and surroundings, which are outside the control of their families and cannot necessarily be addressed by traditional social work interventions, which focus on the domestic situation.