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Defining risk, managing vulnerability: Challenges in working with young people

Professor Jo Phoenix (Durham University) and Dr Kate Brown (University of York) will be exploring the key themes of risk and vulnerability in working with young people in the next Making Research Count seminar in York on 2nd July.

Monitoring, Assessing and Managing Risk and Vulnerability

Twenty-first century services for ‘problem’ young people have experienced many of the same shifts that have been experienced across a range of professions and people-facing services: the growth of actuarialism and an attendant concern to measure, manage and reduce risk; the reconfiguration of the relationship (and responsibilities and authority) between central and local government, between local government and services; and a proliferation of ways of monitoring, assessing and ‘enhancing’ performance.

This rise in ‘risk-crazed governance’ has been well discussed in criminological literature and is beginning to make an appearance in social work literature.

In order to understand what this means in practice and in relation to ‘problem’ young people, this seminar applies this literature to practices involved in dealing with young people defined as ‘at risk’ of sexual exploitation.

It challenges some of the taken-for-granted professional ‘wisdoms’ that have emerged in the last two decades by contextualising the contemporary concerns about sexual exploitation, by asking a set of seemingly simple questions about the relationship between risk, harm, vulnerability and sex and drawing out those ‘other wisdoms’ that practitioners have about their efforts to define the riskiness and manage the vulnerability of sexually exploited young people.

Vulnerability and young people: dilemmas, disagreements and discretion

The protection of ‘vulnerable’ young people is a now a key priority within children’s services, and addressing ‘vulnerability’ is seen as an important element in delivering interventions for individuals and families. However, difficulties can arise when ideas about vulnerability are put into practice. The meaning of vulnerability is not always clear, and supposedly vulnerable young people sometimes behave in ways that are ‘problematic’, presenting challenges in terms of how their vulnerability is managed.

Using research undertaken with vulnerable young people and with professionals involved in the supporting this group, this presentation will aim to question the certainties of practices focussed on vulnerability. It will encourage delegates to reflect more closely on some of the complexities which arise in their everyday practice: how clients are measured and classified; the role of professional judgements in this; and tensions which can result where young people and professionals see ‘risk’ differently.

At this seminar, delegates will have the opportunity to reflect on what they have heard, and to discuss with researchers and peers the practical implications arising from a number of research projects.

Places are still available. Please see the Making Research Count web pages for more information.

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