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Bridging the gap: transitional safeguarding

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Guidance, Safeguarding

A joint, independent briefing setting out the importance of transitional safeguarding within adult social work has been published on GOV.UK. The briefing describes what transitional safeguarding is, why it is needed and how the contribution of adult social work is essential to developing and embedding a more transitional approach to safeguarding young people into adulthood.

Same person aging from child to adult
[Image created by]

The role of social work with adults

When did you realise you were an adult? The first time you paid your own bills? Got a ‘proper job’? Became a parent? These are the answers usually given when I ask professionals this question, and at least one person in every group says they are still becoming an adult. No one ever reports their transition to adulthood happened overnight on their 18th birthday. Transition, after all, is a process, not an event.

Unlike many parts of the system – for example, services for young people with disabilities and those leaving care - safeguarding has retained a strikingly binary perspective of adolescence and adulthood.

Current approaches are rooted in polarised views that a person is either a child or an adult, either ‘vulnerable’ or ‘not eligible’. This leaves little room for nuance, context or individual circumstance. This, as can be seen in learning from SARs, has left too many young adults without support at a time when they need it.

Transitional safeguarding aims to challenge this, and is “an approach to safeguarding adolescents and young adults fluidly across developmental stages which builds on the best available evidence, learns from both children’s and adult safeguarding practice and which prepares young people for their adult lives”.

Human brain
Studies suggest our brains continue to develop until our mid-twenties. [Image created by]

A strong case

As our knowledge and understanding develops, the case for transitional safeguarding is increasingly clear, particularly in terms of

  • the developmental needs of young people, with studies suggesting that our brains continue to develop until our mid-twenties
  • the types of harm that young people encounter, particularly as harms such as criminal or sexual exploitation do not stop at 18
  • the economic argument for a needs-led approach, rather than one that is preoccupied with eligibility at the expense of prevention

Many local areas are striving to adopt a more transitional approach and case studies highlight the importance of holistic and creative practice, and thoughtful navigation of complex issues such as capacity.

As Newcastle City Council says, transitional safeguarding requires a “clear vision that is trauma and complexity-informed and not based on assumptions that [young adults] won’t engage or don’t meet the Care Act 2014. People do not consent to being abused.”

Although transitional safeguarding requires systems change involving all agencies, colleagues involved in safeguarding adults have a vital role to play.  In particular, this briefing highlights the unique contribution of social work with adults to this agenda and the synergies between Transitional Safeguarding and social work values and expertise.

People thinking and sharing knowledge and experience
Social workers within adult services have a great deal to offer in terms of building shared knowledge and skills across children’s and adults’ social work. [Image created by]

Informed perspectives

Skilled social workers are ideally placed to consider maturity in a nuanced way, taking into account a person’s experiences and developmental stage without undermining their rights or capacity.  They are well-used to working in a person-centred and relationship-based way, making sure the person is afforded as much choice and control as possible – particularly important where someone has experienced trauma and coercion.

Social workers within adult services have a great deal to offer in terms of building shared knowledge and skills across children’s and adults’ social work, bringing together expertise across the profession to promote a life-course approach. They are often skilled in engaging with the context of young people’s lives, including the structural disadvantages and discrimination facing them.

Lastly, as transitional safeguarding is a principles-led approach with local solutions being co-produced according to local context, social workers’ skills in participatory practice are key to ensuring inclusivity.

Above all, this is an issue of system leadership. It's a challenge requiring us to adopt a boundary-spanning mindset and to be guided by moral purpose.

As Fran Leddra, Chief Social Worker for Adults, rightly observes in her introduction to this briefing: “Sometimes, you just have to do something because it’s the right thing to do.”

What else is social work for?

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