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Child safeguarding expert becomes one of UK’s youngest female black professors

A leading expert in the safeguarding of young people at risk of abuse has become one of the UK’s youngest ever female black professors.

37-year-old Carlene Firmin, MBE, a pioneer of Contextual Safeguarding, will take up the role at Durham University later this summer.

Her appointment will see Durham become a hub for Contextual Safeguarding research.

Carlene’s work has been used to advance policy and research into the protection of adolescents in the UK and internationally, including Europe and Australia.

It has also led to changes in social care responses to abuse that takes place outside of families in England, Wales and Scotland.

Carlene started her research career speaking to young women affected by gang violence, and supporting them to act as advisors on gender and youth violence. In 2008 received a London Peace Award for bridging the gap between policymakers and young people.

In 2011 she was the youngest black woman to receive an MBE when she was presented with the honour by The Queen for raising the profile of women and girls impacted by serious youth violence in the UK.

In 2020 she brought together the Contextual Safeguarding Academics Network to advance how harm beyond families is understood and responded to around the world. Carlene will join the Department of Sociology at Durham from the University of Bedfordshire.

At Durham she will continue her work on Contextual Safeguarding, which aims to understand and respond to young people’s experiences of harm outside of their families including in peer groups, schools and local neighbourhoods.

Carlene said: “I am extremely proud of the work we have done in introducing Contextual Safeguarding into practice and policy for those involved in protecting children from abuse.

“Moving to Durham is an exciting opportunity to build upon this work and to explore the influence of Contextual Safeguarding on child protection policies internationally, while working alongside colleagues and partners who have a wealth of expertise in social and community action across different disciplines.

“As one of the UK’s youngest black, female professors, I will contribute to building an academic community that better reflects and understands the societies we live in and influence: for young people, for women and for black and other minoritised communities.”

Durham University’s Simon Hackett, Deputy Provost and Professor of Child Abuse and Neglect, in the Department of Sociology, said: “Carlene’s achievements at a relatively young age are outstanding.

“She brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise in child safeguarding which is making a positive impact on the well-being of young people across the world who are at risk of abuse.

“She is also a superb role model for our students as they embark upon careers or future research in areas such as sociology, social work, criminology and safeguarding and we are delighted to welcome her to Durham.”

Carlene will continue to collaborate with colleagues at the University of Bedfordshire’s Safer Young Lives Research Centre where she is currently a Principal Research Fellow and where she established the practice of Contextual Safeguarding.

Dr Helen Beckett, Director of the Safer Young Lives Research Centre, University of Bedfordshire, said: “We are delighted to see Carlene obtain her professorship, in recognition of the amazing work that she has spearheaded around Contextual Safeguarding.

“It has been a privilege to support the development of this work here at Bedfordshire over the last decade, and we really look forward to continuing this work. Having two Contextual Safeguarding hubs, embedded in two universities and supported by our wider network of partners, offers exciting opportunities for expanding the capacity and impact of the work.”


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