We know the influence that young Londoners peer networks and friendship groups can have. We also know that we need to do more to acknowledge this and work more effectively with these groups.

Here, Organisational Lead for Violence and Exploitation, Carly Adams Elias who oversees our Peers strand, discusses the key findings of a piece of research that we commissioned, that looks at peer groups through the lens of practice and what our next steps are.   

Our Strategy: A Safer London for Everyone sets out our commitment to developing contextual safeguarding approaches. We understand that in order to keep young Londoners, their families, peers and communities safe, we need to look at the wider context in which they live their lives.

This includes online activity, education, the places where they spend their time and also their friendships groups. We understand the strong influence that young Londoners’ friends have on their lives. Too often this influence is seen as negative and not seen as an opportunity to reduce violence and exploitation.

Building on this we’re entering an exciting time at Safer London, as we look to develop our peer work, whilst contributing to emerging learning.

That’s why we commissioned the Contextual Safeguarding Team at the University of Bedfordshire to conduct research to help us consider our existing strengths in our practice, with a focus on if we’re doing enough to really harness the power of peer relationships in our work. 

Services and approaches rooted in evidence

The work of the Contextual Safeguarding Programme at the University of Bedfordshire really encourages us to look at safeguarding through a fresh lens.

The current safeguarding system in the UK is not set up to respond well to harm that is experienced outside of the family context. Through their work the Contextual Safeguarding team are aiming to reform safeguarding responses to young people affected by extra-familial harm.

Given that the young Londoners we work with are primarily exposed to exploitation or violence, we feel that it’s crucial that we are able to consider how we identify and work with contexts in our services.

Partnering with them made sense and we were really lucky to have researcher Katie Latimer embedded in our team whilst the research was being undertaken. Katie worked alongside our team, observing how they carried out their work, looked through resources and tools they used, joined team meetings and held interviews and focus groups.

This enabled her to get an in-depth view of how we work and understand the experiences of working with peer relationships, based on our practice and direct work with young Londoners.

The Key Findings

Peer interventions take various forms. Safeguarding work with peers can involve group work with connected young people, but this is not always the case.

Peer interventions are most appropriately used alongside other practice that understands and intervenes with the social conditions of abuse. This includes interventions with other extra-familial contexts. 

Peer relationships can be protective. For this reason, relevant to safeguarding

Practitioners can work with peer relationships without necessarily identifying all the connected young people concerned.

Developing our practice and processes to support young Londoners and their peers

The research has already contributed to helping us shape our Strategy and developing our work and ambitions around engaging with peer relationships and groups.

The findings helped us consider how best to develop our services, to better support the inclusion of peer relationships and peer based interventions in our support of young Londoners, families and communities. 

In our one to one support with young Londoners, we have developed our referral and assessment templates to help us to consider peer contexts, alongside other contexts, such as family, school and neighbourhoods.

Many of our practitioners are also using peer mapping exercises to support assessments. There is a great example of this in the research Briefing if you want to find out more and try it out yourself.

We are also continuing to evolve our peer group programs and consider how we can develop this further to create services that are led by young people providing peer support or enabling them to play active roles as violence interrupters.

If you’re interestedin working with us to explore working with peer relationships and peer groups, please feel free to contact me on carlyadamselias@saferlondon.org.uk

Carly Adams Elias, Organisational Lead Violence and Exploitation 

Read the research Briefing paper

For a brief introduction to contextual safeguarding join the Contextual Safeguarding Network for free, where you can access helpful webinars and resources.