Contextual Safeguarding Toolkit

Context Thresholds


As highlighted on the previous page, thresholds used in Children’s Social Care present particular challenges in relation to cases of extra-familial risk. At Tier one this challenge, as highlighted previously, may relate to cases when a young person may be affected by significant extra-familial harm but are safe within the families. But what if, rather than an individual young person, there are identifiable contexts where harm is occurring?

For example, young people may be exposed to risks in particular contexts, such as theft on a bus route, sexual harassment at school, or grooming on an estate for criminal exploitation that do not relate specifically to individual children but affects multiple children. In these cases, young people may be exposed to different levels of harm in difference contexts. However, if these are viewed as isolated incidents for that young child they may not reach a threshold for intervention. Collectively however, the frequency of incidents and number of children affected may make the context particularly harmful.

As such, we needed to develop a way in which to make decisions about the level of harm related to a particular context in a comparable way to how decisions are made about families.

To alleviate some of these challenges, Hackney have developed two different ‘thresholds’ documents for use at both tiers:

  • At Tier one: the traditional child and family thresholds document has been updated to include issues that relate to extra-familial contexts.
  • At Tier Two: a new thresholds document has been created specifically focussed on contexts as opposed to individuals.

In both documents, child or locations needs are assessed at three levels:

  • Universal - a response by universal services, often working individually. Within an extra-familial scenario, this also includes the ensuring safety for young people within universally available leisure and recreational provision.
  • Universal Plus and Universal Partnership Plus - a response by universal services working together in universal settings and sometimes bringing additional targeted resources into a multi-agency partnership plan to both assess and address concerns.
  • Complex/high risk – a response that requires multi-agency and/or specialist services, often governed by statutory frameworks, to take the lead role.

At Tier two, Hackney developed a thresholds document relating specifically to contexts. In this document, each tier is separated into three groups:

  • Behaviours and indicators – for example ‘Context in which there is underage and problematic alcohol consumption’ (Universal Plus)
  • Role of Adults – for example ‘Adult bystanders in the community actively encourage or normalise the behaviour that has been displayed’ (Complex/ high risk)
  • Design/layout/structural issues – for example, ‘Placement decisions (i.e. custodial arrangements) place young people at risk’ (Universal plus)

When carrying out an assessment of a context – peer group, school or neighbourhood, the context should first be screened against this document to assess the level of need. Throughout the process of developing Contextual Safeguarding, these documents should be updated, to include new and emerging issues.

NOTE: Due to reasons beyond the control of the Contextual Safeguarding team the Hackney threshold documents are not yet available. They will be published on the toolkit and shared with network members in the coming weeks.