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Teenagers in Contact with Social Care: What Works to Keep Them Safe and Improve Their Outcomes

A rapid review of the body of work looking at effective interventions for teenagers and young people in contact with children’s social care.

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May 2022

Summary

This report presents the findings of a rapid review of the body of work focussing on effective interventions for teenagers and young people in contact with children’s social care. 

This age group can face risks and needs that younger children do not. For example, teenagers have a greater level of independence and unsupervised time compared to younger children. The review therefore includes interventions designed to address potential harms outside of the home environment that teenagers are particularly vulnerable to, including, but not limited to; exploitation, substance misuse, and peer to peer abuse.

Objectives

The aim of the review was to identify effective strategies or interventions that reduce risks to young people’s safety, meeting their needs and improving their outcomes. The review aims to answer two research questions:

  1. What interventions have been put in place to respond to the needs of teenagers involved with children’s social care and are these effective?
  2. What are the barriers and facilitators to implementation of interventions and does evidence suggest they are acceptable to target groups?

How we went about it

A keyword search was carried out and data was extracted from the final texts using three standardised forms, one for reviews, one for empirical research and a third for reports.

The study eligibility criteria were developed in close consultation with the review Advisory Group, made up of representatives from the Independent Review into Children’s Social Care, the Department for Education, and the What Works for Children’s Social Care (WWCSC). 

Key findings

The review identified eight interventions designed to improve outcomes for teenagers at risk of extrafamilial harm. 

The review also came to nine key conclusions: 

  • The quality of evidence regarding efficacy was weak
  • Reviews consistently report that lack of good quality empirical evidence makes it difficult to draw robust conclusions regarding the efficacy of specific interventions
  • Personal relationships in general and mentoring more specifically are crucial elements of interventions with young people
  • Family-centred approaches, including multi-systemic therapy, are commonplace although empirical evidence for efficacy lacks consistency
  • Professionals tend to favour strategic approaches aimed at early intervention and prevention
  • Traditional safeguarding approaches that focus on personal attributes of teenagers at risk rather than more contextual issues are a barrier to the implementation of effective interventions
  • Effective multi-agency working at local level needs to be better understood
  • Theoretical explanations of how effective relationship building influences care intervention outcomes would be useful
  • Better understanding of how service delivery processes and procedures facilitate effective  relationship building could add value.

Next steps

The review highlighted several critical gaps in research, including a lack of routine and robust evaluation of social care interventions for teenagers at risk of extra familial harms; the need for explicit theoretical models to inform testing key assumptions of widely advocated approaches including contextual safeguarding, multi-agency working and relationship building; and exploration of service delivery process issues facing local agencies. 

The research was commissioned by the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care to inform the Review’s understanding of the area and to support the formulation of recommendations. 

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