Social workers set to be given ‘ominous’ duty to identify and report extremism

Home Office consultation proposes councils should do more to prevent terrorism, with potentially huge implications for social workers

Photo: REX/WestEnd61 (Picture posed by model)

Social workers may have a responsibility to identify and report extremism in what has been described as “ominous” draft guidance from the Home Office.

The Prevent guidance consultation, which closes at noon today, would place a duty on councils to “have due regard, in the exercise of its functions, to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.

Local authorities will be expected to ensure frontline staff have a good understanding of Prevent, are trained to recognise a child’s vulnerability to being drawn into terrorism and are aware of programmes that can deal with this issue.

Appropriate referrals

“We would expect local authorities to incorporate the duty into existing policies and procedures, so it becomes part of the day-to-day work of the authority.

“The duty is likely to be relevant to fulfilling safeguarding responsibilities in that local authorities should ensure that there are clear and robust safeguarding policies to identify children at risk,” the draft guidance stated.

Staff will be expected to make appropriate referrals to Channel, a programme providing support to those at risk of being drawn into terrorism.

Referrals to children’s social care from schools could rise as part of the duty. Schools will need a safeguarding policy that can identify and intervene with children at risk, with referrals to children’s social care and Channel being the two interventions offered as an example.

The secretary of state will be able to take “whatever action is deemed expedient to achieve necessary improvement” in cases where they feel the local authority is failing to perform any function relating to education or children’s social care to an adequate standard.

The duty would also apply to independent fostering agencies and children’s homes.

What could this mean for social work?

“If this is taken to the letter of what is written, then how much would this change the role of many professionals, including social workers?” asked Nushra Mansuri, a professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers (BASW).

“Will social workers in effect become another strand of the Home Office apparatus?” she queried. She described this guidance as having the potential to bring “a whole different dimension” to the work that social workers do.

The draft begs a lot of questions about the safeguarding agenda, Mansuri said, and what role the Department for Education (DfE) would play if the agenda was reconfigured in the way suggested by the draft proposals.

“It surely cannot just be the Home Office unilaterally declaring this,” she said. “It’s a baton that also has to be taken up by the DfE because it is the DfE that issues the statutory guidance for safeguarding children.

Huge implications

“Therefore, this would require amendments to Working Together [to Safeguard Children] to accord with these new safeguarding duties; likewise, LSCB local child protection procedures would need to follow suit.

“My concern is that these proposals give rise to social workers and others being drawn into a very different agenda of surveillance and intelligence gathering for the purposes of countering terrorism which would completely distort their role,” Mansuri warned.

The implications of the proposals are huge for frontline practitioners, she concluded, particularly if the regulator is also given the mandate of sanctioning those who fail to comply .

“If you throw into the mix, ‘oh keep an eye out for any signs of terrorism going on’, I don’t know where that will take us,” she said.

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One Response to Social workers set to be given ‘ominous’ duty to identify and report extremism

  1. Richard A Leighton January 31, 2015 at 10:52 am #

    Just a thought: if a local authority or school is determined to be “failing to perform any function relating to education or children’s social care to an adequate standard” can the secetary of state, therefore, place a school into special measures (shorthand for forcibly academising the local authority school) and place children’s services into special measures and ‘Doncaster’ them, forcing them to place their services out to tender!

    Call me cynical but this stinks of the neo-liberals finding a backdoor into the ‘sell-off’ of children’s services. They have been held to book about this earlier in the year, following Ray Jones’ exposee of Gove’s plans. Miller restarted this behmoth back in November and now the Prevent Strategy will become the next vehicle through which Cameron can futher desimate public services’ support and protection to society’s MOST vulnerable.

    Don’t get me started on the social worker becoming, even more, an agent of state! As the profession strives to immprove the perception of social workers, this ill thought through plan will drive social workers back to being pariah of family life. If a child is vulnerable they deserve to be supported and empowered to overcome that vulnerabilitiy, NOT identified as a ‘potential threat’ to society’s tranquility. Such labels will only add stigma upon already stigmatised children. Expand this to adult and mental health care, are social workers to report every homophobic, anti-semitic, religiously intellerant, racist or Islamaphobic statement made by a service user or a member of their family?

    I only break Islam out of the earlier religious category because of current misguided political, media and public thinking about members of this faith group. Be sure that this ‘proposal’ IS driven by the perceived up-surge in the threat from extremist Islamic organisations, because that is the current political focus, which drives media hyperbole and public consciousness. But the threat to society does not come solely from the very, very small band of misguided individuals hiding behind a facade of Islam (Al Q’eda; Islamic State; etc…). We know that Islam is NOT the threat that many with loud voices want us to think it is. The real risk to society is extremism in ALL of its forms. Those already listed have resulted in acts of terrorism across the UK in only last few decades, car bombs, nail bombs, arson attacks and more.

    The reports surrounding the consultation on expanding the Prevent Programme will turn teachers, childcare workers, doctors, nurses and social workers into the ‘New STASI’. Our roles are to identify vulnerability, assess need and redress them. Sure, that might identify potential ‘extremist grooming’ but we MUST not lose sight of the holistic needs of the service users, pupils, patients, people. Meet the immediate needs then worry about the potential needs.

    F%^&^%$g SHAMBOLIC!