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Transitional Safeguarding
Transitional Safeguarding - a more fluid approach which recognises that transition to adulthood goes beyond an 18th birthday.

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A holistic framework

The latest (25 March 2022) Academic Insights published by HM Inspectorate of Probation provides an overview of the concept of Transitional Safeguarding which argues for a more fluid non-binary approach to safeguarding, recognising that the transition to adulthood is a process that continues beyond an 18th birthday, and that many harms and traumas do not stop at this age.

The briefing, authored by Dez Holmes and Lisa Smith, pays attention to the transition points and gaps between the safeguarding system/s and the justice system/s, recognising that the respective populations overlap considerably.

The authors set the concept of Transitional Safeguarding within a holistic framework,  underpinned by six interconnected and interdependent principles, highlighting the importance of an approach which is evidence-informed, ecological/contextual, developmentally-attuned, relational, equalities-orientated, and participative. 


Transitional Safeguarding offers a critique of the current binary safeguarding systems for young people under and over 18, and argues for a more fluid approach which responds to the person’s dynamic developmental needs. The authors define “young people” loosely as mid-teens to mid-twenties. Transitional Safeguarding is described as:

‘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’.

Transitional safeguarding is not a prescriptive model, rather an overarching approach informed by key principles and designed to respond to local context.

Key principles

Transitional Safeguarding is underpinned by a holistic framework informed by six interconnected and interdependent key principles which are summarised briefly below and which are illustrated in the graphic reproduced further down this blog post.

  1. The approach is based on the research evidence.
  2. An ecological lens means considering the ‘ecosystems’ that influence a young person, from the individual and their family, through to their peers and community, and wider society. Similarly, a contextual perspective focuses on the places, spaces and social contexts in which young people are safe or unsafe 
  3. Adolescence and emerging adulthood are distinct developmental life-stages; this invites a developmentally-attuned approach in which the professional response is responsive to the individual needs of the young person and their circumstances, instead of being dictated by rigid age-related boundaries.
  4. A relational approach that recognises the impact of trauma is core to Transitional Safeguarding.
  5. Widespread evidence of structural inequalities and disproportionality affecting young people demands an equalities-oriented approach in which equity, diversity and inclusion are foregrounded in all safeguarding and justice related work.
  6. Lastly, a highly participative approach is needed, recognising young people’s rights and expertise and affording them as much choice and control as possible. This chimes with a restorative approach, allowing young people to engage more fully in procedural justice.


Evidence from research, from young people and their parents/carers, families and communities, and from the professionals who support them, combines to make a compelling case for a boundary-spanning approach to promoting young people’s safety. The focus on the needs of young adult offenders as a distinct group has become a key policy consideration over recent years.

The authors argue that it is increasingly clear that binary notions of childhood versus adulthood, and of vulnerability versus culpability, do not reflect the complexity and interconnectedness of young people’s lives. Transitional Safeguarding is an emerging concept, which will be refined by the work of mangers and practitioners working with young people in different settings across the criminal justice system and in related sectors.


Thanks to Eliott Reyna for kind permission to use the header image in this post which was previously published on Unsplash.

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