Exploring how innovation can protect society’s most vulnerable children

Left to right: Dr Kristine Hickle, Prof Michelle Lefevre, Prof Gillian Ruch, Dr Jeri Damman and Dr Reima Ana Maglajlic.

University of Sussex researchers have won a major grant for a four-year project investigating how innovation could protect young people from the threat of child sexual exploitation, gang-association, peer-on-peer abuse, criminal exploitation and involvement in county lines drug dealing.

A research team from the university’s Department of Social Work and Social Care will explore how innovation can help improve social care systems and practices for young people at complex safeguarding risk in a £1.9 million project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Principal Investigator Michelle Lefevre, Professor of Social Work, said: “Innovation is increasingly being mooted as a way of fundamentally rethinking the nature of such practice problems and transforming, often radically, the ways that services are structured and delivered.

“This incurs substantial investment of resource, but not enough is yet understood about the conditions, factors and processes that will allow innovation to achieve positive outcomes, flourish and sustain over time and to be diffused effectively.”

The project, which runs until August 2023, will scrutinise how six local authorities have interpreted and operationalised Trauma-Informed Practice, Contextual Safeguarding or Transitional Safeguarding to allow for nuanced and situated innovation to address complex risks.

The aim is to address the current gap in knowledge around what allows innovation to succeed by uncovering the various stages of innovation in real time, within organisations and systems, and in their varied cultural, geographical and regulatory contexts.

The researchers hope their findings will inform the development of future innovation, both in complex safeguarding and in social care and public services more broadly, and enable the development of a critical sociology of complex safeguarding.

University of Sussex researchers also involved in the project include Prof Gillian Ruch and Dr Kristine Hickle as Co-Investigators, and Dr Reima Ana Maglajlic and Dr Jeri Damman as researchers.

The university will work with Dr Carlene Firmin (Co-Investigator) and Dr Jenny Lloyd from the University of Bedfordshire as well as colleagues from NGO Research in Practice, social enterprise Innovation Unit, and charity Become.

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